The Rise of “Cli-Fi”
What the Humanities Can Teach us About Cli-fi Narratives
Dan Kahan’s work has made clear that climate skepticism derives as much from deeply-held values as from concerns over the specifics of climate models and ice cores. It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that the literature of climate skepticism tries to persuade through a range of narrative strategies, many of them quite sophisticated.
What does this mean for those interested in more effectively addressing climate change?
In apparently the first course of its kind, UCSB is offering a class in the English department entitled, The Rhetoric of Climate Change. The course employs traditional tools for literary criticism, such as close textual reading and analysis, to understand better the strategies behind Cli-Fi (short for climate fiction). As Christopher Walker, a co-teacher of the class described, “One thing that was fascinating to see unfold among the students is that some of the denial literature is quite effective even with a very educated audience, an audience that is perhaps predisposed to seeing climate change as real. And what was very valuable for students and, quite frankly, for me, is that by learning how denial literature might be effective we come to better understand how the humanities can really get to the core of the cultural distinction between those that understand climate change is happening and those who aren’t yet on board.”
One of the core skills we teach in law school is how to dissect an argument. In the public debate over climate change, though, we witness not only competing arguments about the albedo effect and feedback loops, but competing narratives, as well. Bringing a humanities perspective can deepen our understanding of these narratives – which strategies they employ and what makes some narratives more compelling than others. As Edward Friedlander, a student in the course, usefully observed, “You can have climate research and science pertaining to climate change, but it’s useless if you can’t enter into dialogue with people who don’t accept that science. What this class does, uniquely, is allow us to investigate modes by which we can both infiltrate that discussion and help carry it out. We all have that uncle at family gatherings who is very adamant and determined pertaining to views about climate change. This class gives you the tools to confront that uncle.”
Just as applying basic lessons from physics and chemistry can help explain the science of climate change, applying skills from the humanities can help explain the languages of climate change.
You can read more about the UCSB course at this link.
A dedicated classroom teacher and colleague, Salzman was twice selected as Professor of the Year by Duke students. He frequently appears as a media commentator and has lectured on environmental policy on every continent except Antarctica. He has served as a visiting law professor at Columbia, Harvard, Stanford, and Yale as well as at universities in Australia, Sweden, Israel, Portugal, China and Italy.
An honors graduate of Yale College and Harvard University, Salzman was the first Harvard graduate to earn joint degrees in law and engineering and was named a Sheldon Fellow upon graduation. He has both government and private sector work experience. Prior to entering academia, he worked in Paris in the Environment Directorate of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and in London as the European Environmental Manager for Johnson Wax. His honors include election as a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, as well as appointments as a McMaster Fellow and Fulbright Senior Scholar in Australia, a Gilbert White Fellow at Resources for the Future, and a Bellagio Fellow at the Rockefeller Foundation, among others.
He has published four casebooks, including International Environmental Law and Policy, Foundation Press (with D. Zaelke and D. Hunter, 5th ed. 2015), the leading casebook in the field with adoptions at over 200 schools. His articles have appeared in the UCLA, California, NYU, Penn, Duke and Stanford Law Reviews, as well as other legal, scientific and popular journals. A national survey of environmental law professors has voted his work among the top articles of the year on six separate occasions. Salzman is active in the fields of practice and policy, serving as a Member of the Trade and Environment Policy Advisory Committee, a government-appointed body providing counsel to the EPA Administrator and U.S. Trade Representative on trade and environment issues, as well as advising several environmental non-profits.
His most recent book, Drinking Water: A History, was praised as a “Recommended Read” by Scientific American and reviewed in the New York Times and Washington Post. It is now in paperback and in its 3rd printing.