Friday, February 13, 2015

Cli-Fi and climate awareness

I have been reading science fiction since I was a kid in the 1960s.  Currently, I read two or three SF books every month on my Kindle and sometimes go back and re-read books that I had read in print years ago.  I particularly enjoy science fiction that takes an existing facet of our world or culture and extrapolates it into the future.  Some SF authors work in the new genre known as "climate fiction" (or Cli-Fi) in which the story focuses on climate change in the near future.
Several years ago I read Kim Stanley Robinson's science in the Capital trilogy that focus on abrupt climate change set in the present day.  Kim is one of Science Fiction's best authors and also one of my personal favorites.  His books tend to be long and wordy and filled with relevant and apparently well researched science, while his characters remain engaging throughout.  Beginning with "Fourty Signs of Rain", this trilogy left a profound impact on me and permanently changed the way I see the world.  Since then I have studied climatology and climate change and have come to believe that what he has portrayed in these books is quite likely to occur this century. 

If you enjoy reading fiction, or science fiction as a way to gain insights into our contemporary culture as I do, you will find these books a good read.
I recently read John Barnes book "Mother of Storms" which sets a much more dramatic scenario in some ways than Robinson's books.  John is one of Science Fiction's "killer B's" that include other great authors such as Greg Benford, David Brin and Greg Bear - all favorites of mine.  The abrupt climate change scenario in this book is based on cutting-edge science and proposes the idea that enormous methane releases from clathrates buried under the Arctic could trigger a jump in global temperature which in turn could create massive hurricanes on a scale never seen before.  Given that this book was first published in July 1994 (I read a re-print from 2102), it reads as amazingly prescient even today given what we know about the methane trapped under the oceans in the Arctic.  This is known as the methane gun hypothesis in climate studies and is an issue of grave concern to climate scientists as a potential trigger for extremely abrupt climate change.  We are already beginning to see the impacts of increased ocean and air temperatures on moisture uptake into the atmosphere in the form of increasing numbers of severe rain and snowfall events.

Barnes's book follows several intriguing characters through the mayhem that ensues as a giant hurricane and its spawn devastates much of the planet.  This is no made-for-TV style novel, but one grounded deeply in reality and science.  The only thing I found uncomfortable was his penchant for portraying sexual deviance and torture, along with horrifying ways to die.  This is no book for the faint of heart, and portrays a dystopian future humanity.  Nonetheless it is a vivid and engaging read that puts the potential for abrupt climate change into a clear context of a near future human world scenario.

I am currently reading Kim Stanley Robinson's book "2312".  As the title would suggest it is set in the future long after the Earth has been impacted by climate change.  Humanity has become interplanetary and inhabits most of the moons and planets in the solar system.  His characters are deeply engaging and the story is rich and filled with wonderful science fiction technology insights and obscure cultural references.  This is yet another book which indirectly addresses climate change as a possible future for humanity and I highly recommend it as a good read even though I'm only about one third of the way through the book.

If you enjoy reading fiction, or science fiction and want to learn more about climate change, these books create an entertaining and yet factually based way of absorbing knowledge about this crisis that humanity will certainly be confronting in the foreseeable future.


  1. Guy, good post, and as a former Frenchman's Bay and Bar Harbor summer resident, 1960s, and working with cli fi genre now, thanks for posting this. One note re "There is a new sub genre known as "climate fiction" (or Cli-Fi) in which the story focuses on climate change in the near future." PLEASE NOTE: I created the cli fi term and it was created NOT as a subgenre of sci fi; it is a stand alone, independent, separate genre from sci fi. The media keep repeating this and it's just not true, Guy. So for future reference, since you like the rise of cli fi novels, please do tell your readers it is not a subgenre of anything. And not a sub genre of sci fi at all. Google and Wiki to see the facts behind this. I keep correcting the media on this and they keep repeating the incorrect info. to REPEAT: cli fi is a separate genre from sci fi. not a subgenre. Not need to correct this now and but for future reference. And Guy, not a big point, but at at the same time, yes, a big point. SMILE. I insist. If any questions, email me or fidn me at twitter @clificentral and see new website

