My climate fiction reading list for 2023
I once listened to a futurist - they are, who's kidding who, the equivalent of cli-fi authors in the world of science and business - this futurist, who runs scenarios workshops with the likes of NASA scientists, said that humans have the power to create the future ... but telling stories of the future we want to see.
It'd be an interesting conversation to look at the works of cli-fi authors. How many of their stories are doom and gloom, about a dark and hopeless future that's been brought about by the climate crisis? And how many work, in their novels, through the doom and gloom horrors to show us how we might get to a better future?
I need to pick up with Parable of the Sower again but I think the genre is needed. What damage we have to the environment has made (some) irreparable changes. If we are compelled to action, inspired, and moved by fiction, then this is the time for our entertainment to inform us. Dystopias are visions of what feels like the worst case scenario, but cli fi feels like that bridge better here and that future. No stacked skyscrapers and a scorched sky, but suspicious and dangerous neighbors, true resource scarcity, and the parched mouths of dying citizens. Perhaps cli fi will show us the 10 feet in front of us so we can make radical direction changes.
It is notable that Frank Herbert's Dune as perhaps the most politically incisive Climate Fiction novel, was an allegory for the struggle over Middle Eastern oil (in which The Spice represented oil).
I really appreciate these recommendations. Speculative fiction set was thin the world of climate change is so important right now.
The Book of Eli......
There's a lot to unpack and consider in this piece. I realized with some alarm how uninformed I am in the foundations of climate fiction. With your wonderful curriculum of study (I love that concept, btw!), I intend to rectify my lack of knowledge.
Excellent writeup, Claudia. We can't have enough posts like this. Need to restack and share. Ignorance is bliss they say, until it isn't...
I picked up Oryx and Crake because of your recommendation and I LOVE it! I haven't read any of Attwood's works except Handmaid's Tale, and I was quickly reminded of why she's one of the greats. I've noticed that a lot of media that deals with dystopia tends to have a class of human's with some sort of mutation (zombies, cyborgs, etc)- in Oryx and Crake, Crake modifies the individual, not the systems that 'corrupted' humans in the first place. Humans were the ones who polluted, who caused the oceans to rise, so there must be something fundamentally wrong with us and our big brains. Just an interesting parallel to a lot of attitudes towards climate change. Thanks again for the rec!
Claudia, how are you generating these fantastic images? If you are using one of the text-to-image AI thingies, which one is it?
Interesting, did not know this could be considered a genre. Have had an idea in my head of writing a book that could be labelled as 'cli-fi', in which I want to sketch a future society in order to explore themes of humanity, ethics, and philosophy surrounding a post-climactic (if this is not a term yet I am hereby coining it, post-apocalyptic has been done to death by now) world.
First need to finish the one I am working on now, though!
Great piece, and great recommendations. LOVE Jemisin's Broken Earth Trilogy, as well as Kim Stanley Robinson's The Ministry of the Future. They were my intros to cli-fi, and have been quite taste-shifting for me as a writer and reader.
Hope you enjoy them as well!
What a great breakdown of the problems cli-fi is attempting to grapple with, and an awesome reading list! I have read some (The Broken Earth trilogy, The Ministry for the Future), have others on my list (Ecotopia, Earthseed), and didn't know about some of the rest. Some others on my list: Ecopunk! Anthology, No One's Rose (comic book series), and The Lesson, by Caldwell Turnbull.
As I mentioned above, I'm most interested in stories of hope about the future--I feel we have so throughly documented catastrophe and dystopia and cruelty that there's no where left to go in speculative fiction but into a future that isn't ruined beyond all possibility.
Oh, I also have a recommendation, one I have read and struck me powerfully as being utopian but still recognizing the violence that is simply part of human nature: Starhawk's The Fifth Sacred Thing.
I am excited to watch you embark on your cli-fi voyage, and see what you think of the readings! 😊
Last comment, my OCD tends to make me do things in three parts.
Your acceptance of the projected "end of century" warming is misplaced. It is built around a deeply flawed "Climate Paradigm" from the late 80's/ early 90's.
Do you know the book, "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" by Kuhn?
People tend to think of "SCIENCE" the wrong way. We imagine it as this noble endeavor of selfless researchers advancing human understanding of the Universe. That's partially true, but SCIENCE is practiced by people and funded by even more people. SCIENCE is a social process and it doesn't work the way you think.
