How Science Fiction Can Inspire Climate Activism

Have you heard of "cli-fi"?
July 5, 2024


  • Climate change is the most pressing problem of our time, with a profound impact on Earth’s future.
  • Fiction, especially cli-fi, can be a powerful way to communicate the urgency of climate change and inspire action.
  • Stories about climate change can build community, enhance empathy, and offer hope for the future.
  • Authors like Margaret Atwood, Barbara Kingsolver, Richard Powers, and Kim Stanley Robinson are exploring climate change in their works.

Climate change is, by far, the biggest story of our era, an existential threat that has already profoundly affected life on Earth and promises to change it even more radically over the next few centuries. As our most pressing problem, it has inspired numerous non-fiction texts—news articles, science journalism, documentaries, academic monographs, and pop-science books (think Greta Thunberg’s The Climate Book or Anri Snaer Magnason’s On Time and Water).

In mainstream fiction, though, climate change took a long time to appear. In 2016, the novelist Amitav Ghosh observed in his book The Great Derangement: Climate Change and The Unthinkable that “it is a striking fact that when novelists do choose to write about climate change, it is almost always outside of fiction.”

Ghosh’s distinction between literary fiction and genre fiction implicitly discounts remarkable early treatments of climate disaster in science fiction—Laurence Manning’s The Man Who Awoke (1933), J.G. Ballard’s The Wind from Nowhere(1962) and The Drowned World (1962), George Turner’s The Sea and Summer(1987), and Octavia E. Butler’s Parable series (1993-1998), to name a few.

What’s more, at least two ‘serious’ novelists have recently tackled the subject: Margaret Atwood in her dystopian MaddAddam series (2003-2013) and Barbara Kingsolver in Flight Behavior (2012). Even so, in 2016, Ghosh’s point largely held true: Climate change was not a hugely popular subject for mainstream literary novelists.


Cli-fi encompasses narratives about climate change. The tag was first coined by journalist and climate activist Dan Bloom, who used it in print in a review of Jim Laughter’s 2012 novella Polar City Red.

As the rhyme suggests, cli-fi is a sub-genre of sci-fi. It tends to be speculative, to focus on anthropogenic global warming, and to examine the effects of climate change on human communities. Frequently, as with Atwood’s trilogy, there is a dystopian slant.

In keeping with the complexity of climate change itself, cli-fi is multiform, encompassing science fiction, fantasy, mystery, thriller, magical realism, fable, satire, and everything in between.

Read the full post at CounterPunch.

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