Cli-Fi Novel Review – State of Fear by Michael Crichton

29th June 2017

I have debated whether or not to write a review for this book for some time. Prior to reading it, I had no idea that Michael Crichton was a climate change sceptic! So it came as much of a surprise to me to see the supposedly good climate change scientists portrayed as the bad guys as the book progressed.

Whilst it’s cleverly written to convey Crichton’s climate change scepticism, I can’t recommend this book to others, purely because it flies in the face of what I (personally) believe this genre should be trying to achieve. Yet because Crichton’s name is so well know, you’ll find this book in cli-fi displays in bookstores, and on cli-fi reading lists. So this short review is more of a warning to alert other unsuspecting readers – if you don’t want to read a cli-fi novel that’s grounded in climate change scepticism, then avoid this book!

Cli-Fi Novel Review – Odds Against Tomorrow by Nathaniel Rich

5th May 2017

I couldn’t wait to dive into this book, as it’s been hyped up by a lot of reviewers. So it’s with an element of sadness, that I report this novel came across as a book of two halves for me.

We follow Mitchell Zukor, who is a mathematician that calculates the chances of catastrophe occurring from a range of factors including; ecological collapse, natural disasters and global war. Mitchell lives in New York and his life is turned upside down when a storm slams into the city. Ironically, this book was written just before Hurricane Sandy hit New York. The first half of the book leading up to and including the storm, is engaging, informative and reads like a thriller. If the second half of the book had followed in this manner, then this would easily have been one of my favourite books in the cli-fi genre. But quite the opposite happened.

I will try to avoid giving away too many spoilers, but characters underwent unnecessary change and the plot took a turn for the bizarre. I am not sure if the book needed to end the way it did, and I felt disappointed by what had been such a great start. Perhaps I’m one of only a few who feel unhappy with the second half.

Whilst this novel had a great deal of potential, I would say be prepared for an adrenaline-pumping first half, followed by a mediocre second half.

“Cli-Fi” Added to the Oxford Dictionary

13th April 2017

A major milestone has been reached for the cli-fi genre, as “cli-fi” enters the Oxford Dictionary.

A recent blog post on oxforddictionaries.com states: “Cli-fi refers to the genre of fiction exploring issues around climate change and global warming, and is modelled after its hypernym sci-fi.”

The origin of cli-fi is explained here as follows: “Early 21st century: short for climate fiction or climate change fiction, on the pattern of sci-fi.” Furthermore, ‘cli-fi, like the science behind it, often presents bleak visions of the future.’

I would like to offer my congratulations to Dan Bloom who coined the term ‘cli-fi’, and all those writers who have written books in this genre.

Sources

Oxford Dictionaries blog about cli-fi – http://blog.oxforddictionaries.com/2017/04/oxford-dictionary-new-words/

Definition of cli-fi – https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/cli-fi

“Cli-Fi” as a Subgenre of SF Gains Traction Down Under

5th February 2017

I am delighted to share the guest post below, written by Dan Bloom.

“Cli-Fi” as a Subgenre of SF Gains Traction Down Under

by Dan Bloom

While it’s true that Australia, unlike the U.S. and Europe, has not had a long history in the genre of science fiction,  Australia in 2017 has a thriving SF/Fantasy genre with names recognised around the world. In 2013 a trilogy by Ben Peek fantasy novel and two sequels were acquired by a major SF publisher in Britain, Tor UK.  His first novel in the series, titled Immolation, was published in spring 2014. The trilogy was called “Children” and books two and three were titled Innocence and Incarnation. By the 1950s, just as the SF genre was taking off in dozens of countries in Europe and North America, it took off across Australia in 1952 with the first of many Australian SF conventions.

Today there’s James Bradley and Cat Sparks writing SF, with other writers, including Ian Irvine, Alice Robinson. Joanthan Strahan, Peter Carey and dozens of others following in George Turner’s footsteps.

There is now a new subgenre of SF that’s becoming popular in Australia, and it’s been dubbed Cli-Fi (for ”climate fiction”). It’s not so much as a literary subgenre to compete with other literary genres,  but rather a PR tool,  a media term,  a way for newspapers and websites to signal to readers and book reviewers that climate themes in modern novels deserve a special mention.  The cli-fi expression ws created as a way for literary critics and journalists to talk about novels of the Anthropocene.

