Introducing CLI-FI: Fiction to Prepare Us for Global Warming

Twentieth Century Fox
Cli-fi: Fiction that prepares us for 
world changed by global warming
Climate fiction, or simply cli-fi, is a newly coined term for novels and films which focus on the consequences of global warming. New research from University of Copenhagen shows how these fictions serve as a mental laboratory that allows us to simulate the potential consequences of climate change and imagine other living conditions.

Introducing Cli-fi
"Global warming is much more than scientific data on changes in the atmosphere; it is also a cultural phenomenon in which meaning is being shaped by the books we read and the films we see. And there are so many of them now that we can speak of a completely new genre, cli-fi, says PhD Gregers Andersen at the University of Copenhagen.

"We use these films and novels to imagine what life and society might be like in a future when global warming has dramatically changed our world because, as opposed to numbers and statistics, fiction can make us feel and understand the changes."

Andersen analysed 40 different novels, short stories, and films produced between 1977 and 2014 which all, in one way or the other, employ global warming as a theme. And in the 40 works, he has identified five themes that each represents global warming in a different way:

The five themes of Cli-fi:
  • Social Breakdown ~ When climate change leads to conflicts about natural resources and social disintegration.  
  • Judgment ~ Man is punished by nature for exploiting its resources.
  • Conspiracy ~ Climate change is seen as a scientific and political conspiracy to mislead the public. 
  • Loss of Wilderness ~ Global warming destroys the planet’s last places of wilderness. The wilderness is depicted as a place of extraordinary aesthetic value.
  • The Sphere ~ Man adapts to climate changes by constructing artificial atmospheres. A theme that is often seen in science fiction.
Nature passes judgment
The 2004 Hollywood blockbuster The Day After Tomorrow is a prime example of the theme Gregers Andersen has termed the Judgment; during the film, global warming has catastrophic consequences and causes a new ice age that lays most of Earth waste.

Suggest reading
"In The Day After Tomorrow and a number of similar fictions, nature passes moral judgment on humankind's exploitation of Earth's resources and becomes an avenger who, quite literally, clears the air and thus restores the proper balance between man and nature," Gregers Andersen says.

Climate change sped up for effect
Apart from the Judgment theme Gregers Andersen, as mentioned, points to four other recurrent themes in the climate fictions he has analysed: The Social Breakdown, The Conspiracy, The Loss of Wilderness and The Sphere. Despite the thematic differences displayed in these fictional takes on global warming and climate change, they all seem to have one central trait in common:

"If we do not take care of our environment, of or our home, it will change, and it will feel and seem very different -- "unhomely" if you will. This is exactly the feeling the fictions want to leave us with. And even though UN's panel on climate change (IPPC) has previously issued a report stating that global warming may lead to abrupt and irreversible changes , most of these fictions do tend to exaggerate the consequences of global warming, and the climate changes often happen extremely quickly," Gregers Andersen points out and continues:

"They do this to depict characters who can remember how the world was before the climate changes set in -- the characters are, in other words, able to spot that "our home" has changed. However, it is still a recognizable world the characters inhabit in these fictions. And it needs to be recognizable because we are supposed to feel uncomfortable with the fact that our home planet has become a strange and alien place."

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Story Source:  Materials provided by University of Copenhagen. "Fiction prepares us for a world changed by global warming." ScienceDaily. 23 April 2014


  1. PhD Gregers Andersen at the University of Copenhagen.wrote a good essay Jim, but he never contacted me to find out what CLI FI is really all about it. .....don't you think he should have? I emailed him ten times he never replied. PHD arrogance? Or what? SMILE, Maybe you can interview me jim? email me danbloom AT gmail dot com - avail for answers ask me anything, to get the real inside skinny dope on this. cli fi things
    i created and coined the term, not Professor PhD Gregers Andersen at the University of Copenhagen.


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