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Could cli-fi help inspire real climate change action?

Could cli-fi help inspire real climate change action?
04 Jul
3:11

Updated July 04, 2018 08:05:36

Climate fiction novels catapult readers into a future ravaged by the catastrophic effects of global warming.

Survival is a struggle amid dwindling food and water supplies, extreme weather and pandemics. Environmental emergencies are slowly unfolding: animals dying, forests vanishing, sea levels rising.

The genre — variously dubbed ‘cli-fi’, ‘slow apocalypse’ and Anthropocene fiction — has become a publishing phenomenon, with Margaret Atwood and Ian McEwan among those conjuring up dystopian near-futures.

“You could say it’s because it resonates with a culture on the verge of collapse,” says Australian author Alice Robinson, whose cli-fi novel Anchor Point was longlisted for the Stella Prize in 2016.

For some the genre is simply a new take on science fiction, but for others it’s a timely wake-up call that could inspire real change.

James Bradley, whose 2015 book Clade was one of the first Australian works to be hailed as cli-fi, says it’s easy to understand why many people struggle to make sense of the “incredibly difficult idea” of climate change.

“[Climate change] is huge, it spreads everywhere, it touches everything, it’s completely unbounded,” he says.

“It’s such a big problem that we either exist in a state of denial about it… or we go into this kind of blind panic and despair. And neither of those are useful responses.”

He’s resistant to the term cli-fi — it’s too limiting, he says, for an issue that effects all aspects of our lives — but believes in its impact.

Fiction, he says, gives us a way to push past our despair, and to start thinking about the messages conveyed by climate science in a new way.

“We’re looking at a metre, probably more, [of sea rise] by the end of the century. I actually can’t imagine what that means, and I don’t think we as a society can get to grips with that,” he says.

“One of the things that you can do with fiction is find a way of allowing people to find a way to understand what that might mean … what it might feel like to live in that, what it might feel like to experience that.

“[It gives] shape to that sense of dissonance, that sense of wrongness about the world. And often a sense of grief as well about these things.”

Once people can make sense of the issue, he says, they may feel empowered to take action — even in a small way — to fight global warming.

‘There’s hope in that hopelessness’

For readers feeling overwhelmed in the face of climate change, cli-fi also has an important message to deliver: one of hope.

“I think it definitely can showcase a way of living beyond the collapse,” Robinson says.

“In my own writing I’ve started to think of these narratives as classic hero stories: these people in impossible situations beyond the collapse in the case of post-apocalyptic narratives.

“And they’re still enduring, in these terrible circumstances. There’s something intrinsically heroic, and comforting, to me in the idea that ordinary people might go on living in unendurable circumstances.

“There’s hope in that hopelessness somehow.”

For Bradley, the books are less about offering hope, and more about “making space for change”.

“You can say the world is ending… but as soon as you have to write a story about it, you can see that that’s a hopelessly simplistic response,” he says.

“People will still be alive, people will still be going on with their lives and doing things, and that forces you to engage with what it might actually be like.

“The world is not actually going to end; it’s going to be transformed.

“Talking about how we are going to live with that and deal with that is a much more useful conversation.”

A written monument to the past?

When Robinson thinks about climate change and the future, she fluctuates between hope and sadness.

“The complication in that is I’m a parent; I have to remain hopeful against the odds because I’ve sent [my children] into the future by bringing them here,” she says.

“It does create purpose: You think, ‘we’re in this position now, these children are here, what are we going to do about it?’

“The scariest thing in climate change is that we won’t do anything; that we’ll just let it all unfold and collapse.”

But she finds something comforting in the idea that while she can’t know what the future will hold, many authors have imagined versions of it.

“The idea that a writer has sat in a room and conjured a world not dissimilar to the scary one we’re facing now is really comforting to me… if someone can imagine it, how bad can it be?” she says.

“Perhaps that sounds a little bit naïve, or head in the sand, but it’s a comfort.”

And she wonders if the cli-fi of today will one day help readers of tomorrow understand their world — whatever it may be.

“Sometimes I wonder whether it can be a monument to the past. Whether we’re making a record for future generations that we’ve had these ideas, that we imagined the future that our children might live in,” she says.

“It’s a way of saying to them: we saw it coming.

“I don’t know what worth that might be to them, if that might be comforting for them in the future.”

Topics: fiction, books-literature, arts-and-entertainment, environment, climate-change, australia

First posted July 04, 2018 07:00:08

Source: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-07-04/could-climate-change-fiction-help-save-the-world/9913990

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