Climate Change Shocker
May 9, 2014

Fiction Helps Prepare Us For Climate Change

I love to read. I have always loved to read. And I love to read all genres, all types, all ages of books. My favorite genre, though, is fiction. I love the way that fiction takes me places that I have never seen, allows me to be other people, and even allows me to experience the impossible like magic. Fantasy and science fiction are my two favorite genres of all fiction.

And it turns out that the science behind reading fiction shows that fiction may help to prepare readers for a changing world. redOrbit writer April Flowers reported on how a study showed just this. As she wrote, “A new study from the University of Copenhagen reveals how climate fiction can serve as a mental laboratory, allowing us to simulate the consequences of climate change in our minds and imagine living under other, harsher, conditions.”

It seems fiction will help us to understand, deal, and even react to change. Science fiction is the main focus of the study, and climate fiction, also dubbed cli-fi, really helps propel imaginations so that people believe and understand change. Dr. Gregers Andersen of the University of Copenhagen examined 40 examples of cli-fi in various novels and short stories as well as some films. These were produced from 1977 to 2014 and each includes global warming as an underlying theme or plot device. Andersen found five overarching themes: Social Breakdown, Judgment, Conspiracy, Loss of Wilderness, and Sphere. Here is how Flowers explains these themes:

  1. Social Breakdown is characterized by climate change leading to conflicts over natural resources and the eventual collapse of society. (For example, think about the film Mad Max.)
  2. Judgment is characterized by nature punishing man for exploiting its resources. (1977′s The Day of the Animals comes to mind.)
  3. Conspiracy is characterized by a grand political and scientific conspiracy theory using climate change to mislead the public. (An example might be Michael Crichton’s novel State of Fear.)
  4. Loss of Wilderness is characterized by the last places of wilderness being destroyed by global warming. In these works, the wilderness is treated not only as a physical locale, but also as a place of extraordinary aesthetic value. (The ill-fated movie Water World springs to mind, where there is only a dream of land, although this one might also fit the Judgment category as well.)
  5. Sphere is characterized by the artificial atmospheres man creates to cope with climate change. (Kim Stanley Robinson’s novel 2312, where man has largely left the Earth to live in artificially constructed atmospheres / cities on other planets and celestial bodies.)

For full disclosure’s sake, the examples come from Flowers’ own readings and movie watching, whereas the categories are Dr. Andersen’s.

These themes help readers and viewers to understand the impact of global warming through the fiction. Dr. Andersen identifies where cli-fi leads readers: “If we do not take care of our environment, of or our home, it will change, and it will feel and seem very different – “unhomely” if you will. This is exactly the feeling the fictions want to leave us with. And even though UN’s panel on climate change (IPPC) has previously issued a report stating that global warming may lead to abrupt and irreversible changes , most of these fictions do tend to exaggerate the consequences of global warming, and the climate changes often happen extremely quickly.” Fiction helps people to really connect with the issues related to climate change through this exaggeration and through the medium and genre itself.

I am sure as I am writing this article that cli-fi is not the only fiction that helps readers deal with change. For example, fantasy has regularly dealt with social issues like race in ways that have really impacted readers. The Dark Elf Trilogy by R.A. Salvatore comes to mind right away with that. Fiction not only inspires imagination and creativity, but it also helps build logic and reasoning skills as well as problem solving. It only makes sense that fiction helps readers to prepare for change of all types and specifically with climate change.

Image Credit: Thinkstock

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Email


Rayshell E. Clapper is an Associate Professor of English at a rural college in Oklahoma where she teaches Creative Writing, Literature, and Composition classes. She has presented her original fiction and non-fiction at several conferences and events including: Scissortail Creative Writing Festival, Howlers and Yawpers Creativity Symposium, Southwest/Texas Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association Regional Conference, and Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association National Conference. Her publications include Cybersoleil Journal, Sugar Mule Literary Magazine, Red Dirt Anthology, Originals, and Oklahoma English Journal. Beyond her written works, she successfully created a writer's group in rural Oklahoma to support burgeoning writers. The written word is her passion, and all she experiences inspires that passion. She hopes to help inspire others through her words.

Send Rayshell an email