Cli-fi was not created for novelists.  They don’t need categories or labels for their works.  Even SF novelists don’t need the SF label.  Genre expressions are just marketing terms, good for selling books. Cli-fi was created for literary critics,  book reviewers,  book editors,  publicity departments,  advertising directors.  It is a “key word,”  a media attention-getter,  to attract eyeballs (and readers).
SF novelists tell stories.  They’ve been doing this for over 100 years and will continue telling stories for another 500 years.

So Cli-Fi novelists in Australia and overseas have now joined the literary circus. Their stories focus  on the possible repercussions of unchecked runaway global warming. It’s a good subgenre of SF and will be for the next 500 years, too.

The short term modelled on the rhyming sounds of sci-fi, has now caught on worldwide, first in English-speaking nations, beginning in  2013 when American radio network NPR aired a five-minute radio segment about ”cli-fi”  novels, interviewing Nathaniel Rich who wrote “Odds Against Tomorrow” and Barbara Kingsolver who wrote “Flight Behavior” .

That radio broadcast was the beginning of this new subgenre term’s global outreach and popularity among academics, literary critics, journalists and headline writers in over a dozen nations, including non-English-speaking nations France, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Spain and Brazil as well.

To learn more about how ​SF writers were looking at the popularity of the cli-fi term in literary circles, a few years ago I asked David Brin and Kim Stanley Robinson how they felt about the term. They both told me that they liked the expression but felt that it was best to treat it as a subgenre of ​SF and not as a separate genre.

By promoting the cli-fi term as a subgengre of ​SF, I was able to locate ​SF writers who were already using climate themes in their short stories and novels. From them I learned that cli-fi in SF novels actually had a long history, going back to Jules Verne, Arthur Herzog, J.G. Ballard and George Turner in Australia.

Kim Stanley Robinson’s new novel “New York 2140” (set to be published in March) is a good example of the cli-fi subgenre catching on among writers peering into the future of a global warming world.

What’s the purpose of cli-fi?

We are a world now divided bitterly over climate change issues.
Novels and movies can serve to wake people up in ways that politics and ideology cannot.

And I believe that if the world does not wake up soon about the pressing climate change issues we face now, future generations of humans will be ‘doomed, doomed’ — within 500 years. I can ​”​see​”​ that far ahead. Will ‘cli-fi’ save the planet? No. But at least it might help prepare us for what’s coming in future centuries, just as SF novels have done and will continue to do.

The idea for a subgenre for speculative climate fiction ​as a subgenre of SF ​found some traction ​in 2011 when it was endorsed ​in a tweet ​on Twitter by ​Margaret Atwood, the ​Canadian ​novelist whose ​SF trilogy, ​ending w​ith ​”MaddAddam” dealt with a corrupt anti-environmentalist.

​There ​are examples ​of cli-fi ​in France as far back as Jules Verne, who imagined​ ​—​ ​in the 1860s​ ​—​ ​a future Paris struggling with a ​big drop in temperature​s​. That was a plot point in Verne’s “lost” novel ”Paris in the Twentieth Century,” which actually went unpublished until 1994.

Given the speed with which the phrase “climate change” (which actually dates back at least 50 years) has overtaken the ​global ​environmental discussion in recent years, it’s perhaps not surprising that there’s been a surge in books in the SF subgenre of cli-fi. Among them are Marcel Theroux’s ”Far North,” which the Washington Post called “the first great cautionary fable of climate change” and Ian McEwan’s  ”Solar,”which won a UK literary award for comic fiction.

These are all examples of quality fiction that happen to take climate change as a shared theme.

​A good cli-fi ​story​ ​will have the potential to attract not only climate activists, but also some of the ​climate ​deniers: The whole point is to reach people with emotions, not just preach to the choir.

​The new novel from the Hugo Award-winning ​SF l​egend Robinson submerges Manhattan under the water of globally-rising ​sea ​l​evels​. ​Robinson’s PR team puts it this way:​“Every street became a canal​. ​Every skyscraper an island​. ​How will the city’s residents — the lower and upper classes, quite literally — cope?​”​

So just as SF has helped several generations in the past 100 years cope with technological change and space exploration (and climate change), so too can cli-fi help future generations cope with what’s coming down the road as well.

Cli-fi Story: Beaufort Eight

10th December 2016

Much of the cli-fi out there focuses on dystopian futures. I am trying to ground my writing in the here and now, with the aim of educating people about the impacts of our activities, and what we can do to change.

