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‘Cli-fi’ is an emerging genre that merges literature's latitude with today's climate change problems.

Most of us don't like hearing the words 'climate change' and 'fiction' in the same sentence, but the genre of climate fiction or ‘cli-fi’ is one case where it's okay. As a literary subject, dystopian climate change tales are gaining the attention of publishers and readers alike. Fictional characters serve as commentary on the environmental problems we are facing in reality, as climate change alters our communities and outlook on the future.

The genre distinguishes itself from traditional science fiction in two major ways. First, most sci-fi adventures take place in the far future whereas cli-fi is a reflection of present day and near future situations. Secondly, it acknowledges that disaster scenarios are man-made, a result of human decisions (or indecision).  

Authors who have published works that fall into this category include recognizable names such as Michael Crichton, Ian McEwan, and Barbara Kingsolver. Nathaniel Rich penned Odds Against Tomorrow which happened to have been edited during Hurricane Sandy. He says, “I had the very strange experience of editing the final proof of my novel one night, going to sleep, and waking up and essentially seeing it adapted on cable television the next morning."

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Literature’s latitude has allowed the subject to be tackled from a variety of angles. Rich’s novel doesn’t even mention the term ‘climate change.’ Judith Curry, chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Georgia Tech commented, “Scientists and other people are trying to get their message across about various aspects of the climate change issue. And it seems like fiction is an untapped way of doing this - a way of smuggling some serious topics into the consciousness.”

The genre seems to be gaining traction. Other authors such as Staci Lloyd and Joshua David Bellin have written books in the cli-fi genre with the young adult market in mind. And there’s even a course at the University of Oregon that focuses on the genre’s emerging impact on popular culture and awareness of climate change.  

Photo courtesy of the author.