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13 Female 'Cli-Fi' Writers Who Are Inspiring A Better Future

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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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As we look for advanced technology to replace our dependence on fossil fuels and to rid the oceans of plastic, one solution to the climate crisis might simply be found in rocks. New research found that dispersing rock dust over farmland could suck billions of tons of carbon dioxide from the air every year, according to the first detailed large scale analysis of the technique, as The Guardian reported.

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Guillain-Barre syndrome occurs when the body's own immune system attacks and injures the nerves outside of the spinal cord or brain – the peripheral nervous system. Niq Steele / Getty Images

By Sherry H-Y. Chou, Aarti Sarwal and Neha S. Dangayach

The patient in the case report (let's call him Tom) was 54 and in good health. For two days in May, he felt unwell and was too weak to get out of bed. When his family finally brought him to the hospital, doctors found that he had a fever and signs of a severe infection, or sepsis. He tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 infection. In addition to symptoms of COVID-19, he was also too weak to move his legs.

When a neurologist examined him, Tom was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, an autoimmune disease that causes abnormal sensation and weakness due to delays in sending signals through the nerves. Usually reversible, in severe cases it can cause prolonged paralysis involving breathing muscles, require ventilator support and sometimes leave permanent neurological deficits. Early recognition by expert neurologists is key to proper treatment.

We are neurologists specializing in intensive care and leading studies related to neurological complications from COVID-19. Given the occurrence of Guillain-Barre Syndrome in prior pandemics with other corona viruses like SARS and MERS, we are investigating a possible link between Guillain-Barre Syndrome and COVID-19 and tracking published reports to see if there is any link between Guillain-Barre Syndrome and COVID-19.

Some patients may not seek timely medical care for neurological symptoms like prolonged headache, vision loss and new muscle weakness due to fear of getting exposed to virus in the emergency setting. People need to know that medical facilities have taken full precautions to protect patients. Seeking timely medical evaluation for neurological symptoms can help treat many of these diseases.

What Is Guillain-Barre Syndrome?

Guillain-Barre syndrome occurs when the body's own immune system attacks and injures the nerves outside of the spinal cord or brain – the peripheral nervous system. Most commonly, the injury involves the protective sheath, or myelin, that wraps nerves and is essential to nerve function.

Without the myelin sheath, signals that go through a nerve are slowed or lost, which causes the nerve to malfunction.

To diagnose Guillain-Barre Syndrome, neurologists perform a detailed neurological exam. Due to the nerve injury, patients often may have loss of reflexes on examination. Doctors often need to perform a lumbar puncture, otherwise known as spinal tap, to sample spinal fluid and look for signs of inflammation and abnormal antibodies.

Studies have shown that giving patients an infusion of antibodies derived from donated blood or plasma exchange – a process that cleans patients' blood of harmful antibodies - can speed up recovery. A very small subset of patients may need these therapies long-term.

The majority of Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients improve within a few weeks and eventually can make a full recovery. However, some patients with Guillain-Barre Syndrome have lingering symptoms including weakness and abnormal sensations in arms and/or legs; rarely patients may be bedridden or disabled long-term.

Guillain-Barre Syndrome and Pandemics

As the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps across the globe, many neurologic specialists have been on the lookout for potentially serious nervous system complications such as Guillain-Barre Syndrome.

Though Guillain-Barre Syndrome is rare, it is well known to emerge following bacterial infections, such as Campylobacter jejuni, a common cause of food poisoning, and a multitude of viral infections including the flu virus, Zika virus and other coronaviruses.

Studies showed an increase in Guillain-Barre Syndrome cases following the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, suggesting a possible connection. The presumed cause for this link is that the body's own immune response to fight the infection turns on itself and attacks the peripheral nerves. This is called an "autoimmune" condition. When a pandemic affects as many people as our current COVID-19 crisis, even a rare complication can become a significant public health problem. That is especially true for one that causes neurological dysfunction where the recovery takes a long time and may be incomplete.

