10th December 2016
As part of my Masters degree, I wrote a cli-fi manifesto. I hope it highlights some of the ways the genre can help shape our future.
The Climate Fiction (Cli-Fi) Manifesto
For decades, scientists and environmental groups have warned that we are facing a global ecological crisis. Yet in spite of this, action to address our predicament has been pitiful. It is therefore time for a radical new science communication approach using the arts as a medium, to bring about the changes we so desperately need. There is an emerging genre in the field of writing known as climate fiction, or ‘cli-fi’ for short. Cli-fi is a sub-genre of sci-fi, which is specifically focused on climate change. The main benefit of using this medium to communicate science, is that fiction has a way of reaching a wider audience than non-fiction. Through cli-fi, we can explore future scenarios in ways which climate models and empirical data simply can’t express. To achieve different results, we need to try different methods. It is time for a green revolution, and cli-fi has a crucial role to play in bringing this about!
Never before has a species knowingly driven itself and all living organisms towards extinction. Yet through our relentless exploitation of the natural world and our reluctance to change our behaviour, we now find ourselves in such a situation. We are entering a new geological period known as the Anthropocene; an age where human activity is regarded as the primary influence on the environment and on our climate. Our land, air and seas have been used as dumping grounds for our pollution. We have driven vast numbers of unique species into extinction. Make no mistake that our heinous treatment of the living ecosystems will be returned in kind, if we fail to act.
Whilst there are many environmental issues competing for our attention, climate change is regarded as the most important issue that humanity faces. It is not a future threat; we are already seeing climate shocks around the world. However, the extreme weather, migration crises, conflict, melting ice, water stress, drought, wildfires, ocean acidification and coral bleaching are only a small glimpse of the future that awaits us. Should we fail to implement the strict carbon reduction measures proposed, other issues will become redundant as life struggles to adapt to a violent new world full of unimaginable horrors.
What many people fail to recognise is that numerous modern day problems are inter-connected. We have adopted the neo-liberalism school of thought which has resulted in a consumer culture on steroids. Economic growth is prioritised at all costs. In this aggressive mind set, we lose compassion for our fellow people, for ourselves and for the natural world. Whilst we continue to purchase a wealth of goods and gadgets, our lives haven’t become any more enriched. We don’t cherish the belongings which we own, but are addicted to the pleasure associated with purchasing new things.
All around us, landscapes have been utterly decimated to sustain our consumer tendencies. Without realising the extent of our actions, we have contributed to widespread environmental degradation and created massive carbon footprints through our profligate ways. Not to mention the many social implications, such as loneliness, anxiety, depression and mental health issues, which have come about as a result of this misguided policy model. To tackle the root of these problems will require a great deal of introspection.
The good news is that it’s not too late to change course in regards to climate change, but this will require urgent action from our world leaders. In order to embolden our politicians, we need to show them that we care and that we demand immediate action! The first step is to educate the public so that they understand the threats and the solutions. As a community, we are then better positioned to elect politicians with a green agenda, and campaign against those already in power to deliver the sweeping reforms we need. Science communication must be our top priority.
PURPOSE, AIMS AND PRINCIPLES
A good story can engage people on different levels. By interweaving climate change and environmental issues into our stories, either explicitly through dialogue and plot, or implicitly through themes, we can bring these issues to the fore. Cli-fi can achieve one or more of the following:
- Reconnect people with the natural world. For many millennia, we evolved with nature and still hold onto fragments of our hunter-gatherer psyche. Today we are further away from the natural world than ever before. If people can take pleasure in the environment, they will be more inclined to fight for its protection. It’s worth remembering the many associated health and therapeutic benefits of spending time outdoors.
- To ignite a love of reading about the environment. The earth’s biosphere is home to magnificent flora and fauna, which is unique to this planet. Let us revel in its beauty, so that we may conserve it and prevent a sixth mass extinction from wiping out all we hold dear.
- Align your cli-fi message with the interests of the target audience. In order for our messages to be effective, they need to be appropriate and specifically targeted to the readers we have in mind. Would an office worker care that climate change could result in a six degree Celsius global temperature increase by the year 2100? Possibly, but perhaps they would be more interested to know that climate change could considerably drive up the costs of coffee and chocolate as crops begin to fail in the near future. Would a city worker worry that the rapid melting of the Himalayan glaciers is threatening the water supply of millions of people? Conceivably, but they be more interested to learn that extreme weather causing more surface water flooding on roads and railways, thereby causing severe delays on their commute. What about a seven year old child? Well I imagine they would be sad to hear that mass coral bleachings are destroying the habitats of many species including the clownfish, made popular by the Finding Nemo film.
