Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Are we getting warmer?

Works of climate fiction posit a very near future dramatically altered by global warming

  • Print
Ice floes float in Baffin Bay above the Arctic circle.


Ice floes float in Baffin Bay above the Arctic circle.

A brave new world calls for a brave new literary genre.

Climate fiction -- or cli-fi -- is a growing branch of speculative fiction that's been gaining popularity. Although cli-fi is a buzzy play on sci-fi, the term simply describes all works of fiction in which a changing (or radically changed) climate serves as a central plot point.

Dan Bloom, 65, is a Boston-bred, Taiwan-based climate activist who has been tirelessly campaigning to get the term cli-fi into the mainstream consciousness. He'd like to see it become a recognized literary genre.

His efforts are starting to pay off. The New York Times ran a piece in March about a new class at the University of Oregon called The Cultures of Climate Change that uses works of cli-fi to encourage students to think about how climate change might affect them. Celebrated Canadian author Margaret Atwood has also helped to normalize the term, using it in an op-ed for Canadian Living about climate change.

Bloom's MO is simple: "Try to wake up a sleeping world (to the fact) that climate change is real and poses a grave threat to the existence of the human species.

"If we don't stop burning fossil fuels as soon as possible and if we do not tighten the noose around coal, oil and gas now, then it will be curtains for the human race within 500 years," he says. "I care about that future. That is what motivates me: a deep compassion for future generations."

While most people have accepted climate change as a real challenge facing society, there's still resistance. "Sadly, we humans are hard-wired to only think about ourselves and our children and our grandchildren, and after that we just don't care about the future," Bloom says. "Climate-deniers are just part of human nature. They are like ostriches with their heads in the sand. They're not bad people, just misinformed and misguided."

Novels, Bloom says, offer a different entry point into the climate-change discussion. "I believe that fiction is uniquely positioned to help change ingrained attitudes about pressing climate issues because it works on an emotional level."

Cli-fi's power to inspire change lies in its immediacy; often, these books are not taking place far in the hard-to-imagine distant future, but rather in the immediate future.

"Non-fiction does a great job letting us know the facts, but fiction has the opportunity to capture the imagination," says Mary Woodbury, a Vancouver-based author and the brains behind, a website that archives works of fiction related to climate change.

Last year, Woodbury -- who grew up in the Midwestern U.S. and studied at Purdue University in Indiana -- published a novel called Back to the Garden under the pen name Clara Hume (so as not to be confused with respected Canadian author Mary Woodbury). The book is set in apocalyptic America and imagines how climate change might affect people in the not-so-distant future.

"After I published my book, I wondered how many books were out there that were like mine."

Turns out, there were a lot. Cli-fi is a burgeoning literary trend; Nathaniel Rich's Odds Against Tomorrow, Saci Lloyd's Carbon Diaries series, Ian McEwan's Solar and Barbara Kingsolver's Flight Behavior are just a few recent titles in a long list. Woodbury's site serves as something of a one-stop shop for readers searching out works about climate change.

"I was pleasantly surprised by the ways people are treating the subject matter -- everything from satire to graphic novel," Woodbury says.

The fact it's not bound by genre is why Bloom stresses the fact that cli-fi is not is a subgenre of sci-fi.

"The media, and most literary critics, still file cli-fi novels and movies under sci-fi but it's not sci-fi at all," Bloom says. "The difference is that cli-fi is written with a certain moral sense of what things might be like if we do not stop climate change and global warming, whereas sci-fi is more concerned with science and amazing stories and adventures created mostly as escape and entertainment. Cli-fi is not about escapism or entertainment, although cli-fi novels and movies can be entertaining, too. But cli-fi has a moral imperative. Sci-fi does not."

The genre's breadth is a reflection of its subject matter. "Climate change is huge and overwhelming," Woodbury says. "There's no one cause and there's no one solution."

As such, there are myriad stories to tell. Don't be surprised if a cli-fi section appears at your local bookstore in the years to come.

For her part, Woodbury's imagination has been captured by pipeline development. She's working on a second novel set in a small town in Kentucky that's reeling from a pipeline spill.

She, like Bloom, is working hard to raise cli-fi's profile through her website.

"My main goal is to archive books that have climate change as a theme, but I also want to expand it," she says. Her website includes interviews with authors as well as blog posts about issues related to climate change.

"I want to bring the genre into focus. I want to give readers some background about what cli-fi is -- and what it's becoming."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 22, 2014 D3

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Feeling at home at Home Expressions

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • MIKE APORIUS/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS STANDUP - pretty sunflower in field off HWY 206 near Bird's Hill Park Thursday August 09/2007
  • A baby Red Panda in her area at the Zoo. International Red Panda Day is Saturday September 15th and the Assiniboine Park Zoo will be celebrating in a big way! The Zoo is home to three red pandas - Rufus, Rouge and their cub who was born on June 30 of this year. The female cub has yet to be named and the Assiniboine Park Zoo is asking the community to help. September 14, 2012  BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

View More Gallery Photos


Should NDP MLAs sign the "pledge of solidarity"?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google