The first reports of Guillain-Barre Syndrome in COVID-19 pandemic originated from Italy, Spain and China, where the pandemic surged before the U.S. crisis.

Though there is clear clinical suspicion that COVID-19 can lead to Guillain-Barre Syndrome, many important questions remain. What are the chances that someone gets Guillain-Barre Syndrome during or following a COVID-19 infection? Does Guillain-Barre Syndrome happen more often in those who have been infected with COVID-19 compared to other types of infections, such as the flu?

The only way to get answers is through a prospective study where doctors perform systematic surveillance and collect data on a large group of patients. There are ongoing large research consortia hard at work to figure out answers to these questions.

Understanding the Association Between COVID-19 and Guillain-Barre Syndrome

While large research studies are underway, overall it appears that Guillain-Barre Syndrome is a rare but serious phenomenon possibly linked to COVID-19. Given that more than 10.7 million cases have been reported for COVID-19, there have been 10 reported cases of COVID-19 patients with Guillain-Barre Syndrome so far – only two reported cases in the U.S., five in Italy, two cases in Iran and one from Wuhan, China.

It is certainly possible that there are other cases that have not been reported. The Global Consortium Study of Neurological Dysfunctions in COVID-19 is actively underway to find out how often neurological problems like Guillain-Barre Syndrome is seen in hospitalized COVID-19 patients. Also, just because Guillain-Barre Syndrome occurs in a patient diagnosed with COVID-19, that does not imply that it was caused by the virus; this still may be a coincident occurrence. More research is needed to understand how the two events are related.

Due to the pandemic and infection-containment considerations, diagnostic tests, such as a nerve conduction study that used to be routine for patients with suspected Guillain-Barre Syndrome, are more difficult to do. In both U.S. cases, the initial diagnosis and treatment were all based on clinical examination by a neurological experts rather than any tests. Both patients survived but with significant residual weakness at the time these case reports came out, but that is not uncommon for Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients. The road to recovery may sometimes be long, but many patients can make a full recovery with time.

Though the reported cases of Guillain-Barre Syndrome so far all have severe symptoms, this is not uncommon in a pandemic situation where the less sick patients may stay home and not present for medical care for fear of being exposed to the virus. This, plus the limited COVID-19 testing capability across the U.S., may skew our current detection of Guillain-Barre Syndrome cases toward the sicker patients who have to go to a hospital. In general, the majority of Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients do recover, given enough time. We do not yet know whether this is true for COVID-19-related cases at this stage of the pandemic. We and colleagues around the world are working around the clock to find answers to these critical questions.

Sherry H-Y. Chou is an Associate Professor of Critical Care Medicine, Neurology, and Neurosurgery, University of Pittsburgh.

Aarti Sarwal is an Associate Professor, Neurology, Wake Forest University.

Neha S. Dangayach is an Assistant Professor of Neurology and Neurosurgery, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

Disclosure statement: Sherry H-Y. Chou receives funding from The University of Pittsburgh Clinical Translational Science Institute (CTSI), the National Institute of Health, and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine Dean's Faculty Advancement Award. Sherry H-Y. Chou is a member of Board of Directors for the Neurocritical Care Society. Neha S. Dangayach receives funding from the Bee Foundation, the Friedman Brain Institute, the Neurocritical Care Society, InCHIP-UConn Center for mHealth and Social Media Seed Grant. She is faculty for emcrit.org and for AiSinai. Aarti Sarwal does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Reposted with permission from The Conversation.

Nurses wear PPE prior to caring for a COVID-19 patient in the ICU at Sharp Grossmont Hospital on May 5, 2020 in La Mesa, California. Mario Tama / Getty Images

One of the initial reasons social distancing guidelines were put in place was to allow the healthcare system to adapt to a surge in patients since there was a critical shortage of beds, ventilators and personal protective equipment. In fact, masks that were designed for single-use were reused for an entire week in some hospitals.

