Friday, April 25, 2014

The World as We Knew It: Why Cli-Fi Matters

So the IPCC came out with its latest report on climate change last week, just as I started reading Nathaniel Rich's brilliant, grim and often hilarious novel Odds Against Tomorrow. The story's protagonist, Mitchell Zukor, makes his living imagining worst-case scenarios: nuclear war, antibiotic-resistant superflu, cyber-terrorism, a volcanic eruption in the Canary Islands that triggers a tsunami half a mile high. Adios, Eastern Seaboard.

He also frets about sea level rise, mega-twisters and things of that nature, which, if you're on Team We're Not Batsh&*%t Crazy and Thus We Believe That 99% of Scientists Are Probably Right, are more likely. A lot more likely.

As a writer of cli-fi (a term I only recently discovered but instantly fell in love with), I feel an affinity with Mitchell Zukor. I too spend my days thinking about worst-case scenarios. So does this guy, who made a few waves with a paper warning that we are devouring the planet's resources at such an astonishing rate that the whole enchilada, a.k.a. civilization as we know it, could collapse in a few decades. Basically, the Walking Dead, but with a little less brain consumption.

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The worst-case scenario that inspired my book was that flooding and drought and storms and wildfires would make the surface of the Earth uninhabitable. If you were rich or well-connected, you moved underground. If you weren't, you were left to die. Not all cli-fi takes such a dystopian view of the future. But most of it isn't exactly rosy. And it's a sad truth that the poorest people in the world are the ones who are currently bearing the brunt of this ecological hot mess.

I thought a lot about what happens to a culture psychologically when they lose everything they've known and are cut off from the sun and the sky and other people. 


And then I thought about what surface survivors might be like, how they would view the world and each other. Which is where the more optimistic part of the story comes in. Because I'd like to think that people would pull together at the end. That divisions like race and gender and sexual preference would take a back seat to more pressing concerns, such as finding food and water and not being caught by hypercanes. In fact, maybe the ones who were written off eventually manage to create something better, something more human. More altruistic, even.

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I sincerely hope my worst-case scenario doesn't come to pass. There's still time to get it to together, although not a whole lot. In the meantime, writers like Nathaniel Rich and John Atcheson and Margaret Atwood and many others are unafraid to explore the darker reaches of cli-fi.

Their imaginings may be wildly different, but the underlying message is the same: The future is now.

Kat's debut YA cli-fi, Some Fine Day, comes out July 1 from Strange Chemistry. You can find her on Twitter and her website. Goodreads also has a nice little list of cli-fi books here.

1 comment:

  1. So well said, Ms. Ross! Cli fi does matter and you said it so perfectly, a great little oped. I hope one day the NEw York Times will commission you write such an oped for the oped pages there, perhaps in conjunction to when you a book comes out, as they often almsot always like to LINK an oped to an authior's new book or recent book, in fact the oped page editors at NYT make a list of upcomign new book every book season and then contact authors to be with commisison to write an oped NOT about the book exactly, that would be pimping, but abotu some related theme or fact, i bet they are thinking of you right now....ask your editor to nominate you to the oped team at the NYT