Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake series is an often cited dystopian novel in ecocriticism.

Climate fiction (sometimes shortened as cli-fi) is literature that deals with climate change.[1] Generally speculative in nature but inspired by climate science, works may take place in the world as we know it, in the near future or in fictional worlds experiencing climate change. The genre frequently includes science fiction and dystopian or utopian themes, imagining the potential futures based on how humanity responds to the impacts of climate change. The genre typically focuses on anthropogenic climate change and other environmental issues as opposed to weather and disaster more generally. Technologies such as climate engineering or climate adaptation practices often feature prominently in works exploring their impacts on society.

The term "cli-fi" is generally credited to freelance news reporter and climate activist Dan Bloom in 2007 or 2008.[1][2] "Climate fiction" has only been attested since the early 2010s, and the term has been retroactively applied to a number of works.[3][4] Pioneering 20th century authors include J. G. Ballard and Octavia E. Butler, while dystopian fiction from Margaret Atwood is often cited as an immediate precursor to the genre's emergence. Since 2010, prominent cli-fi authors include Kim Stanley Robinson, Richard Powers, Paolo Bacigalupi, and Barbara Kingsolver. The publication of Robinson's The Ministry for the Future in 2020 helped cement the genre's emergence; the work generated presidential and United Nations mentions and an invitation for Robinson to meet planners at the Pentagon.[5]

University courses on literature and environmental issues may include climate change fiction in their syllabi.[6] This body of literature has been discussed by a variety of publications, including The New York Times, The Guardian, and Dissent magazine, among other international media outlets.[7] Academics and critics study the potential impact of fiction on the broader field of climate change communication.


Bloom had used the term to describe his novella Polar City Red, a post-apocalyptic story about climate refugees in Alaska set in 2075, which was not commercially successful.[1] It later came into mainstream media use in April 2013, when Christian Science Monitor and NPR ran stories about a new literary movement of novels and films that dealt with human-induced climate change.[1][3] Bloom had been critical of the lack of mention of his role in coining the term in these features.[1] Scott Thill wrote in HuffPost in 2014 that he had popularised the term in 2009, inspired by the mixture of science and fiction in Franny Armstrong's film The Age of Stupid.[8]


Jules Verne's 1889 novel The Purchase of the North Pole imagines climate change due to tilting of Earth's axis. In his posthumous Paris in the Twentieth Century, written in 1883 and set during the 1960s, the eponymous city experiences a sudden drop in temperature, which lasts for three years.[9]

Laurence Manning's 1933 serialized novel The Man Who Awoke has been described as an exemplary work of ecological science fiction from the golden age.[10] It tells the story a man who awakes from suspended animation in various future eras and learns about the destruction to the Earth's climate, caused by overuse of fossil fuels, global warming, and deforestation. People of the future refer to 20th century humans as "the wasters". They have abandoned over-industrialization and consumerism to live in small self-sufficient villages based around genetically engineered trees that provide all their necessities. Isaac Asimov credited The Man Who Awoke for bringing the "energy crisis" to his attention 40 years before it became common knowledge in the 1970s.[11]

Several well-known dystopian works by British author J. G. Ballard deal with climate-related natural disasters. In The Wind from Nowhere (1961), civilization is devastated by persistent hurricane-force winds, and The Drowned World (1962) describes a future of melted ice-caps and rising sea-levels caused by solar radiation.[12] In The Burning World (1964, later retitled The Drought) his climate catastrophe is human-made, a drought due to disruption of the precipitation cycle by industrial pollution.[13]

Frank Herbert's 1965 science fiction novel Dune, set on a fictional desert planet, has been proposed as a pioneer of climate fiction for its themes of ecology and environmentalism.[4]

Octavia E. Butler's Parable of the Sower (1993) imagines a near-future for the United States where climate change, wealth inequality, and corporate greed cause apocalyptic chaos. Here, and in sequel Parable of the Talents (1998), Butler dissects how instability and political demagoguery exacerbate society's underlying cruelty (especially with regards to racism and sexism) and also explores themes of survival and resilience.[14][15] Butler wrote the novel "thinking about the future, thinking about the things that we're doing now and the kind of future we're buying for ourselves, if we're not careful."[16]

