Cli­mate worry driv­ing ‘cli-fi’ boom

Muscat Daily - - FRONT PAGE -

Imag­ine a world where storms in­un­date coastal megacities, en­tire species be­come ex­tinct in the blink of an eye, and con­flicts are fought over dwin­dling nat­u­ral re­sources.

Not so dif­fi­cult in 2019, per­haps.

After a year of dev­as­tat­ing ex­treme weather and world­wide un­rest over the emer­gency posed by cli­mate change, top­ics that used to be­long to the realm of sci­ence fic­tion are find­ing their way into main­stream sto­ry­telling.

Back in 2004, Roland Em­merich's dis­as­ter flick

The Day After To­mor­row de­picted a global weather catas­tro­phe, with coastal ar­eas de­voured by the sea amid gen­eral me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal may­hem.

Just 15 years on, scenes from the movie re­sem­ble images taken from real-life weather events to­day. And as cli­mate change makes su­per­storms, flood­ing, wild­fires and droughts more likely, a new genre is gain­ing fans the world over: Cli-fi.

“It's catch­ing on like wild­fire,” said US writer and cli-fi afi­cionado Dan Bloom.

He cred­ited US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, who has said he will with­draw from the Paris cli­mate deal, with help­ing pro­mote the genre.

“There's a lot of peo­ple who say that cli­mate change is not real,”said Bloom. “These peo­ple are mak­ing the rest of us very an­gry and as a re­sult clifi is get­ting more and more power.”

An­drew Milner, a pro­fes­sor of com­par­a­tive lit­er­a­ture at Mel­bourne's Monash Univer­sity, said that cli-fi was yet to break out from sci-fi’s yoke - most peo­ple get into the new genre be­cause they like the old one. "Both its texts and prac­ti­tion­ers - writ­ers, read­ers, pub­lish­ers, film di­rec­tors, fans - re­late pri­mar­ily to the sci­ence-fic­tion tra­di­tion," he said. "(But) it is very clear that the sub-genre has grown very rapidly in re­cent years."

Global ap­peal

Global protest move­ments such as the Youth Strike for Cli­mate and Ex­tinc­tion Re­bel­lion have height­ened public aware­ness of the is­sue.

For J R Burgmann, co-author of Sci­ence Fic­tion and Cli­mate Change: A So­ci­o­log­i­cal Ap­proach, clifi films and nov­els are a log­i­cal ex­pres­sion of an in­creas­ingly knowl­edge­able and con­cerned so­ci­ety.

"This rise is a re­sponse to real-world con­cerns," he said. "And though I would ar­gue that lit­er­a­ture has been rather slow to re­spond to man­made cli­mate change, it cer­tainly ap­pears to be mak­ing up for lost time."

And, be­cause cli­mate change is a truly global prob­lem, cli-fi has be­come a world­wide, multi-lin­gual phe­nom­e­non. In France, two ma­jor tele­vi­sion se­ries fo­cus­ing on dystopian but con­ceiv­able fu­tures have re­ceived pop­u­lar and crit­i­cal ac­claim.

The Last Wave tells the story of ten surfers who go miss­ing in bad weather. When they re­turn they can't re­mem­ber what hap­pened but some have strange new pow­ers.

And The Col­lapse, set in a post-apoc­a­lyp­tic world where fuel is scarce, nu­clear sites are threat­ened and medicines are ra­tioned, de­buted this week.

Re­cent cli-fi works from around the world in­clude Black­out Is­land by Ice­landic author Si­gridur Ha­galin Bjorns­dot­tir, a Cana­dian adap­ta­tion of Jean Heg­land's Into the For­est and Wa­ter Knife, by US author Paolo Baci­galupi.

In The His­tory of Bees, Nor­we­gian author Maja Lunde's 2017 best­seller, hu­man­ity is forced to pol­li­nate their crops by hand after pes­ti­cides have wiped in­sects off the face of Earth.

"Peo­ple are more and more wor­ried about cli­mate change and au­thors write about what scares them," Lunde told AFP last year.

‘Hard to ig­nore’

Nov­els and films about cli­mate change are noth­ing new, of course.

J G Bal­lard's The Burn­ing World (1964) and John Brun­ner's The Sheep Look Up (1972) de­picted a world rav­aged by en­vi­ron­men­tal dam­age decades be­fore sci­en­tists fully un­der­stood man­made cli­mate change.

Even John Stein­beck's gen­er­a­tional The Grapes of Wrath (1939) is es­sen­tially a tale of the har­row­ing or­deal un­der­gone by cli­mate migrants from the Ok­la­homa dust bowl.

But, as lead­ing cli-fi author Jean-Marc Ligny ex­plained: "Cli­mate change needs sto­ries, and read­ers need them to be told. There are fig­ures, sta­tis­tics, but these don't re­ally say any­thing. Clifi makes peo­ple more aware of the sit­u­a­tion.”

A CGI scene from Roland Em­merich's dis­as­ter flick ‘The Day After To­mor­row’; and (in­set) a woman crosses the flooded St Mark’s Square by St Mark's Basil­ica after an ex­cep­tional overnight ‘Alta Ac­qua’ high tide wa­ter level, early in Novem­ber, in Venice

There’s a lot of peo­ple who say that cli­mate change is not real. These peo­ple make the rest of us very an­gry. Dan Bloom

There are fig­ures, sta­tis­tics, but these don’t re­ally say any­thing. Cli-fi makes peo­ple more aware. Jean-Marc Ligny

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