HOLYOKE, MASSACHUSETTS -- Forget science fiction. For students in 2016, cli-fi is king.
This spring, community college students in western Massachusetts college are reading "The Windup Girl", the cli-fi tale of a dystopian future Bangkok where climate change has pushed up temperatures and sea levels, and viruses acquired from genetically modified food are killing people.
The book, by cli-fi novelist Paolo Bacigalupi, is the product of a class at Holyoke Community College (HCC) on "climate fiction" or "cli-fi", the second year the class has been taught by professors Elizabeth Trobaugh and Steven Winters.
Around the nation this year, from Vanderbilt to Tufts to Brooklyn College, cli-fi classes are creeping into timetables as academics try to bring a growing national concern into the classroom in a lively way that combines science and emotion. Other colleges offering cli-fi classes this semester include the University of Florida, SUNY Geneseo, The University of Wisconsin and Eastern Illinois University, among dozens of other schools across the country.
Elizabeth Ammons is teaching a graduate seminar this Spring at Tufts University in Boston.
Chair of the English department at Tufts, Ammons has high hopes for the class.
The seminar focuses on American literature and the environment, concentrating on 20th and 21st Century texts and a number of issues — environmental racism, eco-imperialism, animal rights, the relationship between gender and the social construction of nature — and, above all, global warming.
"We will think about climate change as a biospheric reality and as a metaphor that speaks to an ethical imperative," Ammons says.
"Cli-fi is capturing what is in the air now, the human impact on the environment, and I think literature is a great tool to raise awareness for this," said Elizabeth Trobaugh who team teaches the class at HCC and earlier in her teaching career taught a class looking at real-life science in ''science fiction'' novels.
The class led by Trobaugh and fellow professor Winters, called "Cli-Fi: Stories and Science of the Coming Climate Apocalypse", includes a two-hour science lab each week.
"We take some scientific topic introduced in the literature that can work as a lab and explore some of the themes discussed using an experiment," Winters said.
While reading "The Windup Girl", the class will extract DNA from strawberries to understand the genetic manipulation that occurs in the novel.
"They like learning science in the context of reading a story and it allows students to thrive in science and English," Winters said.
Literature has always explored the nature of the world, and envisioned
many versions of its end. Students are realizing that in our own time, there is growing awareness that
cataclysmic climate change of human causation threatens the environment
worldwide. As a result, apocalyptic visions of a drowned, denatured world are becoming
The term ‘Cli-fi’ describes an important genre of fiction and
film that passionately explores climate change in its human and nonhuman
"We will read and view major, diverse examples of Cli-fi from
earlier prophetic works to its contemporary explosion across media, to see
how the genre bears witness to the ecological emergency affecting the
planet and our future, and how it offers solutions for survival and
healing," explains another professor preparing to teach a cli-fi course this year. "Cli-fi questions proof and belief, agency and action, hope and
despair: as a literature that awakens and transforms us. Cli-fi imagines
the new ecology we inhabit, where fiction comes true."
In the class, films, indigenous
media, poetry, science and policy documents will be available for study and discussion.