Thursday, September 17, 2015

Bruno Arpaia's REPUBBLICA essay on the rise of cli fi (translated from Italian by Kitty Rock)



Photo of LA REPUBBLICA news article in ITALIAN by Bruno Aripai via Kitty Rock on Facebook Page -

It was in 2008 when the ''cli-fi'' term informally made its appearance on a quiet and mostly invisible climate activist's blog in Taiwan.

The definition was invented by the North American writer and journalist Dan Bloom to describe a new genre of literature that deals with the possible consequences of climate change and the worlds in which we could end up if the temperature of the planet rose of three or four degrees or if the sea level increased more than the  optimistic predictions of the experts of the IPCC, the intergovernmental group of the UN. [Scott Thill a reporter for WIRED magazine wrote two film reviews in 2009 and 2010 that used the cli-fi term indepedently and separatly from Bloom, without either man know each other at all until 2013. In addition, a climate denialist wrote blog posts in 2009 to 2011 using the cli fi term in a derogatory, mocking way to insinuate that the works of Al Gore were just pure fiction and not based on science at all so therefore David Carter aka PACO called such work as climate fiction or just cli-fi. In addition, a 4th man, Ivan Schneider, created his own Twitter account with the handle of @clifi in 2009 as well, also independently and separately from Bloom and Thill and Carter.]

So, by modelling the cli-fi trm after the sound of the sci fi term, cli-fi was born and later a #hashtag followed, created by British public relations consultant Lisa Devaney.

Then, in 2011, Canadian writer Margaret Atwood retweeted a cli fi tweet that Bloom had sent her and with her 500,000 followers, publishers have begun to consider cli-fi as a phenomenon to respect, while more and more authors have began writing this kind of novel, while in America and Europe university courses and research projects dedicated to this field of study were set up.

Completely emancipated from sci-fi, cli-fi can boast today a very popular  hashtag #CliFi on Twitter, two lists created by readers on Goodreads and several groups on Facebook.

In this sense, it is definitely a contemporary literary phenomenon, which has become a genre thanks to the social network. Of course, cli-fi wasn't created out of nothing and did not appear out of nowhere. Jules Verne didn't know it at the time he was writing his "adventures" (as he called them) , but many of his books rightfully belong to the cli-fi genre.

And of course JG Ballard is its true twentieth-century forerunner of cli-fi.

Today, among the "big names" that sometimes write cli-fi, there are Margaret Atwood and Ian McEwan, author of Solar , but searching climate fiction on Amazon returns almost 1,400 titles already published. Even the cinema and television series have contributed to the rise of the genre: just think of the hungry world, battered by the storms of dust in the first part of Interstellar, or Disney-Pixar Wall-, or even a certain episodes in ''The Game of Thrones .''

 Meanwhile, HBO is transforming into a series the ''MaddAddam'' trilogy by Margaret
Atwood, published in Italian by the publishers Ponte alle Grazie.

In short, the success of the genre is enormous and - the north American publishers say - it has become more popular among the very young, the so-called young adult. We still have to understand the reasons of this boom. Perhaps, as the atomic bomb represented the great global fear of the Twentieth Century, climate change can be seen as that of the twenty-first century.

Everyone is talking about it, many are slightly frightened, some of them are wary, others just shrug  their shoulders, very few take the trouble of making their own opinion on the subject. The problem is that the scientific debate on global warming is difficult to follow, also because of the extreme uncertainty, even among scientists, about the real consequences of human activity on the earth's climate.

Thus, very often, really astonishing news concerning our future or that of our children inspire just a thrill of fear and are immediately forgotten. cli-fi, on the other hand, offers us the opportunity to find out more by activating the emotional part of ourselves.

"Living" through a novel the rise of the sea level in New York, or taking part with the protagonists of a story in a tragic climate migration to a desertified Germany, strikes us straight to the heart and immerses us in the complex scientific issues which are at the base of the events
narrated, as for example the maximum amount of carbon dioxide "tolerable" in the methane atmosphere contained in permafrost, or the melting rate of the glaciers of Greenland or the ocean acidification.

Without neglecting the disastrous impact of climate change on society, economy, on the political world: migrations, wars over water, increase in economic  inequality, failing democracies, and so on. It is the great power of the stories, the most effective way that humanity has invented to preserve and transmit experience. It is the great power of the stories, the most effective way that humanity has invented for transmitting experience. But it is not enough.

With respect to the dystopias of most of traditional science fiction, the stories told by climate fiction are often set in a foreseeable future and much more linked to contemporary reality. Margaret Atwood, always her, has said that, after all this is speculative fiction, speculative novels which offer the reader a vision of what could happen here, on our planet, or even of what is already happening, although many seem not to notice. Another important difference with respect to science fiction is that the scenarios imagined by cli-fi often derive from a careful study of the scientific research on the subject, without any indulgent  "apocalyptic" reference. 

As recently explained by the writer Fabio Deotto, "to imagine a future world is relatively easy; to imagine a plausible future world requires preparation; to imagine one that is likely to happen, on the other hand, requires an obstinate research work". 

Of course, we might add, you must be able to transform these scientific notions into literary visions, inserting them in a thrilling plot, with credible characters, while trying at the same time to keep them  comprehensible without sacrificing complexity. Not easy at all.

And yet, at least in the United States, so far there are many who have successfully managed. a few Names? Karl Taro Greenfeld, T. C. Boyle, Paolo Bacigalupi, Sarah Crossan , Jeff Vandermeer or Karen Traviss. So popular that recently The Atlantic magazine (by freelance reporter JK Ullrich) has wondered  if the novels belonging to the genre of climate fiction will be able to save the planet, raising awareness among the people and the politicians to the problems of climate change. Certainly, the possibility of a hungry and thirsty world, shocked by violence, is not attractive.

And yet, at this point, it is extremely likely. The Copenhagen conference in 2009 invited the participating countries to maintain the global temperature increase under the two degrees centigrade.

 Most likely, we won't be able to meet that limit. In the meantime, many scientists argue that even that threshold is not enough and that, in the case that appropriate
measures are not taken, we will have a rise of six degrees in average temperature of the planet and a sea-level rise of twelve meters by the year 2100. it will be a disaster if, as Obama is persistently repeating, we don't act immediately.

But he is an exception, he cannot be re-elected. For almost all other politicians, climate change is a different story, the kind of story that you'd prefer not be careful: the measures would be too unpopular and would make them lose the next elections in Afragola or Casalpusterlengo.

Perhaps the climate fiction could give a shock. Perhaps "living", thanks to the novels, in the terrible possible worlds lurking around the corner, could really help us avoid them.

No comments: