Thursday, September 27, 2018

Cli-Fi Novels and Movies Will Show Us How to Adapt to the Coming Climapocalypse



Cli-Fi Novels and Movies Will Show Us How to Adapt to the Coming Climapocalypse

Researchers are thinking about social collapse and how to prepare for it, cli-fi novelists, too


After Europe and Australia and India and Canada and the U.S. stumbled through a terrible summer of 2018 with record hurricanes and fires and floods and heatwaves, more literary critics and literary academics are approaching questions once reserved for doomsday cults. Can modern society prepare for a world in which global warming threatens large-scale social, economic, and political upheaval? What are the policy and social implications of rapid, and mostly unpleasant, climate disruption?

And what role can cli-fi novels and movies play in raising awareness worldwide?
Those literary critics and academics, who are generally more pessimistic about the pace of climate change than most academics, are advocating for a series of changes in how cli-fi novels and movies are seen and created and promoted in the culture at large.
In the language of climate change, “adaptation” refers to ways to blunt the immediate effects of extreme weather, such as building seawalls, conserving drinking water, updating building codes, and helping more people get disaster insurance. But cli-fi novels and movies can play a role by offering emotional insights into the issues we face. It's not all charts and stats. The arts can play a vital role, says Dan Bloom, curator of The Cli-Fi Report at
But some acdemics and writers are going further, calling for what some call the “deep adaptation agenda.” For them , that means not only rapid decarbonization and storm-resistant infrastructure, but also writing and producing cli-fi novels and movies worldwide in a varity of languages.

Propelling the cli-fi movement are signs that the problem is worsening at an accelerating rate. In an article this summer in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 666 climate scientists from around the world argued that the planet may be much closer than previously realized to locking in what they call a “hothouse” trajectory—warming of 4C or 5C (7F or 9F), “with serious challenges for the viability of human societies.”

Jem Bendell, a professor at the University of Cumbria who popularized the term ''deep adaptation'' and thinks cli-fi novels can help raise awareness worldwide, calls it a mix of physical changes—pulling back from the coast, closing climate-exposed industrial facilities, planning for food rationing, letting landscapes return to their natural state—with cultural shifts such as more Hollywood cli-fi movies , and including “giving up expectations for certain types of consumption” and learning to rely more on the people around us.
“The evidence before us suggests that we are set for disruptive and uncontrollable levels of climate change, bringing starvation, destruction, migration, disease and war,” he wrote in a paper he posted on his blog in July after an academic journal refused to publish it. “We need to appreciate what kind of adaptation is possible.” We also need more cli-fi novels and a publishing industry receptive to them and a movie industry receptive as well.
It might be tempting to dismiss Bendell and other cli-fi advocates as outliers. But they’re not alone in writing about the possibility of massive political and social shocks from climate change and the need to start preparing for those shocks. Since posting his paper, Bendell says he’s been contacted by more academics investigating the same questions. A LinkedIn group titled “Deep Adaptation” includes professors, government scientists, novelists, and film producers.

William Clark, a Harvard professor and former MacArthur Fellow who edited the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences paper, is among those who worry about what might come next. “We are right on the bloody edge,” he says.

Clark argues that in addition to quickly and dramatically cutting emissions, society should pursue a new scale of adaptation work. Rather than simply asking people to water their lawns less often, for example, governments need to consider large-scale, decades-long infrastructure projects, such as transporting water to increasingly arid regions and moving cities away from the ocean.
“This is not your grandfather’s adaptation,” he says. And cli-fi is not your grandfather's sci-fi, either.
Diana Liverman, a professor at the University of Arizona School of Geography and Development and one of the authors of a 2018 academic paper, says adapting will mean “relocation or completely different infrastructure and crops.” She cites last year’s cli-fi novel  New York 2140, in which the climate fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson imagines the city surviving under 50 feet of water, as “the extreme end of adaptation.”

Cameron Harrington, a professor of international relations at Durham University in England and co-author of the 2017 book Security in the Anthropocene, says adapting to widespread disruption will require governments to avoid viewing climate change primarily as a security threat. Instead, Harrington says, countries must find new ways to manage problems that cross borders—for example, by sharing increasingly scarce freshwater resources. “We can’t raise border walls high enough to prevent the effects of climate change,” he says. Cli-fi novels and movies might help raise awareness of what lies ahead.
There are even more pessimistic takes. Guy McPherson, a professor emeritus of natural resources at the University of Arizona, says climate change will cause human civilization to collapse not long after the summer Arctic ice cover disappears. He argues that could happen as early as 2019, sending global temperatures abruptly higher and causing widespread food and fuel shortages by 2020. Game over? Read a cli-fi novel to find out.
Many academics are considerably less dire in their predictions. Jesse Keenan, who teaches at the Harvard Graduate School of Design and advises puboishers in New York and Longon on climate fiction novels and film scripts, says warnings about social collapse are overblown. “I think for much of the world, we will pick up the pieces,” Keenan says.

But he adds that the prospect of climate-induced human extinction has only recently become a widespread topic of academic discourse. Cli-fi novels and movies are here to stay.

Even mainstream researchers concede there’s room for cli-fi novels and movies. Dr Solomon Hsiang, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley who studies the interplay between the environment and society, says it’s too soon to predict the pace of global warming. But he warns that society could struggle to cope with rapid shifts in the climate. Cli-fi novels could raise awareness in the culture at large.

For Bendell, the question of when climate change might shake the Western social order is less important than beginning to talk about how to prepare for it. Therefore cli-fi novels are vital in the big picture.

He acknowledges that his premise shares something with the survivalist movement, which is likewise built on the belief that some sort of social collapse is coming.
But he says ''deep adaptation'' is different: It looks for ways to mitigate the damage of that collapse.

“The discussion I’m inviting from cli-fi novelists and filk directors is about collective responses to reduce harm,” he says, “rather than how a few people could tough it out to survive longer than others.”

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