As scientific knowledge of the effects of fossil fuel consumption and resulting increase in atmospheric CO2 concentrations entered the public and political arena as "global warming",[17] human-caused climate change entered works of fiction. Susan M. Gaines's Carbon Dreams (2000) was an early example of a literary novel that "tells a story about the devastatingly serious issue of human-induced climate change", set in the 1980s and published before the term "cli-fi" was coined.[18] Michael Crichton's State of Fear (2004), a techno-thriller, was a bestseller upon its release but was criticised by scientists for portraying climate change as "a vast pseudo-scientific hoax" and rejecting the scientific consensus on climate change.[19][20][21] Sigbjørn Skåden's novel Fugl (2019) is a Sámi novel written in Norwegian that weaves together environmental collapse with an allegory of colonialism

In 2016, Indian writer Amitav Ghosh described what he perceived as a lack of coverage of climate change in contemporary fiction as "the great derangement".

Margaret Atwood explored the subject in her dystopian trilogy Oryx and Crake (2003), The Year of the Flood (2009) and MaddAddam (2013).[22] In Oryx and Crake, Atwood presents a world where "social inequality, genetic technology and catastrophic climate change, has finally culminated in some apocalyptic event".[23] The novel's protagonist, Jimmy, lives in a "world split between corporate compounds", gated communities that have grown into city-states and pleeblands, which are "unsafe, populous and polluted" urban areas where the working classes live.[23]

In 2016, Indian writer Amitav Ghosh expressed concern that climate change had "a much smaller presence in contemporary literary fiction than it does even in public discussion". In The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable, Ghosh said "if certain literary forms are unable to negotiate these waters, then they will have failed – and their failures will have to be counted as an aspect of the broader imaginative and cultural failure that lies at the heart of the climate crisis."[24]

By the 2010s, climate fiction had attracted greater prominence and media attention.[2][25][26] Cultural critic Josephine Livingston at The New Republic wrote in 2020 that "the last decade has seen such a steep rise in sophisticated 'cli-fi' that some literary publications now devote whole verticals to it. With such various and fertile imaginations at work on the same topic, whether in fiction or nonfiction, the challenge facing the environmental writer now is standing out from the crowd (not to mention the headlines)." She highlighted Jeff Vandermeer's Annihilation to Nathaniel Rich's Odds Against Tomorrow as examples.[27]

Prominent examples

Speculative artwork depicting agriculture in India under climate change impacts in AD2500.

The popular science-fiction novelist Kim Stanley Robinson has been writing on the theme for several decades, including his Science in the Capital trilogy, which is set in the near future and includes Forty Signs of Rain (2004), Fifty Degrees Below (2005), and Sixty Days and Counting (2007). Robert K. J. Killheffer in his review for Fantasy & Science Fiction said "Forty Signs of Rain is a fascinating depiction of the workings of science and politics, and an urgent call to readers to confront the threat of climate change."[28] Robinson's climate-themed novel, titled New York 2140, was published in March 2017.[29] It gives a complex portrait of a coastal city that is partly underwater and yet has successfully adapted to climate change in its culture and ecology. Robinson's novel The Ministry for the Future, is set in the near future, and follows a subsidiary body, whose mission is to advocate for the world's future generations of citizens as if their rights are as valid as the present generation's.

Kim Stanley Robinson's science fiction works frequently include society's response to climate change.

British author J. G. Ballard used the setting of apocalyptic climate change in his early science fiction novels. In The Wind from Nowhere (1961), civilisation is reduced by persistent hurricane-force winds. The Drowned World (1962) describes a future of melted ice-caps and rising sea-levels, caused by solar radiation, creating a landscape mirroring the collective unconscious desires of the main characters. In The Burning World (1964) a surrealistic psychological landscape is formed by drought due to industrial pollution disrupting the precipitation cycle.