Kuhn invented the term "paradigm shift" to explain how scientific thought tends to advance in these big lurches. When suddenly everything that people used to think is revealed as flawed and untrue, and a new way of thinking emerges.
We are having a paradigm shift in Climate Science, right now.
Because observable reality is no longer matching what the "old paradigm" of the Climate Moderates, who have dominated the field since the 80's prevailed in Academia, projected. The world is warming up MUCH faster than they said it would. They were wrong and your chart is worthless.
Here's an example of how that's playing out today. This reporting happened yesterday.
Sudden Ocean Warming May Be ‘First of Many Heat Records to Shatter’
Earth in hot water? Worries over sudden ocean warming spike - May 2, 2023
The world’s oceans have suddenly spiked much hotter and well above record levels in the last few weeks, with scientists trying to figure out what it means and whether it forecasts a surge in atmospheric warming.
From early March to last week, the global average ocean sea surface temperature jumped nearly 0.2°C (0.36°F), according to the University of Maine’s Climate Reanalyzer, which climate scientists use and trust. That may sound small, but for the average of the world’s oceans — which account for 71% of Earth’s area — to rise so much in that short a time, “that’s huge,” said University of Colorado climate scientist Kris Karnauskas. “That’s an incredible departure from what was already a warm state to begin with.”
Climate scientists have been talking about the ocean warming on social media and amongst themselves, AP writes. Some, like University of Pennsylvania’s Michael Mann, quickly dismiss concerns by saying it is merely a growing El Niño on top of a steady human-caused warming increase.
Michael Mann is the dean of the "Climate Moderate" faction of Climate Scientists. In the field he is immensely powerful. If he says you are a "doomer" you will lose your funding and might even lose your job. He has ruined peoples careers by labeling their research as "flawed" or "alarmist". He says things like this, Climatologist Michael E Mann: 'Good people fall victim to doomism. I do too sometimes' The Guardian 02/21
Doom-mongering has overtaken denial as a threat and as a tactic. Inactivists know that if people believe there is nothing you can do, they are led down a path of disengagement. They unwittingly do the bidding of fossil fuel interests by giving up.
“What is so pernicious about this is that it seeks to weaponise environmental progressives who would otherwise be on the frontline demanding change. These are folk of good intentions and good will, but they become disillusioned or depressed and they fall into despair.”
“Too late” narratives are invariably based on a misunderstanding of science.
“If the science objectively demonstrated it was too late to limit warming below catastrophic levels, that would be one thing and we scientists would be faithful to that.”
“But science doesn’t say that.” - Dr. Michael Mann
So, you need to understand how serious it is for other Climate Scientists to cross him and say this about the emerging MONSTER CLIMATE SHOCK that is developing.
Other climate scientists, including U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration oceanographer Gregory C. Johnson, say the sudden warming doesn’t appear to be caused solely by El Niño. There are several marine heat waves or ocean warming spots that don’t fit an El Niño pattern, such as those in the northern Pacific near Alaska and off the coast of Spain, he said.
“This is an unusual pattern. This is an extreme event at a global scale” in areas that don’t fit with merely an El Niño, said Princeton University climate scientist Gabe Vecchi. “That is a huge, huge signal. I think it’s going to take some level of effort to understand it.”
It’s been about seven years since the last El Niño, and it was a whopper. The world has warmed in that seven years, especially the deeper ocean, which absorbs by far most of the heat energy from greenhouse gases, said Sarah Purkey, an oceanographer at the Scripps Institution for Oceanography. The ocean heat content, which measures the energy stored by the deep ocean, sets new record highs each year regardless of what’s happening on the surface.
Since that last El Niño, the global heat ocean content has increased .04°C (.07°F). That may not sound like a lot, but “it’s actually a tremendous amount of energy,” Purkey said. It’s about 30 to 40 zettajoules of heat, which is the energy equivalent of hundreds of millions of atomic bombs the size that leveled Hiroshima, she said.
On top of that warming deep ocean, the world had unusual cooling on the surface from La Niña for three years that sort of acted like a lid on a warming pot, scientists said. That lid is off.