The idea for the story below came about for several reasons. I wanted to show the danger of transporting fossil fuels. I wanted to highlight the fact that tar sands are the most polluting form of fossil fuels, which if we continue to extract them in line with projections, could mean “game over for the climate,” in the words of Dr James Hansen. It’s worth noting that the UK lobbied for tar sands to be allowed into the EU back in 2011 (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2011/nov/27/canada-oil-sands-uk-backing). We also know that climate change will result in increased storminess and extreme weather. It is in these conditions, in which the story is set.

This is my first proper attempt at cli-fi. Thank you for your patience for this to be uploaded. Apologies about the formatting, WordPress did not like my original formatting at all…

Beaufort Eight

Seafarer’s folklore states that every seventh wave is the largest of a set. These men knew from experience that some myths held true.

“Brace yourselves lads, here comes the seventh!” shouted Skip, straining to be heard above the roar of the gale force winds. Skip was a bear of a man with a dark bushy beard, whose large frame was constrained by the small cabin. The plucky RNLI Guardian rode up the enormous wave and at one point her bow was vertical, her spotlight shining into the driving rain that obscured the heavens, as if searching for respite. For the men, the sensation of cresting these monstrous waves was one of being airborne, followed by a gut-wrenching crash as the vessel succumbed to gravity and dived nose first back into the frothing cauldron of the North Sea. Showers of seawater broke over the wheelhouse, sending the automatic windscreen wipers into overdrive.

“Looks choppy out there,” mused Finny, the second-in-command. Finny was the opposite of Skip in many ways; shorter, more toned with only a hint of stubble around his square jaw.

“Aye, not the best day to go for a swim,” Skip replied as his seat swung from side to side on its shock absorbers. “Do we have visuals on the tanker yet?” Finny raised his binoculars, and took advantage of their elevated position at the peak of a wave to scan the horizon. A mile to the East, clouds of dark smoke rose above the enormous tanker and were being whipped away in gusts of wind and rain. The CC Andromeda was carrying the first batch of Canadian Crude’s refined tar sands oil; 180,000 tonnes of toxic and highly volatile black gold. Despite her heavy cargo, she was fighting against the waves to maintain an upright position.

“Affirmative Skip, she’s a mile to starboard, but she’s run ragged. Plumes of thick smoke above the wheelhouse and she is making a rough time of the weather.” Skip evaluated the information carefully. The distress signal had come from a tanker – common vessels in these waters, but there had been no mention of a fire onboard. He knew that the difficulty and danger of a rescue had increased immeasurably.

Skip negotiated the next wave and waited for the thunderclap of the vessel’s hull slamming back into the tumultuous sea to subside. He reached above his head for the VHF controller and spoke in a deep Scottish accent, “CC Andromeda, this is the RNLI Guardian. Do you copy? Over.” The static crackle of the receiver was drowned out by the howling wind and rain. “CC Andromeda, this is the coastguard aboard RNLI Guardian. We have you in sight. DO-YOU- COPY? Over.” Silence. Skip reasoned that it was implausible that the crew had abandoned ship. Yet the radio silence was an ominous sign.

One hour after the initial call out, they had their first close up sighting of the Andromeda. As they approached, their spotlight fell on small figures on the windswept deck of the tanker, distinguishable by their orange high visibility life jackets. One of the figures on the deck threw something overboard, which was lifted away on the wind, before it lashed the side of the vessel. Skip said a silent prayer of thanks; the crew onboard the Andromeda had had the good sense to rig up a rope ladder, which was now swaying violently in the wind. A break in the clouds gave them respite from the rain, but it wouldn’t last; in the distance angry purple clouds were thundering towards them.

The tiny RNLI Guardian paled in comparison to the monstrous Andromeda, which was doggedly following a course through the storm. Skip carefully manoeuvred the RNLI Guardian so that it was parallel to the Andromeda. The sides of the vessels thudded together, jarring the men onboard. Skip turned his thrusters on full to ensure the two vessels maintained contact. The men aboard the RNLI Guardian fished the rope ladder out of the gale and tied it fast to their railings. The fate of all crew aboard both ships was now bound. Finny led one of the rescue team members up the rope ladder; together they would be responsible for setting up a safety rope and harness for each crew member of the Andromeda.

Finny shouted to be heard, “Alright lads, we are going to send you down one at a time. You will each be strapped into a safety harness, but make sure you hold onto the rope ladder at all times.”

The first crew member of the Andromeda made his way down the ladder and was judging the swell of the waves which lifted the smaller RNLI vessel up and down, making the final disembarkation onto the smaller vessel a particularly hazardous undertaking. Two rescue members were standing by to assist him onboard, and unstrap him from the safety harness, which was then pulled up by Finny.

Finny felt the first drops of rain against his face, before the heavens opened in earnest once more. “Skip, the weather is turning foul again. How much longer do you think you can hold the Guardian against the side of the tanker, without being thrown off?”

“This beauty seems to be holding her ground, don’t worry about us Finny! You just get the rest of them off the vessel Matey!” replied Skip.

Skip’s positivity and cheerfulness always had a calming effect on Finny and the other crew members. However, the North Sea was in a foul mood and had other ideas. Behind the vessels, a monster twelve meter wave had reared up. Something inside Skip warned him of approaching danger, but the wave was upon them before he could act.

The RNLI Guardian was lifted high on the wave, crushing a descending crewman’s leg against the reinforced hull of the Andromeda. The RNLI Guardian was dumped on her side and the rope ladder tied to her railings snapped with a loud thwack, catapulting the crewman into the abyss with only his safety harness saving him from certain death below. His right leg hung at an angle as he clung to the rope with all the strength he had. The howling wind drowned out his agonised screams.

The RNLI Guardian’s self-righting mechanism kicked in, giving her the buoyancy she needed to regain an upright position.

“Christ Skip! Are you all okay down there?”

“We took a bit of a tumble Laddie, but we are still in one piece.” Skip replied.

“Skip, we have a casualty on the safety line. Looks like a broken leg from up here. We lost the ladder, so we’ll use the safety harness to lower him down.”

Finny carefully lowered the crewman with the broken leg onboard. With no rope ladder to climb down, the remaining crewman aboard the Andromeda had to be lowered down using the safety harness.

Finny worked methodically and one by one the remaining men were lowered down. “Skip, all men are off the Andromeda. The fire onboard is ferocious. There is no way we are getting anywhere near it without heavy duty firefighting equipment,” said Finny.

Abandoning a stricken vessel carrying a large volume of oil in horrific weather conditions did not sit easily with Skip. Yet he knew they had very few options given that they were not equipped to deal with runaway tanker fires. He was conscious that every second he delayed pushing off the tanker, he was jeopardising all of their lives.

“Aye Finny, let’s make haste and get away from this burning beastie.”  As they pulled away from the Andromeda, the rain hitting the windscreen sounded like rapid machine gun fire and the automatic windscreen wipers responded frenetically. After seeing to the injured crewman, Finny returned to his position beside Skip, accompanied by a tall man with a Mediterranean complexion and dark slicked back hair. He was clearly accustomed to larger vessels which made easier work of large waves, and was clinging to the railing beside Finny’s chair for balance.

“Skip, this is Captain Alfonso Curano from the Andromeda and he wants to speak with you urgently,” said Finny.

“Señor, my men and I would like to thank you for saving our lives,” Skip nodded acknowledgement at Curano’s words. “We were travelling south down the coast of Scotland, when a fires broke out in engine room and spread quickly to the wheelhouse. The fire spread faster than we can contain. We send a distress signal and were forced to seek refuge on deck, preparing our liferafts as final precaution,” Curano explained.

Curano’s eyes fell to his feet, as if he wanted a hole to open up and swallow him down into the seething waters below, “Unfortunately Señor, the ship’s autopilot system was programmed for the final destination and in the rush of the evacuation, I have no opportunity to override this.”

Skip’s confusion was apparent, so Finny interjected loudly to be heard above the din that was taking place all around them, “What Captain Curano is saying Skip, is that the tanker has a satnav system, which it’s programmed to follow. It works the same way as a plane’s autopilot system.”

Skip hesitated; he had a sinking feeling in his stomach, “Where was the ship destined for Captain?”

“The Andromeda”, Curano began, “is bound for Grangie-mouth.” Skip inhaled deeply as the enormity of the words struck home.

