What inspired you to teach this new class?
All my life, I have read Science Fiction—the literature of change—and have taught it at Northland for decades in one of my favorite courses: The Science Fiction Seminar.
Can you define climate fiction?
Science fiction is a very broad field which goes from hardcore to fantasy, to social science fiction, to speculative fiction, to CyberPunk. Climate Fiction is the newest subgenre of science fiction which has exploded over the last decade and has had an inordinate success because it explores the impact of climate change —already a reality!— on humanity and on the earth, in the present or the coming decades. So, in fact, CliFi can be designated as the near-future science fiction which not only reflects current scientific knowledge about climate change but also, by the power of literature, transforms those contemporary trends into stories about the way our collective fate is tied inextricably to that of the natural world. Climate change is therefore a social and cultural phenomenon, not simply a scientific and policy issue. To use Margaret Atwood’s striking expression: Climate Change is “everything change.”
Is climate fiction a new genre or are there historical texts associated with it?
The literary output—short stories and novels—creates new and exciting tales about things that already are, or will be happening soon, and the reactions of human beings, from many walks of life and many different cultures as they try to adapt to a changing climate and its impact on our biosphere. The water problem, the melting ice caps and the flooding of coastal cities, climate refugees, seasonal shifts, drought and desertification, disappearing animal species, predation and survival in human societies . . . all those issues, and the way they affect the lives of people everywhere on the planet, are displayed in their sharp and pointed reality by the art of anticipation and the power of the word. If there is personal pain, there is also human adaptation, resilience, social innovation in small groups and communities, unique and imaginative solutions in the midst of global efforts at mitigation through technology and geo-engineering in a world of flux.
Are there any texts that you’re particularly excited to discuss with this class?
My course—and I have loved doing the research!—will expose students to short stories from many different countries. Some are scenarios, extrapolating on scientific realities that we are already facing, others are deeply personal accounts showing how individuals have responded in multifarious ways to fundamental changes, way beyond their control, in their unique locations and circumstances. Beyond a consequential and broad anthology of short stories, my students will also be reading some Canadian CliFi, a Finnish novel, and we will end the course with a novel very much in line with Northland’s ethos and philosophy.
What lessons relevant to 2020 can students learn from climate fiction?
In the final analysis, these readings should be an invitation for all of us to reflect on the challenges that we are, or will be, facing; to use them as stepping-stones to action in our personal daily decisions and behaviors, as well as in our participation in policy-making and politics; and to reach a more profound contemplation of environmental ethics, of our common fate as humans beyond man-made frontiers, and of our responsibility to future generations and the fate of the planet.