Imagination's role in the fight against climate change uses ''cli-fi'' as a rising new genre
Since 1900, nearly 500 species of animals have gone extinct, and the further destruction of ecosystems only brings us closer to seeing homo sapiens added to the list.
The U.N. climate change executive secretary, Patricia Espinosa, estimates that we only have 11 years before we reach a point of no return with our carbon dioxide emissions. The biggest challenge of this generation, and the next century, will be our ability to mitigate the effects of climate change.
The Center for Science and the Imagination at ASU is taking an eccentric approach to finding solutions to climate change. Their Imagination and Climate Futures Initiative uses works of climate fiction -- aka ''cli-fi' and coined in 2011 by longtime friend of ASU Dan Bloom to place mental images of the effects of climate change in the minds of their readers.
Klaus Lackner, director of the Center for Negative Carbon Emissions, said because people can’t visualize the effects they have on the environment, they aren’t acting on solutions that could help save it.
Lackner said he recently handed people bags full of sand meant to represent the carbon emissions coming out of their vehicles by the mile. By handing them an object they could see and feel, the people were able to visualize the immediate impact their cars are having on the environment.
Movies or science fiction pieces [or cli-fi novels] can help people imagine these solutions and play a crucial role in combating climate change by inspiring the populace to imagine new solutions. They also visualize what might happen in the future.
For example, “Star Trek” inspired Martin Cooper to invent the first mobile phone.
This ability to visualize new ideas is what experts at ASU say is crucial for our future on this planet.
The cli-fi initiative at ASU was set up in 2014 to not only imagine new solutions, but to also open the discussion about climate change to the general public and their role in combating it.
As the current editor and program manager for the Center for Science and the Imagination, Joey Eschrich said imagination is something everybody possesses.
“It's not as if some people are born incredibly imaginative and the rest of us are born with very little imagination. It's more like some people are encouraged to embrace and develop their imagination and be expansive ... And then some people are not encouraged that way … especially when they're young,” Eschrich said.
“When you get into a career or a profession … you're encouraged to not necessarily question how things are working and exercise your critical faculties as much.”
In addition, he said that another part of what stagnates imagination is the way society prioritizes short-term thinking and the pursuit of goals that can be measured.
Eschrich is carrying on the program's legacy. His role at the center is to work with cli-fi authors and, “create visions of the future that are not only inspiring and inclusive, but also grounded in real science and technology.”
The initiative currently has a bi-annual publication of cli-fi short stories called “Everything Change." The title comes from a quote by Margaret Atwood, “I think calling it 'climate change' is rather limiting, I’d rather call it 'the everything change.'”
One of the goals of the initiative is to invite people from all over the world to submit fictional cli-fi stories about how they imagine climate change will impact our future.
“Hopefully, literature is a way to kind of see and help people feel more enfranchised and invite them into the conversation,” Eschrich said.
Leah Newsom, the outreach coordinator for the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, wrote the cli-fi story “Orphan Bird” which was published in the second edition of “Everything Change.”
READ MORE: Student's climate fiction story looks at environmental issues through a human lens