“La Niña’s temporary grip on rising global temperatures has been released,” NOAA oceanographer Mike McPhaden told AP in an email. “One result is that March 2023 was the second-highest March on record for global mean surface temperatures.”
If El Niño makes its heavily-forecasted appearance later this year, “what we are seeing now is just a prelude to more records that are in the pipeline,” McPhaden wrote.
Karnauskas said what’s likely to happen will be an “acceleration” of warming after the heat has been hidden for a few years.
The graphic you show isn't worth anything. It's Old Paradigm, the actual situation is much worse.
You should check out my latest piece if you want to know what's happening and what the rest of the year is going to be like.
Your section on "Is Global Warming Real?" while accurate in the general sense is seriously flawed.
CO2 levels for the last 2.1 million years have fluctuated between 180ppm and 280ppm.
The Ice Core record is clear and exact, “natural” CO2 levels rarely exceeded 280ppm in the 800,000 years before the Industrial Revolution started.
Additional research showed that “natural” CO2 levels have been below 300ppm for at least 2.1 million years.
Carbon Dioxide Higher Today Than Last 2.1 Million Years — (2009)
“The low carbon dioxide levels outlined by the study through the last 2.1 million years make modern day levels, caused by industrialization, seem even more anomalous” -Richard Alley, Glaciologist
More recent research has established that it has been 23 million years since “natural” CO2 levels were as high as they are now at 420ppm.
A 23 m.y. record of low atmospheric CO2 — May 2020
Current atmospheric CO2 concentration is known to be higher than it has been during the past ∼800 k.y. of Earth history, based on direct measurement of CO2 within ice cores. A comparison to the more ancient past is complicated by a deficit of CO2 proxies that may be applied across very long spans of geologic time.
These data suggest present-day CO2 (412 ppmv) exceeds the highest levels that Earth experienced at least since the Miocene, further highlighting the present-day disruption of long-established CO2 trends within Earth’s atmosphere.
We measure Global Warming from 1850 because that’s when the CO2 level was approximately equal to the “highest” natural level that had occurred in millions of years. Everything after 280ppm is the result of “human action”.
Your statement that: "The global warming record-keeping started in 1880" is SERIOUSLY WRONG.
All of the Climate Models use 1850.
They use 1850 when modeling how much warming will result from doubling the CO2 in the atmosphere from 280ppm to 560ppm. This report.
An Assessment of Earth’s Climate Sensitivity Using Multiple Lines of Evidence
Which says, “there is a 95% chance at CO2 levels of 560ppm that the GMT will increase at least 2.3C and possibly as much as 4.5C, there is a 66% chance that the GMT increase will be between 2.6C and 3.9C”. There is a 05% chance that the GMT could increase as much as 5.7C.
Is “THE REPORT” that is accepted as the “gold standard” of climate modeling. It synthesizes the results, of what are seen as the best climate models in the world, to produce those numbers.
Climate Models use 1850 as their baseline because CO2 levels were at 280ppm.
All of the CO2 in the atmosphere over 280ppm is NOT NATURAL. 1850 was the last period of time that CO2 levels were that low. Which makes it the perfect place for our models to start from.
Remember, our models are trying to show their validity by reproducing the observed warming from 1850. If they can reproduce the past they have credibility in terms of predicting the future.
So, if 1850 is the baseline that makes sense, why do we measure Global Warming from “the late 19th Century” or 1880?
Mostly because the Fossil Fuel Industry prefers it that way.
From an article in Forbes; “Exactly How Much Has the Earth Warmed? And Does It Matter?” published September 2018. Written by a University of Houston Energy Fellow it is the climate equivalent of the post 2000 election, “you need to just move on” statement by Republicans. The basic argument deconstructs as follows:
1850 was an arbitrary choice — The debate exists in part because the UNFCCC did not define preindustrial when setting the targets. What does “preindustrial” mean anyway? You can make an argument that it should be 1740, or 1820, or 1880. Each of these dates shifts the goalposts. We should pick a date all of us can agree on.
Many people don’t agree with 1850 — There was no “worldwide” network of weather stations in 1850. So, the temperature measurements from 1850–1880 are uneven in both number and quality. Attempts to “fix” the data are always going to be biased and using it typically adds 0.4℃-0.6℃ to the amount of global warming that has occurred. We cannot move forward until we have a starting point that everyone agrees with and “many people” will never agree with 1850.
