13 Female 'Cli-Fi' Writers Who Are Inspiring A Better Future
By Carly Nairn
For International Women's Day, we decided to honor those lady writers bringing climate change to everyone's minds and eyeballs through world-building, apocalyptic scenarios. Pandemics, extreme weather, droughts and a militarized process of securing natural resources are common elements in climate fiction or "cli-fi"—and our anxiety-induced states make this the perfect time for an artful examination of the future of the environment.
The writers listed here are questioning, critiquing and speculating about what various kinds of worlds, including the one in which we presently live, can look like. In fact, the burgeoning genre of cli-fi has already sparked new avenues. Take solarpunk, a sub-genre that ultimately conveys an optimistic view of the future, often by envisioning how present political and cultural movements might realize their missions—such as Black Lives Matter, #TimesUp, #NODAPL and the end of late-stage capitalism—and ultimately offering conclusions about how we can save ourselves from ourselves. Solarpunk and cli-fi stories are marked by conjecture about the future, critique of the present and evaluation of the past. Frequently, environmental justice is a central theme, and humanity ultimately claims stewardship of the natural world.
This round-up includes works from cli-fi's up-and-comers, as well as some bestsellers and a nod to the legacy writers who started it all.
The Broken Earth Series by N.K. Jemisin
Back-to-back Hugo Award winner Jemisin brings a memento mori to life with the Broken Earth trilogy. The title of the first book, The Fifth Season, references an annihilation event that occurs every few centuries due to climate change. All of Jemisin's work is steeped in mythology—characters understand their place within the hierarchy of "use-caste;" that is, until circumstances or natural grit compels them to undertake extraordinary endeavors.
Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver
Kingsolver is not your typical genre writer—she's best known for mainstream best-sellers such as The Poisonwood Bible and the wonderful The Lacuna. Flight Behavior, on the other hand, feels like it could be a news report a few years down the road. A Tennessean housewife goes on a hike and finds a valley covered in millions of monarch butterflies whose usual winter grounds in Mexico have been displaced by climate change.
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Station Eleven is set in the Great Lakes region in the near-future, after a swine flu pandemic known as the "Georgia Flu" has devastated the world, wiping out most of the population. A troupe of actors tries to bring joy to those who are left by staging performances depicting life from a bygone era. The novel includes multiple character arcs that intersect and at times leave the reader guessing. Station Eleven is ultimately a story about the creative spirit within people, and how it can simultaneously shape and destroy our world.
California by Edan Lepucki
Post-apocalyptic California is becoming a common trope in cli-fi, but it holds sway in Lepucki's astute portrait of human fragility. In the 2060's, a young couple finds out they are pregnant, and decide to leave Los Angeles for the wilderness, so as to find a community that can help the young couple raise the kid. In this novel, "Communities" refer to havens of those wealthy and lucky enough to have survived after a flu-ravaged most of the population. Like Silicon Valley's real-life burgeoning community of wealthy and exclusive survivalists, California's communities, located deep in the wilderness, include private security forces to protect those within them. Like most people who rely on cell phones, delivery services and cheap transportation to get through the day, Frida and Cal are not your typical lovers of the outdoors, but still, they try to make life work in a world that won't.
Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins
Another novel set in a dystopian California, Watkins's debut takes place in the near future, when the land is ravaged by extreme drought (this, of course, hits especially close to home for Californians). It hasn't rained in years, and an expanding, shifting-sand hellscape reminiscent of the one portrayed in Mad Max, the "Amargosa Dune Sea," has swallowed the Southwest. Los Angeles is left mostly abandoned. The main character is Luz, an orphaned model who as a baby was adopted by the Bureau of Conservation to be a poster child for water infrastructure expansion efforts—what a way to get famous. Watkins's narration feels flimsy at times—you want to know more about Luz and why she makes the decisions she does. However, the story maintains suspense in that it's difficult to choose who is more likely to survive—those in the Dune Sea, living each day like it's their last, or those trying to make a world better than the one they currently inhabit.
