Let’s be very honest. Talking about climate change can sometimes be a little…boring. Don’t get me wrong, I really care about stopping us from dying gradual, painful deaths as a result of a mass-extinction of our own making, but I just can’t read another academic paper about the climate crisis full of jargon. Still, it’s not as much the science that surrounds it, but how it is made available to people, which makes it such a dull affair. And when it’s not boring, it’s straight-up terrifying. I wonder if someone dressed up as the 2018 IPCC Special Report on Global Warming on Halloween this year because it is truly scary. Both of these factors though are bound to keep one way from the climate discourse and from active participation in the same. That’s where Climate-Fiction or Cli-Fi comes in.
Cli-Fi or Climate Fiction is exactly what it sounds like. It is fiction which focuses on the modern-day climate crisis. Also called Anthropocene Fiction, Cli-Fi perhaps is a way for writers to cope with what now mostly seems like an inevitable climate catastrophe. While Cli-Fi is sometimes used as an all-encompassing term, including but not limited to climate change poetry, the term Anthropocene literature can therefore also be used when talking about a piece of literature which deals with this theme. Apart from that, Cli-Fi of course also includes movies, the likes of which include The Day After Tomorrow and recent hits such as Christopher Nolan’s much-celebrated Interstellar. But not all pieces of Cli-Fi has to be on the nose as much as The Day After Tomorrow was. Climate change, if not the central, can be one of the central themes of such work.
Also called Anthropocene Fiction, Cli-Fi perhaps is a way for writers to cope with what now mostly seems like an inevitable climate catastrophe.
Though mostly seen as a subset of the science-fiction genre, Cli-Fi as a genre is indeed getting more and more popular. What might soon become its own category and have its own separate shelf in bookstores soon, Cli-Fi is surely getting all the attention that the climate discourse should have been getting. Of course, there are those who say that these works are usually ‘alarmist’ and ‘only meant to scare us’- and to them I say- that’s exactly the point. Climate change is real and scary, so Cli-Fi should actually be a little too much on the nose. Works of fiction that exaggerate the consequences of climate change such as extreme weather events might just be the key to getting people’s attention and tell them that, ‘Hey, climate change is a thing and if we don’t do anything about it, this is what might happen‘. See, I’m not saying reading Cli-Fi, or watching Cli-Fi movies can turn your everyday climate change skeptic to a believer, that’s probably never going to happen. But what it can do is take the passiveness out of a viewer or reader and fill them with a much-needed sense of urgency and make them demand climate action.
Cli-Fi also might score brownie points on the fact that it has the scope to be quite intersectional. Cli-Fi can explore themes such as how feminism and climate change interact with each other, how it affects communities of colour, and reassert the wisdom behind indigenous people and their way of co-existing with nature in harmony. And such works already exist. One of the best examples that come to my mind is the 2018 movie Annihilation, featuring a women-led cast, which is seen fighting for the planet in a weird, intriguing world. Sejal Mehta’s contribution to Hachette India’s Magical Women anthology, “Earth and Evolution Walk Into a Bar” takes an ecofeminist approach. It reimagines the Earth as a woman named ‘Maahi’ and talks about how mankind has plundered Earth to the extent that only something worth of a factory reset is required to make things better. Trisha Das’ hilarious yet thought-provoking contribution to the same anthology revolves around environmental deterioration and underlines the necessity of urgent action.
Cli-Fi also might score brownie points on the fact that it has the scope to be quite intersectional. Cli-Fi can explore themes such as how feminism and climate change interact with each other, how it affects communities of colour, and reassert the wisdom behind indigenous people and their way of co-existing with nature in harmony.
Climate Change poetry has too, been going places. While poems exploring the connection between humans and nature are nothing new, poems about climate change aren’t the usual romantic, feel-good form of poetry that we’re used to reading. Poets all over the world are now also writing about the feelings of anxiety, helplessness, grief, and sometimes anger that comes attached to the ongoing climate crisis. I talked to Delhi-based poet Shreyasi Sharma and asked her why she writes about climate change, she told me,
“I am writing about climate change because that is what I keep seeing around me. As a writer, we are told to write what we know but not be limited by what we don’t know. Many writers are writing about it, many people are raising concern over climate crisis, water crisis, air pollution, cutting off trees, but we are still far from Panic.”
So is poetry about climate change becoming as popular as most works of Cli-Fi? “I have not come across many poems about climate change”, Sharma said. “Having said that, I started writing because I was reading poems on climate crisis. One of my favorites is ‘On the train, a man snatches my book, reads’ by Paige Lewis. My poem ‘Of what we have done to earth’ is a response poem after I read Fatima Asghar’s poem ‘I Don’t Know What Will Kill Us First: The Race War or What We’ve Done to the Earth’. I like these poems because they are in a very direct way, observing the breakdown that is going on, and also relating to it an everyday event of travelling in a train and reading a book and meeting a lover to hangout with.”
Cli-Fi today has the potential to shape the popular narrative around climate change and similar themes. When our favourite fictional-character is in rage over global inaction on climate change, who knows what might happen? You and I might get enraged too. And if not enraged, we wouldn’t at least, and I hope, be apathetic to those who are being affected by climate change right now and all of us who very soon will be.
Cli-Fi might not make a conversation about climate change any less boring and/or terrifying, but it might make it more personal. It might make us less passive and indifferent to news of the huge number of people dying because of extreme weather events such as droughts, floods and famine, to entire species going extinct because of climate change, and maybe to our own history of indifference.
Featured Image Source: The Writer’s Magazine