Grangemouth was the largest oil refinery port in the UK. Skip went over the route the abandoned vessel would follow in his mind. The conflagrant Andromeda carrying her combustible load would enter the Firth of Forth Estuary close to Edinburgh, before being funnelled along a narrowing channel to the port of Grangemouth. The port would be full of oil and gas tankers waiting out the storm before continuing their journeys. He guessed that half a million people would be in danger in Edinburgh alone from any explosion that occurred. He closed his eyes and tried to expel the sombre thoughts. Outside the cabin a lightning strike lit up the purple sky, accompanied by deep booming thunder which filled the small confines of the cabin. Was this nature’s way of showing what was to come?

Skip’s large paw of a hand tightly gripped the VHF controller. “Grangemouth Port, this is the RNLI Guardian requesting immediate assistance.” Before Skip could replace the controller, an unmistakable voice came blaring out of the receiver.

“Skip, we copy you loud and clear! What is your emergency?” asked John ‘Mac’ Macintyre. Mac had been enjoying a marmite and cheese sandwich, which now lay abandoned on his desk. Mac had met Skip shortly after leaving the Royal Navy half a lifetime ago. He was born in the Cairngorms and his chiselled physique was often compared to a slab of granite from those mountains which he called home.

“It’s good to hear ya voice matey,” replied Skip. “We have a right piece of trouble heading your way…you may want to sit down for this. We have rescued crew from the tanker, C-C-Andromeda.” Skip emphasised the vessel’s name to be sure that Mac could understand.

“The Andromeda!” Mac exclaimed, “What happened to her?”

“They had a fire onboard, which spread to their wheelhouse and they were forced to abandon controls.” There was radio silence from Mac. “Unfortunately that’s only half the bad news. The Andromeda has a built in auto-pilot system, which is programmed with the co-ordinates of your port. She is heading towards you Mac, and she is primed with over 180,000 tonnes of crude oil, ready to blow at any minute.”

The words felt like a physical punch in the chest and Mac’s heart stopped beating.

“God in heaven,” he finally responded. “Skip, we have a dozen other tankers in port waiting out the weather. If that tanker comes anywhere near here…” Mac couldn’t bring himself to say those fateful words.

“Aye Pal, I know. Extinguishing the fire wasn’t an option; it’s spread to the wheelhouse and we don’t have the equipment to deal with that.” said Skip.

“Copy that. By your reckoning, how much time do we have to prepare before she is on us?”

Skip considered the question carefully, “At my reckoning, based on her current speed in this weather, she should be with you in three hours.”

Once the initial panic subsided, Mac’s years of experience in the Navy came into full swing. “Understood. You get those men home Skip and be careful out there.” After Mac replaced the VHF receiver, he picked up the landline and dialled the emergency number that took him through to the office of the First Minister of Scotland. He was answered by a polite female receptionist, “Office of the First Minister, Rozanne speaking, how may I help you?”

“Rozanne – this is John Macintyre, Grangemouth Harbourmaster. I urgently need to speak to the First Minister.”

“Sir, it’s a Sunday and the First Minister prefers not to take calls on the weekend. Could you call back tomo…”

Mac cut in before the receptionist could finish, “Look young lady! This is a dire emergency, there is a burning oil tanker headed for Grangemouth. If there is an explosion, people in cities like Edinburgh could be in danger! We need to order an immediate evacuation of every town and city along the Firth of Forth Estuary.”

There was silence at the end of the line. Finally the receptionist replied, “Please hold Mr Macintyre, I am transferring you through to the First Minister.”

***

The First Minister of Scotland had travelled to her crisis room in Edinburgh, which was sparsely furnished apart from a mahogany desk that she was now sat behind. At the opposite end of the country, the Prime Minister was in her lavish office in No.10 Downing Street.

“Prime Minister, this is an unprecedented emergency. We would be incredibly grateful for all the help you can provide,” said the First Minister.

“Let me be absolutely clear that we wholeheartedly stand by you at this difficult time. We will assist as best we can.”

“Thank you Prime Minister, we really appreciate that. Whilst we have some contacts to go too, we could use your links with all the public broadcasters and media outlets to help spread the urgent evacuation orders.”

“I understand your position First Minister, but you have to appreciate that this is a delicate situation for us. We fought hard against the EU to allow oil from the Canadian tar sands to be allowed into Europe. We need to manage the flow of information carefully, to keep the press off our backs. Can you imagine the backlash in public opinion if they hear about this?”

“I’m sorry Prime Minister, I don’t quite follow. What are you suggesting?”

“As you know we have developed a close relationship with Canada, following the agreement of our new post-Brexit trade deal. Canadian Crude is the first company to take advantage of this deal. To publicly broadcast this incident in anyway could irreparably damage this new agreement.” The Prime Minister replied.

The First Minister of Scotland was lost for words. Was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom really suggesting that a trade deal was more important than the lives of her people?

“Prime Minister! There are lives at stake! Lives mean more than some agreement with an oil company! We must act now and order immediate evacuation orders to save as many lives as we can.” The anger in the First Minister’s voice gave way to exasperation.

“No First Minister, I am afraid that simply can’t be allowed to happen. You see there is an unspoken understanding between politicians and corporations. We are co-dependent on each other. One finds it easier to get elected when there is sufficient financial backing from generous companies, and in return they receive favourable policies,” the Prime Minister explained. “No. There certainly won’t be any public broadcasting of any kind and no communication with the press. We will resolve this by tackling the fire onboard the tanker. When this has been done, we will guide her into port where she will unload the first batch of oil and no member of the public will be any wiser about the whole incident.”

“I don’t believe what I’m hearing! Have you gone stark raving made Prime Minister? If we don’t evacuate and are unable to prevent the tanker from reaching Grangemouth, we will have a disaster on our hands like this country has never seen before.” The First Minister could no longer keep her frustration in check.

“I assure you First Minister, should the worst case scenario occur, a joint fund will be put together by Canadian Crude and the British Government to cover any damage that…”

“Damage?!” The First Minister interjected, “Who gives a wee shite about damage! There are lives at stake Prime Minister! Hundreds of thousands of lives! Excuse my curt language Prime Minister, but you are a heartless coward and you represent everything the electorate hates about politics, with your sycophantic pandering to big money. I can assure you Prime Minister, if any lives are lost, the blood of the victims will be on your foul hands!” The First Minister slammed the phone down, and summoned her Chief of Staff into her office.

“Is everything alright First Min…”

“Don’t even go there Hamish,” the First Minister replied, “We have no help coming from England, so we will have to manage this ourselves. I want you to issue an urgent evacuation order for all towns and cities that could be affected. Use whatever means you can to get the word out. Commandeer every form of public transport available and get as many people out as we can. It may already be too late, but we have to try.”

“Right away First Minister!” The chief of Staff turned for the door.

“One final thing – please get John Macintyre, the Skipper of the rescue ship and the Captain of the Andromeda on a conference call,” said the First Minister.

Within one hour, Scottish television and radio stations broadcast the evacuation orders. The police and emergency services were sent to every housing estate with loudhailers, warning people to leave. Every bus and train had been commandeered by the state and all were being used to evacuate the elderly and the vulnerable from Edinburgh, Dunfermline, Kirkcaldy, Livingston and North Berwick.

***

Skip had negotiated his way back through the storm and was now moored up safely in Aberdeen harbour. Finny and a member of the rescue team carried the injured crewman to a waiting ambulance. As the rest of the Andromeda’s crew were escorted off the boat, Skip pulled Captain Curano to one side and headed for his office. Skip had an idea on their return journey about how the Andromeda might be stopped, and he would need to draw on Curano’s knowledge of the vessel for confirmation.

The two men had just taken their seats, when Skip’s phone rang. “Skip speaking,” he answered gruffly.

“Good Afternoon, I am the Chief of Staff for the First Minister of Scotland. You are on a conference call with one other attendee; John Macintyre. Please confirm the whereabouts of the Captain of the Andromeda?”

“Captain Curano is seated beside me,” replied Skip.

“Thank you. Please hold the line, the First Minister will join you shortly,” came the reply.

“Chaps – Nicola here. As you know we have a potential disaster approaching the heart of Scotland and we have limited resources to deal with the issue. As men, who have worked with ships all their lives, I would like to know if you have any solutions in mind for dealing with this issue.”

“Pardon me for asking First Minister, but isn’t this something a special government response team should be looking at? Isn’t this the exact reason that COBRA was set up – to deal with national emergencies?” Mac enquired.

“Unfortunately Mr Macintyre, politics has prevailed in place of common sense. Right now, we are the special response team.”

The feeling that they had been abandoned, was a hard one to swallow.

