What is Climate Fiction (cli-fi)?

In the realm of fiction, there are numerous sub-categories. We are all familiar with science, historical, dystopian, utopian, and speculative fiction. The last of which, I personally have a tough time wrapping my head around, but that’s just me. I’ve recently discovered the category of climate fiction, even though the term has been around since 2011. According to Theodora Sutcliffe in her article published on the Means and Matters website, Freelance writer Dan Bloom coined the term cli-fi in a press release for Jim Laughter’s Polar City Red, a novel set amid climate refugees in a future Alaska. 

The basic definition of cli-fi is any work of fiction written about or set in an environment affected by climate change and global warming.

Mind blown!

My mind, anyway.

The first book I read that could be considered climate fiction, or cli-fi, as it is being called, was discovered on a trip to New Orleans and a quick stop at the Garden District Book Shop on Prytania Street. I left with bags full of interesting reads. My travel excursions always include a trip to a cemetery, historical site, and a local independent bookstore where I search out young adult fiction set in the city I’m visiting. 

In that pile of books, I discovered Orleans by Sherri L. Smith. Set in the gulf coast of New Orleans after devastating hurricanes flooded the Delta and quarantined a segment of the population due to a highly contagious Delta fever. This book not only addresses the real devastating possibilities of climate change, but it also looks at segregation through the lens of blood types rather than ethnic groups. It’s a novel that touches on so many of today’s issues, and it’s considered cli-fi. 

It debuted in 2013; that’s when I read it. At the time, it was considered speculative fiction. Ah, ha! There’s that word I can’t wrap my head around. I’m happy to see Orleans has since been recategorized as cli-fi. That makes more sense to me than the ambiguous speculative fiction moniker it used to have. 

So now that we know what climate fiction is, why should we write it? After a quick search on the Internet, I found three great reasons why people writing for a young audience, whether it be young adult, middle-grade, or picture book, should take a closer look at using climate change in their works of fiction. 

According to J.G. Follansbee in his blog post, the first reason is climate change is real!

Contrary to what swaths of U.S. citizens believe, a warming planet affects how humans, plants, and animals live.

Readers are talking about climate change, especially young readers. Just look at climate change activist Greta Thunberg.

Climate change is all over the news.

There are even writing contests looking for cli-fi stories. Check out Grist’s free-entry, climate-fiction short story contest—Imagine 2200: Climate fiction for future ancestors. They are looking for stories that have a positive message with visions of solutions that haven’t been dreamed up yet.

If you write picture books, can you include climate change in your projects?

The easy answer is yes!

In fact, my debut picture book, with a January 2022 release date, takes a look at how children can make a difference in this topsy-turvy world. It explores alternative energy sources such as biodiesel fuel, solar panels, and pedal-powered generators. Click on my Book tab for more information on The Topsy Turvy Bus and how to bring the actual Topsy Turvy bus to an educational facility near you. 

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