The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future by Noami Oreskes and Erik M. Conway
Oreskes is one of the few cli-fi writers who can safely say she has an insider's take on the potentialities of climate change. As the Affiliated Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Harvard University, her daily life involves studies in geophysics and global warming. According to her novel, the collapse of western civilization happens in 2093, after the West Antarctic Ice Sheet disintegrates, and the global order is upended due to mass migration. The story takes place 300 years after the "Great Collapse," and is told through the point of view of a scholar in the Second People's Republic of China, who writes about the human folly of not heeding earlier warnings of ensuing catastrophe.
The Carbon Diaries: 2015 by Saci Lloyd
The Carbon Diaries: 2015 is a 2009 young adult novel set in the United Kingdom after weather disasters have left 16-year-old Londoner Laura weary of the future, and a carbon-rationing program has been instituted. Nobody flies in a plane anymore, because it is too expensive, and each citizen's carbon ration card has to be used on essentials, like starting home appliances and taking public transit. Reviewer Rebecca Onion touted the The Carbon Diaries as a prime example of a "soft apocalypse," story, in that it "chronicles societies changing as a result of a series of rolling crises, rather than in the blink of an eye, as from a nuclear blast."
Disasters in the First World by Olivia Clare
In Disasters, a short-story collection populated with imperfect people, drinking water in Las Vegas costs more than booze or drugs. An affront to the price of commodities, perhaps, but the scenario's not as far-fetched as we would like to think, with major cities such as Cape Town presently on the brink of waterlessness. Clare, who's mostly known for her poetry, is a master of language. Her fine-tuning is on full display in the story Petur, which was published in 2013 in Ecotone and fetched a 2014 O. Henry Prize. After a mother and son are stranded in a remote Icelandic town in the wake of 2010's volcanic eruption of Eyjafjallajokull (what a name—and it's real!), they suffer mental decline.
Spider the Artist by Nnedi Okorafor
This short story, published online by Lightspeed Magazine, is set in a future Nigeria, where ecological destruction has taken root—"the fish, shrimps and crayfish in the creeks were dying. Drinking the water shriveled women's wombs and eventually made men urinate blood." Okorafor, who has seen a boost in popularity following the recent announcement that her 2010 novel Who Fears Death will be adapted into an HBO series (with George R.R. Martin as executive producer), weaves elements of Nigerian folklore and history into all of her stories. In Spider the Artist, Zombies, or Anansi Droids—named after the African master storyteller who often takes the shape of an arachnid—guard a pipeline crucial to the Nigerian government's control over its people, and its ongoing supply chain to the U.S.
A Catalogue of Sunlight at the End of the World by A.C. Wise
This short story, from Upper Rubber Boot Books' Sunvault: Stories of Solarpunk and Eco-Speculation anthology, is told through diary entries that toggle back of forth through the 22nd and 23rd centuries. Set mainly in Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago at the top of the world, one account illustrates the harsh beauty of aggravated circumstances. "Today the light is pure," it states. "There isn't a cloud in the sky to cut it, no breeze to stir it off our skins. All the shadows are sharp-edged. There's so much of it, it's easy to forget it's there." It's always sunny at the end of the world, and the unnamed narrator reminisces about good and tough times, and about what's to come next. Wise encapsulates the feelings of awe and dread that the natural world tends to inspire.
Now, let's not forget the greats.
Many of the writers mentioned above would not be on this list if not for the shoulders of giantesses on which they stand. The following three authors are some of the best in the genre, period—and their legacies continue to haunt and astound us.
Octavia Butler, best known for The Parable of the Sower and The Parable of the Talents, Kindred, Lilith's Brood
Butler, a cornerstone of Afrofuturism—an aesthetic, philosophy and critique that explores intersections of African culture and technology—is unparalleled when it comes to world-building capabilities. The Parable of the Sower and The Parable of the Talents so eerily predicted the rise and election of Donald Trump that one might wonder whether Butler used a crystal ball when she got writer's block. (This hypothesis, however, does a disservice to Butler's narrative talent.) The Parable series, inspired by news reports about climate change and late-stage capitalism—and which Butler was never able to finish, due to her sudden and untimely death in 2006—conjures a world devastated by global warming. Drought and rising sea levels scourge the Earth. Most people live in gated neighborhoods. Pharmaceuticals have replaced reality with psychotropic experiences. Women's oppression is laid bare—"nags" who speak their mind get their tongues cut out. After President Donner, a nincompoop who promises jobs to the people, is elected, an opposition candidate, the charlatan Andrew Steele Jarret, dedicates his campaign to "making America great again." It's all very disturbing—especially when you find yourself nodding in agreement to teenage protagonist Lauren's claim that, "People have changed the climate of the world."
