Monday, September 21, 2015

I am a ''cli-fi freak,'' not a ''sci-fi geek,'' and here's why -- An OpEd Commentary

I'm a ''cli-fi freak,'' not a ''sci-fi geek,'' and here's why: I have no office, no secretary, no funding and no sponsors. Over the last decade, I’ve taken a very strong interest in climate change issues and man-made global warming.

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My personal wake up call came in 2007 when I read an IPCC climate report from the United Nations, when I learned that the future of the human species on this Earth could very well be in dire jeopardy unless we stop our wanton ways and our burning of fossil fuels like there was no tomorrow.  I suddenly realized maybe there won’t be too many tomorrows for humankind if we keep this up. Maybe 30 more generations and that's all. Then it will be "Game Over."

I couldn't live with that bleak conclusion, that end-of-the-world assessment.

The first stop on the road to become a ''Cli-Fi Freak'' -- and not a Sci-Fi Geek as I was as a kid in the 1950s -- was an idea I called “polar cities” as safe refuges for climate refugees in the distant future, and in blogging about the polar cities concept, I found a sci-fi novelist in Tulsa who was willing to try his hand at writing a novel about them.

Jim Laughter sat down and wrote “Polar City Red” and to help promote it, I sent out a series of press releases and oped columns calling his novel “a cli-fi thriller.” The word caught on, and via word of mouth of social media, mostly Twitter and Facebook, the New York Times and Time magazine and the Guardian have recognized the term.

Now Slate and Salon and The Atlantic and the New Yorker magazine have also recognized the term. Even Kim Stanley Robinon and Margaret Atwood and Nathaniel Rich have recognized the term in North America, and James Bradley and Jane Rawson and Alice Robinson in Australia. In the UK: Robert Macfarlane and George Marshall and Emma Drabble have recogniezed the term (Alison Flood and Pilita Clark, too).

As a Cli-Fi Freak, I believe current cli-fi novels and movies will succeed in helping audiences to confront environmental issues, much in the way Australia's Nevil Shute’s 1957 novelOn the Beach — and the subsequent movie directed by Stanley Kramer — dramatized the horrors of nuclear war and nuclear winter and helped raise global awareness of the issues involved.

“Without a vision, a people perish,” I recall reading in my youth in western Massachusetts where I attended Temple Beth El Hebrew School three days a week and argued with the good rabbis about all sorts of existential and religious issues that captivated me as a budding agnostic. I was always a bit of thinker, not a PhD thinker, not an academic thinker, but an often-obsessed thinking kid with ideas. That was how I grew up.

I’ve been doing this cli fi work on my own, ever since 2008 when I first blogged about the term and began contacting media around the world to see if any reporters wanted to promote the term. Very few did at first. I many rejection letters and no acceptance letters,  but I never took the rejections personally. Instead, I soldiered on, determined, because I knew I was doing the right thing.

I’m not a trust fund kid, and fund my work myself on a very small shoestring budget, but I did have a father who left me an inheritance more important than money:  a Yiddish term called ''menschlekeit.'' And to be a Cli-Fi Freak in my mid-60s is in direct gratitude for a wonderful life on this planet, and it's also my way of saying thanks to my dad, the late Bernie Bloom of Avenue J. in Brooklyn, born in 1915 and deborn in 2005.

My dad was a plumber, and in his own kind of way, a scientist, too, and he passed on his compassion for the world to his five children. I have his vision and his soul behind me, pushing me forward every day, egging me on, telling me to “never give up, whatever the odds.” He would have been a Cli-Fi Freak, too, if he was still alive.

What I want to say today is “thank you Bernie Bloom, plumber extraordinaire, who fixed pipes -- and more.'' He taught me that it was important not only to be a mensch in one's daily life but also to try to help “repair the world.” -- ''tikkun olam'' in Hebrew.

As a Cli-Fi Freak, that is what my small contribution to the climate fight is all about: ”tikkun olam.”
As a kid growing up in the1950s, I used to be a Sci-Fi Geek, but now as 2020 approaches I'm a Cli-Fi Freak. There are lots of us now, lots of us.


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