The Industrial Revolution sparked the first wave of modern science fiction narratives, which used the power of creative storytelling to explore the implications of unfolding technological developments. Science and speculation drove those stories and narratives, allowing people to truly begin to envisage the radical possibilities that lay in the near and distant future. Now comes climate fiction, aka Cli-Fi.
The technological climate in Africa today bears many similarities to that of Europe and America in the wake of the Industrial Revolution. Emerging technologies are raising standards of living by providing access to new tools of production, scalable energy systems and globalised distribution networks. Information and communications technologies have opened up an unprecedented range of economic opportunities and transformed the lives of millions of people across Africa.
These dramatic changes are fertile ground for speculation about the climate-related future of the continent — and climate fiction novels and movies can inspire Africans to envision their future with a renewed sense of agency and possibility.
Connecting climate science with society
Well-crafted climate fiction narratives can analyse technical concepts using accessible language and captivating stories, making it easier for the public to engage in contemporary climate debate and discourse.
In the short film Pumzi, screened at the Sundance film festival in 2010, Kenyan filmmaker Wanuri Kahiu explored water scarcity, already a critical problem in parts of Africa today. Set in a post-apocalyptic East Africa, her film highlights the technological systems required to conserve this vital resource, while telling the story of a woman determined to revive the terrestrial ecosystem.
Climate fiction also enables people to visualise the various pathways through which climate science and technology interact with the underlying framework of society. Lauren Beukes’ award-winning novel Zoo City, for instance, employs magical realism to explore the complex dynamics of life in present day Johannesburg. One lens through which her novel explores this is the practice of traditional priests called sangomas operating black magic services via the internet. Her narratives cleverly illustrate the often counterintuitive interplay between modern technology and traditional African belief systems.
From imagination to innovation
The sheer scope of imaginary possibilities presented in climate fiction imparts a sense of wonder, inspiring young people to pursue scientific and literary innovation as a means to improve society. Before it is too late.
Many of the technologies which have redefined the modern world — including mobile phones and the internet — were first imagined in science fiction stories. The ideas and concepts these narratives explored have primed the imaginations of countless scientists and inventors, inspiring them to pursue innovations and discoveries which might otherwise have been inconceivable.
Now it's time for cli-fi novels and movies to work their magic on the pressing issues of climate change and man-made global warming.
When cli-fi captures the imagination, it stimulates critical thought about the scenarios it presents, and shapes public opinion on the issues it addresses. Societies that develop a vibrant discourse around these issues are better placed to understand the developmental implications of public investment in science and technology -- and in mitigation and in adaptation.