  2. No need to post....

    Daniel Bloom's "ownership" of an abbreviation must have the text and twitter world scrambling to "copyright" or at least seek recognition for the thousands of abbreviations they "coin". To say nothing of the medical and engineering communities, whose use of abbreviations is all encompassing. If Mr. Bloom has anything original to say or even summarizes complex concepts in a unique way, well fine. I fully agree sci-fi is and has always embraced the scientific extension of today extrapolated into the future, often highlighting issues clearly and specifically as "cli-fi" seems to attempt. As is, based on the comment and a little research....well let's just say @TEOTD he may be a little CRZ

  3. @rj in Texas, i know who you are and your name and good on ya mate, for posting. Cheers! On purpose, "cli fi" term has never been copyrighted or registered and nobody owns it. And I didn't "coin" cli fi term, i merely riffed on the sci fi term and sound, so that's in no way coining a new term. So the cli fi term belong to everyone and anyone who wants to use it, sure. i only correct bloggers and reporters and editors who use the cli fi term in what I feel is the wrong way, but if they don't agree, they are free certainly to keep using it as they wish. I just put in my two cents, and others can decide as they wish: no copyright, no registered mark. Even sci fi is not TM or Reg or copyright. Originally it was called science-fic in the 1920s. then science fiction, then sci fi and SF and sf. And rj, as you say, you "fully agree sci-fi is and has always embraced the scientific extension of today extrapolated into the future, often highlighting issues clearly and specifically as "cli-fi" seems to attempt". And rj, i fully agree with you, sci fi has done very good stuff with climate change issues, even before I was born, and I am not knocking sci fi at all. Cli fi and sci fi are cousin genres, joined at the hip and the brainstem, and what really matters is not the genre per see but the STORY, the content of the novel or short story or movie. So labels not important, and sci fi rocks. Cli fi rocks in a different way. Long may both prosper. That's all I ever been sayin', mate.

  4. And Guy, update note: speaking of the methane gun hypothesis, which is a very real threat to the future of humankind, yes, and some professors at the Univ of Alaska, Fairbanks, UAF, have been doing important research on this, Katie especially...Jim Laughter (real name, a sci fi author from Tulsa) wrote a very good cli fi novel in 2012 titled "Polar City Red" which is worth tracking down online and maybe even Kindling it, and one of it main themes and chapter sequences is about methane explosions at lakes in Alaska in 2070 when the story takes place. Fairbanks Daily News Miner's Libbie Martin wrote good review of the book, and Jim has a website too if you google his name. That novel was in fact the first cli fi novel -- that was actually called ''a cli fi novel'' in its press package that went out nationwide and helped propel the cli fi term into contemporary usage and led to both Judith Curry's very good blog post at CLIMATE ETC in late Dec. 2012 titled "Cli fi" which led to NPR doing the big cli fi media splash in April 2013 a few months later. Do check out Jim's novel. It led the pack, but since it was published by a small firm in Texas, it never got wide distribution and maybe only 1000 copies were sold or so. But it's an important "first novel" of the cli fi genre. I loved reading it, and Jim let me read it as he was writing it chapter by chapter. He was there first!

  5. Daniel,
    Thanks for the book suggestion, I have it on my Kindle already.

    The way that I stay in touch with Arctic sea ice and methane issues is through Sam Carana's blog: Arctic News:
    He creates impressive graphics to convey complex information about the ongoing collapse of Arctic sea ice etc.

  6. Hi, Guy. My ego scan found your review. Just one factual error, which I will enjoy correcting because it gives me a chance to brag a bit more: That 2012 edition of Mother of Storms is a reprint. The book was first published in July 1994. So I'm seven times as prescient as you thought I was!

  7. John, isn't egosurfing rewarding! ;) I will add a correction. Now I am EVEN MORE impressed! As I follow climate change news daily it seems that your premise could happen withing this century. Hope not! Thanks for a great read and memorable characters.


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