Margaret Atwood, best known for The Handmaid's Tale, the MaddAddam trilogy, The Heart Goes Last
It would be difficult to argue that the cli-fi genre is what is today—chock-full of talented writers who can conjure the strange, the tortured and the triumphant—without Atwood having paved the way. In her MaddAddam series, readers are immersed in worlds defined by genetic engineering, religious zealotry and internet and video culture—subjects so increasingly relevant that Atwood has become required reading in many schools. And yet, while reading Atwood, one cannot help but feel optimistic about the human capability to endure. In Oryx and Crake, the first book of the MaddAddam trilogy, a group of vegetarians are devoted to preserving all plant and animal life. They predict a natural disaster that will wipe out all species. When it comes to fruition, Atwood's characters showcase the best and worst of humanity.
Ursula K. LeGuin, best known for The Dispossessed, the Earthsea Cycle Series, The Left Hand of Darkness, The Lathe of Heaven
A champion of genre fiction, LeGuin's recent death, following a prolific career in which she (masterfully) wrote everything from children's fantasy to personal essays to poetry, amounted to a loss of one of the most brilliant authors in American letters. Everyone has a favorite LeGuin, based on personal preference and often, on where they were in life when they read it (The Dispossessed, all the way!). LeGuin not only took a hatchet to clichés in sci-fi about female or simply gendered, character representation—she liked to include sexless or asexual entities—and served as a constant source of inspiration in terms of approaching writing as passion, but she also cared about the environment deeply. And this shows through her work as requiem.
Reposted with permission from our media associate SIERRA Magazine.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Mark Hertsgaard
What follows are not candidate endorsements. Rather, this nonpartisan guide aims to inform voters' choices, help journalists decide what races to follow, and explore what the 2020 elections could portend for climate action in the United States in 2021 and beyond.
Will the White House Turn Green?<p>Whether the White House changes hands is the most important climate question of the 2020 elections. President Donald Trump rejects climate science, is withdrawing the United States from the Paris Agreement, and has accelerated fossil fuel development. His climate policy seems to be, as he tweeted in January when rejecting a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposal to protect New York City from storm surges, "Get your mops and buckets ready."</p><p>Joe Biden, who started the 2020 campaign with a climate position so weak that activists gave it an "F," called Trump a "climate arsonist" during California's recent wildfires. Biden backs a $2 trillion plan to create millions of jobs while slashing emissions—a Green New Deal in all but name. Equally striking, his running mate, California Senator Kamala Harris, has endorsed phasing out fossil fuel production—a politically explosive scientific imperative.</p><p>The race will be decided in a handful of battleground states, five of which already face grave climate dangers: Florida (hurricanes and sea-level rise), North Carolina (ditto), Texas (storms and drought), Michigan (floods), and Arizona (heat waves and drought). <a href="https://climatecommunication.yale.edu/visualizations-data/ycom-us/" target="_blank">Public concern is rising</a> in these states, but will that concern translate into votes?</p>
Will Democrats Flip the Senate, and by Enough to Pass a Green New Deal?<p>With Democrats all but certain to maintain their majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, the Senate will determine whether a potential Biden administration can actually deliver climate progress. Democrats need to pick up three seats to flip the Senate if Biden wins, four if he doesn't. But since aggressive climate policy is shunned by some Democrats, notably Joe Manchin of coal-dependent West Virginia, Democrats probably need to gain five or six Senate seats to pass a Green New Deal.</p><p>Environmentalists, including the League of Conservation Voters, are targeting six Republicans who polls suggest are vulnerable.</p><ul><li>Steve Daines of Montana, who denies climate science</li><li>Martha McSally of Arizona</li><li>Thom Tillis of North Carolina</li><li>Susan Collins of Maine</li><li>Joni Ernst of Iowa (bankrolled by Charles Koch)</li><li>John James of Michigan (also a Koch beneficiary)</li></ul><p>Republican Senators are even at risk in conservative Kansas and Alaska. In both states, the Democratic candidates are physicians—not a bad credential amid a pandemic—who support climate action. In Kansas, Barbara Bollier faces an incumbent funded by Charles Koch. In Alaska, Al Gross urges a transition away from oil, though his openness to limited drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Preserve dims his appeal to green groups. He faces incumbent Republican Dan Sullivan, who receives an 8 percent lifetime voting record from the League of Conservation Voters.</p>