Similarly, The Road (2006) by Cormac McCarthy is set after an unspecified apocalypse or environmental catastrophe. It won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2007. Although it does not explicitly mention climate change, it has been listed by The Guardian as one of the best climate change novels,[30] and environmentalist George Monbiot has described it as "the most important environmental book ever written" for depicting a world without a biosphere.[31][32]

Ian McEwan's Solar (2010) follows the story of a physicist who discovers a way to fight climate change after managing to derive power from artificial photosynthesis.[33] The Stone Gods (2007) by Jeanette Winterson is set on the fictional planet Orbus, a world very like Earth, running out of resources and suffering from the severe effects of climate change. Inhabitants of Orbus hope to take advantage of possibilities offered by a newly discovered planet, Planet Blue, which appears perfect for human life.[34]

Other authors who have used this subject matter include:

Other examples

See also: Category:Climate change novels

Anthologies and collections


Many journalists, literary critics, and scholars have speculated about the potential influence of climate fiction on the beliefs of its readers. To date, three empirical studies have examined this question.

A controlled experiment found that reading climate fiction short stories "had small but significant positive effects on several important beliefs and attitudes about global warming – observed immediately after participants read the stories", though "these effects diminished to statistical nonsignificance after a one-month interval". However, the authors note that "the effects of a single exposure in an artificial setting may represent a lower bound of the real-world effects. Reading climate fiction in the real world often involves multiple exposures and longer narratives", such as novels, "which may result in larger and longer-lasting impacts".[49]

A survey of readers found that readers of climate fiction "are younger, more liberal, and more concerned about climate change than nonreaders", and that climate fiction "reminds concerned readers of the severity of climate change while impelling them to imagine environmental futures and consider the impact of climate change on human and nonhuman life. However, the actions that resulted from readers' heightened consciousness reveal that awareness is only as valuable as the cultural messages about possible actions to take that are in circulation. Moreover, the responses of some readers suggest that works of climate fiction might lead some people to associate climate change with intensely negative emotions, which could prove counterproductive to efforts at environmental engagement or persuasion."[50]