An exact value doesn’t matter — Although there are some out-of-the-mainstream views to the contrary, there is strong evidence the Earth has warmed about 1° C since pre-industrial times. Uncertainties in the data and lack of agreement on a reference date make it impossible to give a precise value.
1880 is a baseline we can all agree on — By 1880, a global network of weather stations using standardized equipment had been established. This makes it the most logical baseline for measuring global warming from CO2. Which, we can then agree, is 1.2℃.
It’s unfortunate that 1880 was the hottest year of the 19th century but that’s the year we started getting solid measurements. Being able to agree on the data and stop arguing about it is the most important thing at this point.
We need to work together, using 1880 lets us do that — This shift is actually good for those who subscribe to the belief that fossil fuels are the primary or sole cause of this warming.
If you really believe that it is urgent to reduce fossil fuel usage, then you understand how important that it is to stop fighting each other over a “few tenths of a degree that no one cares about” and start doing the real work of making that happen. Not agreeing with 1880 as the baseline makes you part of the problem at this point.
That’s why, since the “Trump Years” both NASA and GISS state.
“Earth’s average temperature has risen more than 2 degrees Fahrenheit (1.2 degrees Celsius) since the late 19th century.”
That’s why the Director of the GISS has stated in defense of the 1.2C measurement for Global warming. That 90% of Global Warming has occurred since 1980. That, although it appears that 1.1C of warming has happened since 1980, the actual amount is probably less.
Global Temperature Anomalies from 1880 to 2020 (2021)
Measuring warming from 1880 was a HUGE behind the scenes fight in Climate Science and it was a political decision.
I will definitely read "War Girls". I am very familiar with the Biafran War. It was an atrocity sponsored by BP for control of the Nigerian Oil. Oddly enough I was thinking about it last year when I wrote this.
Random Thoughts — 10 : Exhibits in an Atrocity Museum
A meditation on how so many other atrocities of the 20th century are being forgotten and what a Museum to recall them should be.
I know you saw this already but this seems like a good place to add these to your list. Consider the "Climate Novel in History". Which you are right, we put this topic in the sci-fi ghetto. Where cultures obliquely talk about things they don't want to talk about openly. Anyway, here are some examples of Cli-fi books in the sci-fi genre. It's important to remember that there are "Denier" Cli-Fi books as well and that they have an impact.
Fallen Angels (1992)
by Jerry Pournelle, Larry Niven, Michael Flynn
Two Space Hab astronauts are shot down over the North Dakota glacier by the new Eco-totalitarian government given carte blanche to control the greenhouse effect.
If you don't know who these guys were, then you don't know much about sci-fi from the 60's/70's/80's. These guys were hugely influential. In this book, they became "Global Warming Deniers". They stated that, contrary to "alarmist" fears there was actually going to be another ice age. They pushed the theory that Milankovitch Cycles controlled the Climate and it was going to get colder.
You still find Climate Change Deniers who believe this idea. This book influenced a lot of sci-fi readers.
State of Fear (2004)
Michael Crichton (better known for Jurassic Park)
A techno-thriller novel by Michael Crichton, whose villain falsifies scientific studies to justify draconian steps to curb global warming. Basically, eco-terrorists plot mass murder to publicize the danger of global warming and scare the world into accepting an Eco-Dictatorship.
Crichton is another "Climate Denier". This book was on the best seller list. Climate Deniers bring up Crichton all the time.
"Crichton, who has studied the issue extensively, rejects many of the conclusions reached by the National Academy of Sciences and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—for example, he does not believe that global temperature increases in recent decades are most likely the result of human activities". Jan 28, 2005 Brookings Institute
An overlooked Gem
Natures End (1986)
Whitley Strieber and James Kunetka
It is 2025 and the planet is rapidly approaching environmental death. Dr. Gupta Singh, a Hindu guru with a Jim Jones-like following, has proposed the suicide, by lottery, of one-third of the world's population. His followers have elected a Depopulationist majority in Congress. ...
If you can find this book you should read it. It's eerily spot on about today's climate reality. It's a very good read and was also influential. Strieber was an up and coming sci-fi star (see his book War Day) but got derailed after he wrote a book on Alien Contact. He went waaaaay down that rabbit hole and lost all credibility. It's a shame, this book is brilliant.