Saturday, April 12, 2014

Can Apocalyptic Fiction Save Us from Climate Change Disasters?

By Jonathan Mallon

A recent article on the New York Times website reports on the U.N’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change latest report on how climate change is beginning to show various effects.  Scanning that article, and the press release that was hyperlinked, I was debating about writing an almost pessimistic, opinionated article on our lack of change and our government’s lack of environmental conservation and regulation. 

Then I found another article on the website regarding the environment, this time focusing on a class at the University of Oregon that focused on climate change in different media, both fiction and non-fiction. With the U.N panel’s report and that class, as well as apocalyptic media being a popular sub-genre, I feel that now’s the time for people to be more aware of the emerging effects of climate change. Maybe fictional stories relating to the issue will bring that increased awareness. (Note: I haven’t read or followed the novels and films presented in the article.)

The class, called “The Cultures of Climate Change,” touched on the many media of “cli-fi,” which is a “sub-genre of speculative fiction,” according to Richard Pérez-Peña’s article in the New York Times website.  Some of the works listed in the article that pertain to that sub-genre include “Solar” by Ian McEwan and “The Carbon Diaries 2015” by Saci Loyd, among others.

Pérez-Peña also wrote that cli-fi was nothing new, with works going back as far as 1962 with J.G Ballard’s “The Drowned Ones,” and he also listed the 1973 film “Soylent Green” in that category, saying it was “best remembered as a grisly vision of a world with too many people and too little food” and was “set in a hotter future.”

While the older literary works may have come at a time before and during the beginnings of environmental awareness and were probably disregarded more as apocalyptic fiction, the newer ones come out at a time when almost everyone knows something about climate change. The class’s professor, Stephanie LeMenager, explained in the article that these books weren’t only about the topic, but about ways to survive and live through it.

“The time isn’t to reflect on the end of the world, but on how to meet it,” she said in the article.  “We want to apply our humanities skills pragmatically to the problem.”

As a race, we may need that fiction to brace for the consequences of climate change. From what the U.N panel report said, as reported by Justin Gillis’ article in the New York Times (released on the same day as the other article), “water supplies are coming under stress,” “oceans are rising at a considerable pace that threatens coastal communities” and have grown more acidic, and the global food supply is in danger due to climate change’s effects, among other consequences to ocean ecology.

It’s unfortunate that not enough people have participated in efforts to curb the effects of climate change, but maybe these initial effects will give people a higher awareness of it.  It’s also good that there’s a market out there for people to not only be entertained about a world post-climate change, but that there is growing awareness to the problem.

My hope, in the end, is that people do something to support efforts to curb it now, rather than wait for worse effects to happen.  People can learn about it through the fiction and then take action, so that we can keep climate change effects a fiction rather than reality.

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