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  • Writer's pictureMaya Shyevitch

Exploring the World of Climate Fiction

Chebeague Resilience Fellow and book lover, Maya Shyevitch, discusses the emergence of "climate fiction" (Cli-FI) as a literary genre addressing climate change. Cli-Fi spans various media and often combines science with social commentary. Maya reflects on a group discussion amongst the Resilience Corp Fellows regarding Cli-Fi, where the fellows were asked to read contrasting articles.

As the threat of climate change looms ever larger in our collective consciousness, a new genre of literature has emerged to deal with this existential challenge: climate fiction, often abbreviated as Cli-Fi. The term ‘climate fiction’ is often attributed to climate activist Dan Bloom in 2007 or 2008. However, many works published prior to this date are retroactively included. Examples include Jules Verne's 1889 The Purchase of the North Pole, Laurence Manning's 1933 The Man Who Awoke, and Margaret Atwood’s 2003 Oryx and Crake.

Cli-Fi is a broad genre, encompassing all media that includes climate change as a central theme. It tends to be speculative in nature, merging science and social commentary, but Cli-Fi is a diverse genre. For example, the 2016 Disney film Moana could be considered a Cli-Fi film, as the story revolves around a young girl chosen by the ocean to save her village from climate disaster. Moana is also an example of Cli-Fi that ends well for the planet—certainly not all Cli-Fi does. Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2020 The Ministry for the Future is another, though its target audience is rather different than that of the animated Disney musical. Set over several decades beginning in 2025, The Ministry for the Future incorporates economic principles, geoengineering techniques, and fictionalized global politics to describe a possible path towards a better future.

Each week, one fellow from our cohort leads a group discussion on a topic of their choosing. Recently, I had the opportunity to lead a discussion on Cli-Fi. The discussion provided a great setting to grapple with questions about this increasingly prominent genre: Can Cli-Fi be a catalyst for real change? Do Cli-Fi creators have a responsibility to represent climate futures in a particular way? What are the benefits of imagining alternative climate futures? What are the downsides, if any?

To prepare for our discussion, the fellows read Does Climate Fiction (and Filmmaking) Work? by Tomas Weber and On the False Promise of Climate Fiction by Emma Pattee. These articles present notably different theses about the role of Cli-Fi in climate discourse and advocacy. Weber, citing Cli-Fi researcher Matthew Schneider-Mayerson, posits that climate stories alone don’t work to increase long-term concern about the climate crisis. Instead, we need stories about climate action and solutions. Pattee, who also cites some of Schneider-Mayerson's research, writes that Cli-Fi isn’t supposed to ‘work’ in any particular way. Rather, it is a natural expression of our current condition, just as art has always reflected the human experience at the specific time of its creation.

The group was inclined to agree more with Pattee. As young professionals in climate, many cohort members expressed that Cli-Fi can feel overwhelming and exhausting as a leisure pursuit when they spend all day thinking about the climate crisis already. Others shared that the Cli-Fi and non-fiction climate media that speaks to them most tends to be that which leaves them in awe of the planet rather than foretelling its destruction. (Barbara Kingsolver’s corpus was brought up as a beloved example.) It may be more powerful to be reminded why we are drawn to climate work than to be reminded of its necessity. After all, we’re already here, trying to do something.

About Maya

Maya is originally from West Newton, Massachusetts. She recently graduated from McGill University with a degree in environmental sustainability and a minor in geo-information science and remote sensing. She is drawn to the way that geospatial analysis brings together science and art by combining a diverse array of data sources, including data sourced by citizen science projects, to create nuanced yet visually appealing displays. In college, she completed an honors thesis on wildlife habitation patterns and range shifts in southern Arizona and had the honor of presenting her research at the 2023 American Association of Geographers conference. Her interest in anthropogenic change, climate resilience, and place-based work was fostered during her time working as a naturalist intern in southern Utah for the Canyonlands Field Institute and as a backcountry naturalist and ecology researcher for the Appalachian Mountain Club in northern New Hampshire, where she has worked in various roles since 2019. As a Resilience Corps Fellow, Maya is excited to bring her geospatial skills from the world of ecology to municipal sustainability planning and to learn about coastal Maine through the lens of climate resilience and local action.



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