Or Why you should be reading (and writing) cli-fi right now.
We live in Sacramento, California, in the heart of the Golden State.
To our east lie the Sierra Nevadas… practically bone-dry this year after what started out as a promising rainy season petered out into nothing.
To the south lies the bulk of the Central Valley, the bread basket of California, which will now see its water supply cut yet again as our government tries to balance too many needs with too little supply.
To the north, the unState of Jefferson, a cluster of low population counties in NorCal and Southern Oregon who wish the last President had never left office.
And to the west, the San Francisco Bay Area, a megalopolis of people steadily flowing out our way in search of cheaper housing since they no longer have to go into the office. A great migration is already underway.
Climate change is all around us, inserting itself into our politics, our wars, our economy and our daily lives, whether we want to acknowledge it or not.
When our 45th President – a climate change denier, to put it mildly – was elected, my literal first thought was “you just killed us all.” It was a critical moment for fighting climate change, and the US chose a 180 degree turn on the matter.
And in the war in Ukraine, one of the things that looms large is the oil and natural gas blackmail Russia is using with Europe, and the painful changes that may now be forced upon these countries to finally switch to green energy.
Last year, way before Omicron, Mark bought a box of N95 masks. Not because of the pandemic, but because of the fine particles that hung in the air from the gargantuan fires that had burst out all around the state. We substituted our daily virus test level check for a particulates check. I’m surprised there’s anything left to burn, but we’ll probably see a repeat this year.
And in February of 2022, we reached 80 degrees here in SacTown.
Climate change isn’t coming. It’s here. And it will get worse before (if) it gets better.
Are we doomed?
I hope not. But I’ve come to realize that although there are many other important issues we face at the moment – race, sexual orientation, religion, war, culture war, gaslighting, etc etc etc… none matter as much as climate change. And I say that as a man whose own marriage may soon be under siege by the reconstituted US Supreme Court.
As writers, I think we have both a special opportunity here and a unique responsibility. We need to be spinning tales that include climate change and its myriad impacts. Stories that both contextualize it and offer possible solutions, however farfetched. And we need to start thinking about how humanity will live alongside the drastic changes that are coming.
I recently finished and reviewed New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson. While by no means perfect, it was fascinating to see a reimagined future, where New York City is on her knees, drowning, but still defiant and embracing change. The author manages to nurture hope in the face of overwhelming change and chaos.
I’ve done a bit of this in my own work, dealing with the near future, particularly in Slow Thaw, about the impact of climate change on Antarctica, and in the forthcoming “Shit City,” a short story about recycling and constructing a new kind of city in the midst of climate change disaster. I’ve also dealt with life after the fact, in The Great North, the Ariadne Cycle trilogy, and in Cailleadhama, where San Francisco is the half-drowned city where life somehow goes on.
As writers, we need to start building some new narratives around this global threat.
Yes, it’s coming.
Yes, it’s going to be awful.
Yes, there are ways to mitigate it.
And yes, we’ll need to learn to live with the results.
But just as it’s important to write about it, it’s equally necessary that folks read about it. Pop culture has laid the groundwork for change before – look at TV shows like Will and Grace and Ellen and marriage equality. Or back a little further, the commercial successes of the Jeffersons and race relations in All in the Family. Things don’t always get fixed. But we can push to make them better.
So if you’re a writer, write some cli-fi, even if it’s as a backdrop to your latest MM romance, ace whodunnit, or BDSM trans-lesbian erotica.
If you’re a reader, seek out stories that deal with it, and soak them in. And maybe, book by book, we can start to make a difference.
Life imitates art. Let’s give them some art worth copying.
To my writer friends – how have you incorporated climate change into your work? If you haven’t yet, are you considering it? If not, why not?