Will Local and State Races Advance Climate Progress?<h4>THE CLIMATE HAWKS</h4><p>Under Democratic and Republican leadership alike, Washington has long been a graveyard for strong climate action. But governors can boost or block renewable energy; the Vermont and New Hampshire races are worth watching. Attorneys general can sue fossil fuel companies for lying about climate change; climate hawks are running for the top law enforcement seats in Montana and North Carolina. State legislatures can accelerate or delay climate progress, as the new Democratic majorities in Virginia have shown. Here, races to watch include Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Colorado.</p><h4>THE CLIMATE POLICY MAKERS</h4><p>Perhaps the most powerful, and most overlooked, climate policy makers are public utility commissions. They control whether pipelines and other energy infrastructure gets built; they regulate whether electric utilities expand solar and energy efficiency or stick with the carbon-heavy status quo. Regulatory capture and outright corruption are not uncommon.</p><p>A prime example is Arizona, where a former two-term commissioner known as the godfather of solar in the state is seeking a comeback. Bill Mundell argues that since Arizona law permits utilities to contribute to commissioners' electoral campaigns, the companies can buy their own regulators. Which may explain why super-sunny Arizona has so little installed solar capacity.</p><p>In South Dakota, Remi Bald Eagle, a Native American U.S. Army veteran, seeks a seat on the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission, which rules on the Standing Rock oil pipeline. And in what <em>HuffPost</em> called "the most important environmental race in the country," Democrat Chrysta Castaneda, who favors phasing out oil production, is running for the Texas Railroad Commission, which despite its name decides what oil, gas, and electric companies in America's leading petro-state can build.</p>
Will the Influencers Usher in a Green New Era?<h4>THE UNCOUNTED</h4><p>The story that goes largely under-reported in every U.S. election is how few Americans vote. In 2016, some 90 million, <a href="https://www.pewresearch.org/politics/2018/08/09/an-examination-of-the-2016-electorate-based-on-validated-voters/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">roughly four out of every 10 eligible voters</a>, did not cast a ballot. Attorney Nathaniel Stinnett claims that 10 million of these nonvoters nevertheless identify as environmentalists: They support green policies, even donate to activist groups; they just don't vote. Stinnett's <a href="https://www.environmentalvoter.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Environmental Voter Project</a> works to awaken this sleeping giant.</p><h4>THE SUNRISE MOVEMENT</h4><p>Meanwhile, the young climate activists of the <a href="http://www.sunrisemovement.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Sunrise Movement</a> are already winning elections with an unabashedly Green New Deal message. More than any other group, Sunrise pushed the Green New Deal into the national political conversation, helping Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey draft the eponymous congressional resolution. In 2020, Sunrise has helped Green New Deal champions defeat centrists in Democratic primaries, with Markey dealing Representative Joe Kennedy Jr. the first defeat a Kennedy has ever suffered in a Massachusetts election. But can Sunrise also be successful against Republicans in the general elections this fall?</p><h4>THE STARPOWER</h4><p>And an intriguing wild card: celebrity firepower, grassroots activism, and big-bucks marketing have converged behind a campaign to get Latina mothers to vote climate in 2020. Latinos have long been the U.S. demographic most concerned about climate change. Now, <a href="https://votelikeamadre.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Vote Like A Madre</a> aims to get 5 million Latina mothers in Florida, Texas, and Arizona to the polls. Jennifer Lopez, Salma Hayak, and Lin-Manuel Miranda are urging mothers to make a "pinky promise" to vote for their kids' climate future in November. Turning out even a quarter of those 5 million voters, though no easy task, could swing the results in three states Trump must win to remain president, which brings us back to the first category, "Will the White House Turn Green?"</p>
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By Tony Carnie
South Africa is home to around 1,300 of the world's roughly 7,100 remaining cheetahs. It's also the only country in the world with significant cheetah population growth, thanks largely to a nongovernmental conservation project that depends on careful and intensive human management of small, fenced-in cheetah populations. Because most of the reserves are privately funded and properly fenced, the animals benefit from higher levels of security than in the increasingly thinly funded state reserves.
