It’s Not Climate Change — It’s Everything Change
Margaret E. Atwood

Why Cli-Fi Matters

When we read novels or short fiction in any language, we read to understand the story. We read to learn something new, and hopefully to get some kind of emotional uplift through the words on the page and the skills of the storyteller.

So how to tell the “story” of climate change and man-made global warming?

I feel that the more we embrace the science behind climate change at a cultural level, the more effectively we can join together to avert the worst.

When Margaret Atwood suggests that “cli-fi” novels and movies could be a useful way of educating young people about the dangers that face them, she helps set the stage for what might come next. On the other hand, she also wonders whether “cli-fi” could end up being co-opted by the entertainment industry and become just another part of our culture of distraction and cute cat videos.

I hope “cli-fi” remains true to its intentions. I think it’s a genre whose time has come.

This new literary genre dubbed “cli-fi” has been evolving over the past few years, and while its name is a takeoff on “sci-fi,” it’s focused on stories that relate to climate change and how it impacts human life now and in the future. It’s a perfect genre for young writers (and readers) to tackle. Young literary critics, too.

I know a little about the rise of cli-fi in the media and in publishing because I have been working in the PR trenches to help popularize it, not only in the English-speaking world but also among the many people who read in Spanish, Chinese, German or French, to name but a few.

Cli-fi, as I see it, is a genre that can be tackled by writers, young and old, in any nation and in any language. It’s an international genre with an international readership.

A growing number of cli-fi novels are targeting a youthful audience — what’s called the YA (young adult) category — and indeed, it is teenagers and young adults who will suffer the consequences of previous generations’ lifestyle choices.

In a world facing potentially catastrophic impacts from climate change, this new literary genre is now becoming part of our communal storytelling culture, imparting new ideas and insights about the future humanity might face, not only in 10 years, but in 100 or 500 years as well.

This is where cli-fi comes in. It can play an important role in bringing the emotions and feelings of characters in a well-written story or novel to the awareness of readers worldwide.

Imagine a cli-fi novel that not only reached thousands of readers, but also touched them, and perhaps motivated them to become a louder voice in the raging international policy debate over carbon emissions.

That’s the potential of cli-fi.

The plots can be scary, but cli-fi novels offer a chance to explore these issues with emotion and prose.

Books matter. Since literature has an important role to play in our discussions about global warming impacts worldwide, cli-fi has staying power. Time will tell.