Climate Change & Science Fiction

A couple of interesting debates on climate change over at the Strange Horizons site, for those of you are interested in the subject. All of it is very good stuff.

It’s what Niall mentions in his post that had me really wondering about climate change in SF, however:

As mentioned in the previous post, this week we have some discussion of writing climate change fiction; and if, as Vandana Singh says in her final comment, it is “increasingly important to write about climate change as passionately and creatively as we know how”, we might also ask: how are we doing for criticism that calls attention to and examines such writing?

A quick survey of the critical resources available to me suggests not all that well.

I wondered if there was little criticism because there simply isn’t much Science Fiction being written about the real effects of climate change in the first place? That there isn’t much to really interest Science Fiction writers?

I mean, aside from the sea levels rising, there isn’t much for Science Fiction wow-porn. Climate change is the slow, steady evil that will effect everything else in our lives. There is no instant Hollywood apocalypse. It is causing heavier rainfall in certain areas, droughts in others. It will see food prices rocket. It will see people die and suffer from disease on a wider scale than we’ve seen previously. And some of these health effects can be very subtle. There are no wars over climate change, but there are wars over the effects.

See what I mean? Not exactly the stuff that a Science Fiction writer, certainly not one interested in big concepts or ideas, can really use all that easily. Climate change is the mother of all evils, and the effects are profound; but they are subtle and complex and not easily dealt with in a novel concerned with the big idea. I’m not even sure Science Fiction is really the field that should be dealing with climate change.

Climate change is reality – it is happening right now, it was while I studied it at university, and has been for decades. Perhaps there is material for the effects of climate change being a backdrop for a novel, but shouldn’t mainstream authors be dealing with this, rather than Science Fiction authors?

I’d also say that most of these effects will be felt most shockingly in the developing world. Authors who write predominantly about the West, and Western concerns, will not likely be all that bothered.

Anyway, food for thought.

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About Mark Newton

Born in 1981, live in the UK. I write about strange things.


  1. I think, Mark, that given the 800 lb gorilla of denial that is the US, that is why only SF is really addressing climate change. I have no idea how it is over there in the UK, though, but here, denial is not just a river in Egypt.

    Tobias Buckell tries to go for the “wow-porn” in Arctic Rising, though.

  2. Hi Paul,

    Denial is spreading over here slowly, as businesses slowly start funding denial. Though the newspapers are terrible – Mail and Telegraph in particular. Media has pretty much become a front for business interests now and it’s a slippery slope.

    Interestingly, the denial industry is something that is only really going to effect in the US, the UK and Australia. The rest of the world seems to have accepted the science for what it is. 

    That said, if schools are being taught that evolution is just one idea on the table, what hope is there? 

  3. Have you read much Bruce Sterling, Mark? He’s written about climate change extensively – both in fiction/non-fiction. Heavy Weather and The Caryatids spring to mind as good examples. 

  4. Hi Tim,

    I’ve not, as it happens – thanks for the tips, I’ll check them out. 

  5. Yeah, we have plenty of denial in the media here (Australia). It definitely seems to be slowly spreading. Mostly from what I’d consider to be our equivalents of The Mail and Telegraph, such as the Herald Sun. There seems to be a lot of money to be made in telling people what they want to hear. Books that deny climate change like ‘How to get expelled from school’ by Ian Plimer get huge publicity from conservative papers and radio shows and seem to sell very well. I’ll admit that I haven’t read the entire book because it sold out quickly at work and I wasn’t going to buy one, but from what I’ve read it was pretty much just a right-wing version of the scare-mongering the same people always accuse environmentalists of. Strange how they all seem to come from people with links to mining and interests in industry, isn’t it? 

    And then there is the huge assumption that any form of environmentalism is inherently ‘anti-human’. Sigh. But yes, when I mentioned it to a European friend he had seemed to have no idea that there was a denial movement. Just didn’t seem particularly plausible to him. I can recall a few SF books with a post-climate change setting if I try, but not really any that deal with climate change happening per se.  

  6. Hi Michelle,

    Thanks for the commentary on things in Australia, and it’s sad to see it’s just as bad there. But yes, no one seems to question where they get their information from these days – the fact that it’s the propaganda of a corporation. 

    I never quite understand the accusation of environmentalism being anti-human. Climate change is something that directly affects humans. To try and prevent it is a humanitarian act every bit as much as an environmental one. Oh well…

  7. see new genre term subgenre of sci fi called CLI Fi and here: clifibooks.com and WIKI page for “cli fi” – genre growing bigger now and Margaret Atwood boosts the name with oped in HuffPo seeb CLI FI CENTRAL blog here