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Democratic presidential hopefuls Joe Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders greet each other with a safe elbow bump before the start of the Democratic Party 2020 presidential debate in a CNN Washington Bureau studio in Washington, DC on March 15, 2020. Mandel Ngan / AFP / Getty Images

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Unity Task Forces formed by presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders unveiled sweeping party platform recommendations Wednesday that—while falling short of progressive ambitions in a number of areas, from climate to healthcare—were applauded as important steps toward a bold and just policy agenda that matches the severity of the moment.

"We've moved the needle a lot, especially on environmental justice and upping Biden's ambition," said Sunrise Movement co-founder and executive director Varshini Prakash, a member of the Biden-Sanders Climate Task Force. "But there's still more work to do to push Democrats to act at the scale of the climate crisis."

The climate panel—co-chaired by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and former Secretary of State John Kerry—recommended that the Democratic Party commit to "eliminating carbon pollution from power plants by 2035," massively expanding investments in clean energy sources, and "achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions for all new buildings by 2030."

In a series of tweets Wednesday night, Ocasio-Cortez—the lead sponsor of the House Green New Deal resolution—noted that the Climate Task Force "shaved 15 years off Biden's previous target for 100% clean energy."

"Of course, like in any collaborative effort, there are areas of negotiation and compromise," said the New York Democrat. "But I do believe that the Climate Task Force effort meaningfully and substantively improved Biden's positions."


The 110 pages of policy recommendations from the six eight-person Unity Task Forces on education, the economy, criminal justice, immigration, climate change, and healthcare are aimed at shaping negotiations over the 2020 Democratic platform at the party's convention next month.

Sanders said that while the "end result isn't what I or my supporters would've written alone, the task forces have created a good policy blueprint that will move this country in a much-needed progressive direction and substantially improve the lives of working families throughout our country."

"I look forward to working with Vice President Biden to help him win this campaign," the Vermont senator added, "and to move this country forward toward economic, racial, social, and environmental justice."

Biden, for his part, applauded the task forces "for helping build a bold, transformative platform for our party and for our country."

"I am deeply grateful to Bernie Sanders for working with us to unite our party and deliver real, lasting change for generations to come," said the former vice president.

On the life-or-death matter of reforming America's dysfunctional private health insurance system—a subject on which Sanders and Biden clashed repeatedly throughout the Democratic primary process—the Unity Task Force affirmed healthcare as "a right" but did not embrace Medicare for All, the signature policy plank of the Vermont senator's presidential bid.

Instead, the panel recommended building on the Affordable Care Act by establishing a public option, investing in community health centers, and lowering prescription drug costs by allowing the federal government to negotiate prices. The task force also endorsed making all Covid-19 testing, treatments, and potential vaccines free and expanding Medicaid for the duration of the pandemic.

"It has always been a crisis that tens of millions of Americans have no or inadequate health insurance—but in a pandemic, it's potentially catastrophic for public health," the task force wrote.

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, a former Michigan gubernatorial candidate and Sanders-appointed member of the Healthcare Task Force, said that despite major disagreements, the panel "came to recommendations that will yield one of the most progressive Democratic campaign platforms in history—though we have further yet to go."


Observers and advocacy groups also applauded the Unity Task Forces for recommending the creation of a postal banking system, endorsing a ban on for-profit charter schools, ending the use of private prisons, and imposing a 100-day moratorium on deportations "while conducting a full-scale study on current practices to develop recommendations for transforming enforcement policies and practices at ICE and CBP."

Marisa Franco, director of immigrant rights group Mijente, said in a statement that "going into these task force negotiations, we knew we were going to have to push Biden past his comfort zone, both to reconcile with past offenses and to carve a new path forward."

"That is exactly what we did, unapologetically," said Franco, a member of the Immigration Task Force. "For years, Mijente, along with the broader immigrant rights movement, has fought to reshape the narrative around immigration towards racial justice and to focus these very demands. We expect Biden and the Democratic Party to implement them in their entirety."

"There is no going back," Franco added. "Not an inch, not a step. We must only move forward from here."

Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.

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