Cli-Fi: The Emerging Genre of Climate Change Literature

October 15, 2013

I did this video as kind of a lark a few years ago, exploring the ways writers and story tellers are dealing with emerging climate science. Since then, there’s been an acceleration in the number of examples of an emerging genre, “Cli-Fi”. In some cases, climatic change is an essential theme of the stories, and in other cases, it simply is a fact – it exists as a background to the action, an accepted part of  life in the future of the planet – as in the imagined “New Seoul” cityscape in “Cloud Atlas”.

The Earth 101 conference in Reykjavik was specifically devoted to the ongoing task of processing the awesome new understanding that scientists are giving us about how the planet works, and what our future here may be like.  Part of our work as communicators of this understanding is to change the story from one of helplessness and catastrophe, to empowerment and hope.

Writer Dan Bloom sends me this:

During the sweltering British summer of 2013, several bookstores in
the UK did something that was a long time coming: They set up
dedicated ”cli-fi” tables with a simple yet eye-catching signs
promoting fiction and non-fiction books with climate themes.

We spoke with the display window manager at the one of the London
bookshops about why she set up the cli fi tables and signs. When asked
what the motivation was, she explained that after she read the Rodge
Glass piece in the Guardian in May, she became very concerned about
finding ways to promote climate fiction (and nonfiction climate-themed
books, both pro and con global warming issues) in her store. So she
asked her design team to come up with some posters and signs, and
tables were set up. Customer reaction was positive, she said.

Among the books displayed were Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” and
James Lovelock’s “The Revenge of Gaia” as well as Stephen Emmott’s
bestseller “10 Billion” sitting alongside such dystopic scenarios as
J.G. Ballard’s “The Drowned World,” John Christopher’s “The Death of
Grass,” Joe Dunthorne’s “Wild Abandon” and Liz Jensen’s “The Rapture.”


Most of the books on the table are also available as e-books as well.

These ‘cli-fi’ signs in-store may be the first of their kind anywhere
in the now-warming world, and they follow extensive media coverage of
the emerging cli-fi genre in TeleRead, The Guardian, the Financial
Times, and The New Yorker.

Other cli-fi novels on the tables included Barbara Kingsolver’s”Flight
Behavior” and and Ian McEwan’s “Solar.”

Will other bookstores and book-selling websites around the world
follow these sterling British bookstore examples and set up similar
cli-fi sites at bookstores in New York, San Francisco, Seattle,
Sydney, Melbourne, Wellington and Paris?

Is this a trend or just one-off events and photo opps in the UK?


When Superstorm Sandy hit New York City last fall, the publisher Farrar, Straus and Giroux, like most everything else, totally shut down. It was a week before power returned to FSG, according to Brian Gittis, a senior publicist. When he got back to his office, he began sorting through galleys — advance copies of books. And one of them caught him off guard.

oddsIts cover had an illustration of the Manhattan skyline half-submerged in water.

“It was definitely sort of a Twilight Zone moment,” Gittis recalls.

Over the past decade, more and more writers have begun to set their novels and short stories in worlds, not unlike our own, where the Earth’s systems are noticeably off-kilter. The genre has come to be called climate fiction — “cli-fi,” for short.

“I think we need a new type of novel to address a new type of reality,” says Rich, “which is that we’re headed toward something terrifying and large and transformative. And it’s the novelist’s job to try to understand, what is that doing to us?”

Of course, science fiction with an environmental bent has been around since the 1960s (think J.G. Ballard’s The Drowned World). But while sci-fi usually takes place in a dystopian future, cli-fi happens in a dystopian present.

When (Barbara) Kingsolver spoke with NPR in November, she said her writing was driven by a simple question: “Why do we believe or disbelieve the evidence we see for climate change?”
When Kingsolver spoke with NPR in November, she said her writing was driven by a simple question: “Why do we believe or disbelieve the evidence we see for climate change?”

“I really wanted to look into how we make those choices and how it’s possible to begin a conversation across some of these divides,” Kingsolver said, “between scientists and nonscientists, between rural and urban, between progressive and conservative — that when it comes to understanding the scientific truths about the world, there must be another way to bring information to people … that’s beyond simply condescending and saying, ‘Well, if only you had the facts. If only you knew what I did, then you would be a smart person.’ That gets you nowhere.”


25 Responses to “Cli-Fi: The Emerging Genre of Climate Change Literature”

  1. […] or climate (change) (science) fiction, a new sub-genre of ‘sci-fi’, began to emerge about a decade ago, around 2005 and is gradually gathering speed, growing in popularity […]

  2. […] Cli-Fi: The Emerging Genre of Climate Change Literature 
Climate change in literature and literary criticism […]

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