- Fiction and non-fiction literature appeal to different people. Cli-fi can act as a bridge to the knowledge contained within non-fiction sources. Cli-fi can add in the human dimension and encourage empathy and an emotional response.
- Great cli-fi can take on a new lease of life. Film rights can be sold and novels can be turned into movies, thereby engaging yet more people with climate change issues in a range of formats. Think about writing the next The Day After Tomorrow, The Road or Interstellar.
- To inspire real world action on climate change. What shape should this action take? Are we lobbying politicians to change policies and impose a rising fee on carbon? Or are we limiting our consumption of beef to reduce our individual carbon footprints? Are we organising a demonstration? Or are we installing solar panels on our homes? We can mould the future we want by showing people the steps we need to take to build a more sustainable tomorrow.
- Our future can be clean, green and prosperous. All too often authors fall into the trap of writing about an apocalyptic dystopian future. We also need literature that shows what the solutions are and the advantages they can bring. The cli-fi cannon needs to incorporate hope. If we fail to identify solutions, our literature can have the opposite effect and leave our readers in a state of depression and helplessness.
- Conversely, without acting on climate change, we could face a new economic crisis coupled with an environmental disaster. A ‘carbon bubble’ comprised of all the fossil fuel reserves that companies have planned to extract, is significantly out of kilter with the scientific consensus and political agreements on what we can burn to avoid catastrophic climate change. Either we stick to government policies and the valuation of fossil fuel company shares plummets dramatically (how many people realise that their pension funds are at risk?) or we go down the business as usual route and commit to a climate system that is out of control, wiping out most of the life that inhabits this tiny blue marble we call home. How can we address this in our work?
- To dispel the notion that the science around anthropogenic induced climate change is unsettled. This claim is still churned up by sceptics and denialists, hoping to slow down action on climate change. In reality it is widely acknowledged that over 97% of scientists are in agreement about the causes of climate change. When a climate change sceptic or denialist like Michael Crichton publishes cli-fi, can we reference their novel in our work to set the record straight?
- To educate people that we are living in the Anthropocene. What better way to show our impact on the natural world, than through the trail of devastation that is being used to define a new geological era.
- There is no ‘Planet B’. We have one earth, and one chance to avoid destroying our climate which has sustained us up until now.
- To understand that different media outlets, think tanks and corporations have different agendas. Which organisations are campaigning to help transition to a greener future, and which are dragging their heels and fighting policy changes every step of the way? A myriad of plots can be developed based on this alone! We must also think carefully about how we engage with people who source their information from news organisations which favour sensationalism over science.
- To show that those least able to cope with the impacts of climate change, are those that will be first and foremost affected. We can lend our voices to the voiceless who stand to lose everything by inaction on climate change.
- To be respectful of people who have spent their careers trying to highlight the impacts of climate change and environmental issues. We have a responsibility and a duty to spread knowledge for the sacrifices they’ve made.
- To explore the causes of climate change, so that we may understand how not to fall into the same trap once again. Let’s try and educate future generations about sustainability, so they don’t make the same mistakes we have.
Our task will not be easy. We are trying to educate people against a tide of biased news organisations, which seek to discredit the science around climate change. It will be an uphill struggle to present the current situation to some readers who have predefined views. We are also up against big fossil fuel corporations, who just so happen to be some of the wealthiest and most powerful companies in the world and have a vested interest in preventing meaningful carbon reductions. In certain countries, these companies use their wealth to lobby governments for policies that will work in their favour. We do not have the same resources at our disposal, but we do have the pen, which is said to be mightier than the sword. Let’s prove this to be true!
Climate change will come to dominate our lives in the future, and we are ultimately fighting an enemy of our own creation. Our role as cli-fi writers can’t be understated in terms of communicating the science and the solutions. To date, many cli-fi novels have been dystopian in nature, but there is room for a wide variety of plots in this new genre. By reaching out to readers through our writing, we can spur them into action, which may give rise to the bold political leadership we need to help move us out of this situation. We are balancing on a precipice and the recent political earthquakes that have swept the world this year, could tip us over the edge if we fail to hold power to account. So let us unite in our love of the written word and change the world for the better. Let us write as if our lives and those of future generations depend on it, because for all we know this may just be the case.
My new cli-fi children’s picture book is Nanook and the Melting Arctic. Nanook is a caring polar bear who lives in the Arctic. But when his igloo starts melting, Nanook must find a way to save his friends and his home. He knows that the people who can help are also those who’ve caused the problem and he must find a way to convince leaders to act on the climate crisis. You can purchase Nanook from Amazon’s global stores including Amazon UK and Amazon US.sticide pollution. It can be purchased online here.