I’ve been reading science fiction since the mid 1960s. Some of the books and short stories I’ve enjoyed have dealt with the the intersection of sci-fi and the Earth’s climate. This genre has been labeled climate fiction or “cli-fi”.
One very quaint early example comes to mind, Jules Verne’s The Purchase of the North Pole. The sovereign rights to a portion of the Arctic region are purchased by mathematician J.T. Maston and members of the Baltimore Gun Club who traveled around the Moon inside of a large cannon shell. The company planned to use the recoil of a gigantic cannon to adjust the tilt of Earth’s axis to enable the spin to be perpendicular to Earth’s orbit, similar to that of Jupiter.
The company had a dubious goal. There would be no more seasons, so each region would have a steady climate. The conspirators envisioned easier, lucrative mining of coal deposits located in the Arctic region. The monster cannon was constructed within Mount Kilmanjaro. J.T. Maston is arrested but does not reveal the cannon’s location to the authorities. The cannon is eventually fired but the Earth’s tilt is unaffected. The mathematician had made a massive error. Twelve zeros were accidentally erased from his final result. Thus, the massive cannon was ineffective towards his goal.
A more recent cli-fi novel was published in 2013. Nathaniel Rich’s Odds Against Tomorrow has become a contemporary favorite among readers of the genre. The book opens with the destruction of Seattle, Washington around the beginning of our present century. A mathematician, Mitchell Zukor is hired by the consulting firm “FutureWorld”. The company enlisted Zukor to calculate worst-case scenarios in finite detail. The scenarios are sold to large corporations in an effort to insure them against future disasters.
In the process, Zukor evolves into a cultural icon and becomes wrapped up in society’s fears of ecological collapse, natural disasters, and military adventurism. When Zukor’s prediction stories reach nightmarish proportions, a true worst-case scenario strikes Manhattan. There’s a devastating drought, then a monsterous hurricane of biblical proportions. The rapid flooding causes terror in the city.
As the disaster unfolds, Zukor encounters impoverished victims and his fellow citizens in the refugee camp recognize him. He realizes that he has nothing useful to offer them. His epiphany is that the goal of futurism isn’t to describe a world, but the motivation to change it for the better. Out of the disaster an activist group emerges. This group is similar to our real-life “Occupy Movement”. The story reminds the reader that any “end times” will be more complicated and nuanced than we imagine they could be.
After I read Rich’s novel in the late Autumn of 2013, I realized that this book, when paired with Verne’s story, formed bookends that bracketed the cli-fi genre, at least up to that point.
Now cli-fi is coming into its own, with more books and new box office hit movies. Even nonfiction has gotten a boost because of concerns over global climate change.
Cli-fi is a natural extention of sci-fi. Cli-fi also seems more plausible than sci-fi because we’re in the opening stanzas of the real thing, today.
The Blue Jay of Happiness says that cli-fi is the contemporary tragic mythology of the post-industrial age.