Science Fiction and Climate Change

Andrew Milner


There is now a near-consensus amongst climate scientists that current levels of atmospheric greenhouse gas are sufficient to alter global weather patterns to possibly disastrous effect. Like the hole in the ozone layer as described by Bruno Latour, global warming is a ‘hybrid’ natural-social-discursive phenomenon. And science fiction (SF) seems increasingly to occupy a critical location within this nature/culture nexus. This paper will take as its subject matter what Daniel Bloom has dubbed ‘cli-fi’. Proto-ecological thematics have clearly been long present in written SF. Recently, the visual media - especially graphic novels, comics and cinema - have also engaged in fictional and non-fictional representations of climate change. The paper will argue against the view that catastrophic SF is best understood as a variant of the kind of ‘apocalyptic’ fiction inspired by the Christian Apokalypsis, on the grounds that this tends to downplay the historical novelty of SF as a genre defined primarily in relation to modern science and technology. Drawing on the work of Marxist and neo-Marxist critics such as Darko Suvin, Fredric Jameson, Raymond Williams and Franco Moretti, it will describe how a genre defined in relation to science finds itself obliged to produce fictional responses to problems actually thrown up by contemporary scientific research. It will argue that climate change sometimes functions as a setting for some other more central ‘novum’, to borrow Suvin’s term, but that elsewhere it is itself the primary novum. And it will examine and explain the narrative strategies pursued in texts where anthropogenic climate change is indeed the hegemonic novum.

climate change - dystopia - science fiction