Finally, an empirical study focused on the popular novel The Water Knife found that cautionary climate fiction set in a dystopic future can be effective at educating readers about climate injustice and leading readers to empathize with the victims of climate change, including environmental migrants. However, its results suggest that dystopic climate narratives might lead to support for reactionary responses to climate change. Based on this result, it cautioned that "not all climate fiction is progressive", despite the hopes of many authors, critics, and readers.[51]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e Glass, Rodge (31 May 2013). "Global Warning: The Rise of 'Cli-fi'" retrieved 3 March 2016
  2. ^ a b Plantz, Kyle. "As the weather shifts, 'cli-fi' takes root as a new literary genre". Reuters. Retrieved 15 February 2022.
  3. ^ a b "So Hot Right Now: Has Climate Change Created A New Literary Genre?". Retrieved 5 February 2019.
  4. ^ a b "Dune, climate fiction pioneer: The ecological lessons of Frank Herbert's sci-fi masterpiece were ahead of its time". Salon. 14 August 2015. Retrieved 29 October 2021.
  5. ^ Rothman, Joshua (31 January 2022). "Can Science Fiction Wake Us Up to Our Climate Reality?". The New Yorker. Retrieved 24 December 2022.
  6. ^ Pérez-Peña, Richard (1 April 2014). "College Classes Use Arts to Brace for Climate Change". The New York Times. p. A12. Retrieved 31 March 2015.
  7. ^ Tuhus-Dubrow, Rebecca (Summer 2013). "Cli-Fi: Birth of a Genre". Dissent. Retrieved 23 March 2015.
  8. ^ "Cli-Fi Is Real". HuffPost. 30 October 2014. Retrieved 15 February 2022.
  9. ^ Evans, Arthur B. (March 1995). "The 'New' Jules Verne". Science-Fiction Studies. XXII:1 (65): 35–46. Archived from the original on 20 August 2020. Retrieved 31 March 2015.
    Taves, Brian (March 1997). "Jules Verne's Paris in the Twentieth Century". Science Fiction Studies. 24, Part 1 (71).
  10. ^ Canavan, Gerry; Robinson, Kim Stanley, eds. (15 April 2014). Green Planets: Ecology and Science Fiction. Wesleyan University Press. ISBN 9780819574275.
  11. ^ Asimov, Isaac (1974). Before the Golden Age. Fawcett Crest. p. 40.
  12. ^ Litt, Toby (21 January 2009). "The best of JG Ballard". The Guardian.
  13. ^ Milicia, Joe (December 1985). "Dry Thoughts in a Dry Season". Riverside Quarterly. 7number=4. Retrieved 30 January 2021.
  14. ^ Lucas, Julian (8 March 2021). "How Octavia E. Butler Reimagines Sex and Survival". The New Yorker. Retrieved 22 August 2021.
  15. ^ Aguirre, Abby (26 July 2017). "Octavia Butler's Prescient Vision of a Zealot Elected to 'Make America Great Again'". The New Yorker. Retrieved 22 August 2021.
  16. ^ Butler, Octavia (1995). "Decades ago, Octavia Butler saw a 'grim future' of climate denial and income inequality". 40 Acres and a Microchip (conference) (Interview). Interviewed by Julie Dash. Corinne Segal. Digital Diaspora, UK: LitHub. Retrieved 22 August 2021.
  17. ^ Weart, Spencer (2003). "The Carbon Dioxide Greenhouse Effect". The Discovery of Global Warming.
  18. ^ Wilson, Elizabeth K. (4 June 2001). "Novelist Combines CO2 and Romance". Chemical & Engineering News.
  19. ^ Slovic, Scott (2008). "Science, Eloquence, and the Asymmetry of Trust: What's at Stake in Climate Change Fiction". Green Theory & Praxis: The Journal of Ecopedagogy. 4 (1): 100–112. doi:10.3903/gtp.2008.1.6. ISSN 1941-0948.
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  23. ^ a b "Fiction Book Review: Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood". Publishers Weekly. 1 May 2003.
  24. ^ Ghosh, Amitav (28 October 2016). "Amitav Ghosh: where is the fiction about climate change?". the Guardian. Retrieved 15 February 2022.
  25. ^ Sullivan, Jane (20 March 2015). "Turning Pages: How climate-change fiction is heating up". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 15 February 2022.
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  27. ^ Livingstone, Jo (7 August 2020). "How to Write About Climate Change". The New Republic. ISSN 0028-6583. Retrieved 15 February 2022.
  28. ^ Killheffer, Robert K. J. (October 2004). "White Devils/The Zenith Angle/Forty Signs of Rain (Book)". Fantasy & Science Fiction. 107 (4/5): 39–46. ISSN 1095-8258.
  29. ^ Canavan, Gerry (11 March 2017). "Utopia in the Time of Trump". Los Angeles Review of Books. Retrieved 11 March 2017.
  30. ^ a b "Five of the best climate-change novels". The Guardian. 19 January 2017. Retrieved 11 June 2021.
  31. ^ "Why the cultural response to global warming makes for a heated debate". The Independent. 11 June 2014. Retrieved 11 June 2021.
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  33. ^ Flood, Alison (4 August 2009). "McEwan's new novel will feature media hate figure". The Guardian.
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  35. ^ Milner, Andrew & Burgmann, J.R. (May 2020). "The Critical Dystopia in Climate Fiction". Science Fiction and Climate Change: A Sociological Approach. Liverpool University Press. pp. 99–121. ISBN 9781789621723.
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  46. ^ Gupta, Alisha Haridasani (7 September 2019). "When Climate Change Is Stranger Than Fiction". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 9 March 2022.
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  48. ^ Meyer, Bruce. Cli-fi: Canadian Tales of Climate Change. Exile Editions, 2017
  49. ^ Schneider-Mayerson, Matthew; Gustafson, Abel; Leiserowitz, Anthony; Goldberg, Matthew H.; Rosenthal, Seth A.; Ballew, Matthew (15 September 2020). "Environmental Literature as Persuasion: An Experimental Test of the Effects of Reading Climate Fiction". Environmental Communication. 17: 35–50. doi:10.1080/17524032.2020.1814377. ISSN 1752-4032. S2CID 224996198.
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  51. ^ Schneider-Mayerson, Matthew (1 May 2020). ""Just as in the Book"? The Influence of Literature on Readers' Awareness of Climate Injustice and Perception of Climate Migrants". Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment. 27 (2): 337–364. doi:10.1093/isle/isaa020. ISSN 1076-0962.

Further reading