6 Science-Minded Women Protagonists Confronting Climate Change

Fiction Illuminates Need For Emotional And Climate Resilience

Heather Marie Spitzberg
Feb 3 · 4 min read
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Photo by Karim MANJRA on Unsplash

Wildfires, high tide flooding, increasing storm activity, and relocation to areas of less risk have become reality. It’s daunting. Life is overwhelming enough. Add in absolute devastation and it’s easy to become paralyzed into inaction. Even the most motivated falter in the face of the sadness, the unknown, and the frustration. Recent fiction tackles this emotional response with compelling science-minded women protagonists who balance routine responsibilities while confronting climate change.

1. Weather By Jenny Offill

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Lizzie is a university librarian and assistant to a well-known climate lecturer. Her assistant duties require her to spread the professor’s message of doom via podcasts and correspondence, even as the professor gives up the cause as futile. Meanwhile, Lizzie must maintain mundane life as a single mom, like remembering the shopping lists on the refrigerator and catering to the library’s quirky visitors. Add in the not-so-mundane tasks like learning about her son’s love interest and worrying about her drug-addicted brother, and it would be enough for most to quit. But Lizzie relies on her agile thinking to hold space for her daily personal challenges and disseminate the professor’s call to action.

2. Waiting For The Night Song By Julie Carrick Dalton

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Cadie, an entomologist, discovers invasive beetles that kill pine trees resulting in devastating wildfires that threaten her hometown. Her work tracing the beetle damage is jeopardized by a new policy that prohibits data collection from federal lands. And when her community follows her recommendation to clear deadfall to prevent fires from spreading, authorities find a long-buried body that implicates her in a childhood crime. Cadie throws literal and figurative punches to defend science, her home, her friends, and herself.

3. Natural History By Carlos Fonseca

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Viviana Luxembourg, a descendant of Union General William Sherman who led the burning of Atlanta in the War of Rebellion, is tried for unlawfully influencing the stock market and claims her offense was merely art. She has not seen her daughter, Giovanna, since an ill-fated trip where they became embroiled with con artists posing as aides to an apostle who use Marshall’s scorched-earth attitude to plunder native communities. Now terminally ill, Giovanna elicits the help of an expert on the quincunx, a five-pointed shape commonly found in nature, to create her final exhibit. Giovanna dies, leaving the quincunx expert to unravel the secretive women and their art, which seeks to expose and heal the ancestry of destruction.

4. Migrations By Charlotte McConaghy

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Franny finds sanctuary among birds, but in the age of a modern mass-extinction there is little peace and she carries her own personal grief. She hitches a ride on an illegal fishing vessel by promising to lead the captain to a catch by electronically tracking the few remaining Arctic terns on what could be their final migration from Greenland to Antarctica. But science is not her only motivation for finding the tern’s last resting place.

5. The Relentless Moon by Mary Robinette Kowal

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Nicole is a pilot, astronaut, governor’s wife, and first lady candidate. In an alternate 1963, humans are being evacuated to the moon and Mars after a meteor strike alters the Earth’s climate. Unrest and conspiracies abound because there is not enough room for all to reach safety. Nicole finds herself in the middle of an unravelling plot to scuttle the relocation program. She uses her knowledge of aerospace technology, climate impacts, and human nature to advert more catastrophe, all while wearing ridiculously uncomfortable heels and fighting to maintain her career status as she ages.

6. Light From Other Stars By Erika Swyler

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Nedda is a precocious child in 1986 when the Challenger explodes in the skies near her home. She doesn’t let that deter her from her dream of becoming an astronaut, even if she feels hindered by her parents. Her mom, a chemist turned baker, pays more attention to proper sugar crystallization than Nedda’s interests. And her father’s experiments in the family’s basement dramatically alter Nedda’s timeline (as well as everyone else’s in town). Faced with Earth’s growing inhabitability, she takes a position with the first team to colonize a faraway planet. Each member of the elite international outfit possesses specialized knowledge. She realizes, almost too late, that she learned a life-saving lesson from her quirky parents.

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Heather Marie Spitzberg

Written by

Environmental author, scientist, and lawyer - www.hmspitzberg.com

Climate Conscious

Building a collective vision for a better tomorrow

Heather Marie Spitzberg

Written by

Environmental author, scientist, and lawyer - www.hmspitzberg.com

Climate Conscious

Building a collective vision for a better tomorrow

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