Vincent van der Merwe at a cheetah translocation. Endangered Wildlife Trust
Under Pressure<p>Cheetah populations elsewhere in Southern Africa have not prospered over the past 50 years. In Zimbabwe, cheetah numbers have crashed from 1,500 in 1975, to just 170 today. Botswana's cheetah population has held steady at around 1,500 over the same period, but illegal capture for captive breeding and conflicts with farmers and the growing human population are increasing. In Namibia, there were an estimated 3,000 cheetah in in 1975; roughly 1,400 remain today.</p><p>In contrast, South Africa's cheetah numbers have grown from about 500 in 1975 to nearly 1,300 today. Van der Merwe, who is also a Ph.D. student at the University of Cape Town's Institute for Communities and Wildlife in Africa (iCWild), says he's confident that South Africa will soon overtake Namibia and Botswana, largely because the majority of South African cheetahs are protected and managed behind fences, whereas most of the animals in the neighboring countries remain more vulnerable on mainly unfenced lands.</p><p>Wildlife researchers Florian Weise and colleagues have reported that private stock owners in Namibia still trap cheetahs mainly for translocation, but there are few public or private reserves large enough to contain them. Weise says that conservation efforts need to focus on improving tolerance toward cheetahs in commercial livestock and game farming areas to reduce indiscriminate trapping.</p><p>Van der Merwe says fences can be both a blessing and a curse. While these barriers prevent cheetahs and other wild animals from migrating naturally to breed and feed, they also protect cheetahs from the growing tide of threats from humanity and agriculture.</p><p>To simulate natural dispersion patterns that guard against inbreeding, the trust helps landowners swap their animals with other cheetah reserves elsewhere in the country. The South African metapopulation project has been so successful in boosting numbers that the trust is having to look beyond national boundaries to secure new translocation areas in Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique.</p><p>Cheetah translocations have been going on in South Africa since the mid-1960s, when the first unsuccessful attempts were made to move scores of these animals from Namibia. These relocations were mostly unsuccessful.</p>
Charli de Vos uses a VHF antenna to locate cheetahs in Phinda Game Reserve. Tony Carnie for Mongabay
Swinging for the Fences<p>But other wildlife conservation leaders have a different perspective on cheetah conservation strategy.</p><p>Gus Mills, a senior carnivore researcher retired in 2006 from SANParks, the agency that manages South Africa's national parks, after a career of more than 30 years in Kalahari and Kruger national parks. He says the focus should be on quality of living spaces rather than the quantity of cheetahs.</p><p>Mills, who was the founder of the Endangered Wildlife Trust's Carnivore Conservation Group in 1995, and who also spent six years after retirement studying cheetahs in the Kalahari, says it's more important to properly protect and, where possible, expand the size of existing protected areas.</p><p>He also advocates a triage approach to cheetah conservation, in which scarce funds and resources are focused on protecting cheetahs in formally protected areas, rather than diluting scarce resources in an attempt to try and save every single remaining cheetah population.</p><p>"People have an obsession with numbers. But I believe that it is more important to protect large landscape and habitats properly," Mills said.</p><p>He suggests that cheetahs enclosed within small reserves live in artificial conditions: "It's almost like glorified farming."</p><p>"In the long run we have to focus on consolidating formally protected areas," he added. "Africa's human population will double by 2050, so cheetah populations in unfenced areas will become unsustainable if they are eating people's livestock."</p>
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