Today is World Environment Day. This was an event established in 1974 by the United Nations and it has grown steadily since it’s inception. The event is defined as “a global celebration of nature. A day to reconnect with the places that matter most to you.” So, definitely a good thing, especially in a day and age when people are much more concerned with what they see on their phones than what’s going on around them. Or, if you’re a politician in America, you care more about the money you can make than the world you’re leaving for your kids.
Look, anyone with two brain cells to rub together can see, can feel, that our world is changing. However, so many people believe that everything you read on the internet must be true, that politicians never lie, and that our actions don’t impact our environment. Yeah, there’s a lot of idiots on this earth right now. Including the one currently sitting in the Oval Office who thought it was a good idea to back out of the Paris Agreement.
The Paris Agreement (French: Accord de Paris) is an agreement within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) dealing with greenhouse gas emissions mitigation, adaptation and finance starting in the year 2020. – Wikipedia
Our world – from the seas to the air that we breathe – is changing every day, and not for the better. It’s terrifying, but hey, everyone knows it’s much more important that our taxes are lower, someone said something naughty, or hurt someone’s feelings.
I could rant about this for hours, but this is a book-oriented site. So, let’s get to the bookish part, yeah?
A Focus on Cli-Fi
It should come as no surprise that lots of science fiction writers have made climate change a major point in their novels. When we are looking towards our future, those with brain cells can see that unless things drastically change (and there’s some argument that we’ve already passed the point where we can truly fix things), the climate is going to play a major role in our tomorrows. The most notable of the current crop of writers is probably Kim Stanley Robinson (KSR). KSR’s most recent work, New York 2140, dealt directly with the impact of climate change on one of America’s biggest cities. When sea-levels rise, cities on the coast lines are suddenly not so much on the coast line as in the water itself. Venice, Italy has been having so many problems that they actually had to build gigantic inflatable dams (MOSE Project) to deal with the problem. When the water is suddenly seeping into your homes and covering your streets, you can’t continue to pretend it isn’t happening. At least that’s what most of us hope, but given the capacity for willing ignorance possessed by humans, who knows?
But even decades ago, science fiction writers were directly addressing climate climate change. In fact, some of them were even winning awards with their cli-fi books. Like George Turner, with his book The Sea and the Summer, which won the 1988 Arthur C. Clarke award. His book was set 99 years (2041) before New York 2140 and featured deliberately blind officials and a corrupt government along with a nature that seemed to be turning against people.(hmm…)
And, of course, there’s the “water, water, everywhere, but not a drop to drink” (Rime of the Ancient Mariner ) scenario. While almost 70 percent of the planet is covered by water, only about 2.5 percent of that is fresh water. (And only 1 percent of that is actually easily available to us. So yeah, not caring about water pollution is a fantastic idea!) Now, desalinization is a thing, of course, but it uses a lot of energy and the technology is costly, so it can be pretty expensive and isn’t an immediate answer to the water problem. Some authors talk not about floods in their cli-fi, but about droughts instead. Such as Paolo Bacigalupi in his book The Water Knife, or Emmi Itäranta in Memory of Water. (Some authors, like J.G. Ballard with his books The Burning World/The Drought and The Drowned World) have written about both ends of things.)
There are also books like Christy Esmahan’s The Laptev Virus which talk about viruses hidden in ice and.or permafrost that are getting exposed/coming back to life as the earth gets warmer. In the Laptev Virus, it’s due to drilling rather than passive global warming, but still.
Consider, also, the sheer amounts of science fiction that have us leaving it because we ruined it. It’s a very common theme in sci-fi. We screw up our world so badly that we have to look for somewhere else to live. Notably, the classic Do Androids Dream of of Electric Sheep by PKD. Even kids books do it, as I noticed in my recent review of CSA: Monsters on Mars.Because revisting our mistakes on other worlds is a brilliant idea. Of course, most of the time there’s the hope that we’ll do it differently on the new worlds. Personally I’m at the point where I believe humanity is a one-trick pony of self-destructiveness.
If you’re the short story reader, check out Loosed upon the World: The Saga Anthology of Climate Fiction. Loosed Upon the World is a collection from authors such as the aforementioned Paolo Bacigalupi, Seanan McGuire, Tobias S. Buckell, Margaret Atwood, and more. Speaking of Margaret Atwood, you may want to check out her cli-fi series, The MaddAddam Trilogy.
Now, it’s not really science fiction or horror, but I wanted to make mention of a book that tries to talk about taking care of our environment that’s aimed at children. I’m talking, of course, of The Lorax by Dr. Seuss. We’re not leaving much of a world for our children’s children. And while it is an excellent book for kids, there’s one quote from it that really resonates (and should do so) with adults.
“UNLESS someone like you…cares a whole awful lot…nothing is going to get better…It’s not.”
Dr. Seuss, The Lorax
Yeah, folks, the climate is important. Our world is important. We get so wrapped up in the me-me-me that we don’t stop to look at what we’re doing to *us*. “Pittsburgh not Paris?” Bullshit. They’re both cities on this Earth, and guess what? As it stands, we’ve only got one Earth. How hard is that to understand? It wasn’t that long ago that a river ‘caught fire’ because it was so polluted. Either people like The Grand Poobah think they’re so insignficant that nothing they do affects the world around them, or they’re so full of themselves that they think they can do no wrong. Both are wrong. If we could all please remove our heads from our asses, that’d be great! Let me put this in terms that supporters of movements like backing out of the Paris Agreement can understand to wrap things up:
Putting greed over our world first? — Sad!
Thanks for bearing with me in this weird mix of rant, essay, and book recommendation list. It’s not perfect, and I’m not the most eloquent of writers, but I think I got my point across.
Resources: Now, throughout the post, if I used a resource, I tried to make sure to link back to it. However, there are some that I didn’t necessarily link to because I discovered them in the researching, but didn’t necessarily use them. I’d like to share those, too. One of the resources I came upon when writing up this post is one you might want to bookmark if you too are interested in climate change fiction. Eco-Fiction.com was established in 2013 by Mary Woodbury, and originally just housed work on climate change fiction. However, it has since expanded to house various works of eco-fiction. It is a great resource with tons of books, interviews, and more.
I’m aware that I didn’t really touch upon YA Cli-Fi, but there are some resources to check out if you’re interested. Genre Guide: Climate Fiction in YA Lit, Young Adult Cli-Fi, and Sarah Holdin’s What is Cli-Fi? And why I Write It