“First Minister, this is Skip from the RNLI Guardian speaking. I have a wee idea, but I can’t be certain of its feasibility. I was hoping to run it by Captain Curano, however, your call beat me to it.”

“Let’s hear it Skip! You have everyone’s attention now,” she replied.

“My idea involves two tugboats and a small speedboat,” Skip explained. “Tugboats are hardy little beggars which can tow a vessel as large as the Andromeda. I propose we send two tugboats out into the mouth of the estuary with anchors onboard each. When the tugboats are in position behind the Andromeda, they will hook the anchors onto the tanker and put their thrusters in reverse. I’ll be damn near surprised if that doesn’t slow the Andromeda down! The zippy speedboat will then get up close and personal with the tanker’s single propeller, releasing a heffing great big steel chain into its path. The steel chain will wrap itself round the propeller, forcing it to stop rotating and putting an end to the tanker’s forward momentum. The plucky tugs can then tow the Andromeda away from the estuary and the populated areas.”

“Well it’s certainly innovative Skip. Captain Curano and Mr Macintyre, what do you think?”

“This idea to me, it sounds good,” replied Curano.

“I hate to admit it, but I think it’s the best chance we’ve got,” agreed Mac.

“Right that’s settled then. I will ensure that the required boats are made available for use. We just need to identify suitable captains for the vessels.”

“First Minister, if I may? I have decades of experience on a wide range of vessels that have graced God’s blue earth. I would be honoured to be given the opportunity to perform this deed on behalf of wee bonnie Scotland,” replied Skip.

“If that old sea dog is going, you can count me in too,” said Mac.

“I too can go!” chimed in Captain Curano.

“Well gentlemen, I am truly humbled. On behalf of Scotland, I thank you for your courage and bravery. Hundreds of thousands of lives now rest on your shoulders. God speed and please don’t let us down.”

After the conference call ended, the Chief of Staff reappeared with a flustered look on his face. “First Minister, there is an urgent call for you on line two.”

“Who is it?”

“The Prime Minister,” Hamish replied, “and she sounds furious.”

***

“You didn’t think you were going without me did you?”

“Finny, I couldn’t possibly demand this of you. There is every chance the oil tanker could blow, and we would be the first line of casualties…”

“Skip, if there is the remotest chance we can prevent a catastrophe, then I’m in. Besides which, who else is going to skipper the speedboat?”

Tears were building up in Skip’s eyes, “You’re a brave one Finny,” he said, wrapping a plate sized hand around Finny’s shoulder.

A police unit had been given the order to get the men to Grangemouth Harbour as a matter of utmost priority. When Skip and Finny arrived, they found two identical tugboats lined up, next to a smaller speedboat. Skip and Captain Curano made their way into one of the lifeboats, whilst Mac boarded the other on his own. Finny and another volunteer took their seats in the speedboat.

“You know, if we had an economy that ran on clean energy, we wouldn’t be in a situation like this,” Finny suggested over the walkie talkie system.

“Too right Pal,” agreed Skip.

“More wind turbines I say!” replied Mac.

As the men started up their boats, a small crowd had assembled in port to wish them a safe and successful mission. The men took a minute to appreciate the warm wishes that accompanied the applause. Seeing the faces of the men, women and children whose lives rested solely in their hands, brought into stark relief what was at stake.

Climate Fiction (Cli-Fi) Manifesto

10th December 2016

As part of my Masters degree, we were asked to produce a creative writing manifesto. I wrote a cli-fi manifesto, which I hope highlights some of the ways that writing within the genre can help shape our future.

The Climate Fiction (Cli-Fi) Manifesto

INTRODUCTION

For decades, scientists and environmental groups have warned that we are facing a global ecological crisis. Yet in spite of this, action to address our predicament has been pitiful. It is therefore time for a radical new science communication approach using the arts as a medium, to bring about the changes we so desperately need. There is an emerging genre in the field of writing known as climate fiction, or ‘cli-fi’ for short. Cli-fi is a sub-genre of sci-fi, which is specifically focused on climate change. The main benefit of using this medium to communicate science, is that fiction has a way of reaching a wider audience than non-fiction. Importantly, through cli-fi, we can explore future scenarios in ways which climate models and empirical data simply can’t express. To achieve different results, we need to try different methods. It is time for a green revolution, and cli-fi has a crucial role to play in bringing this about!

 BACKGROUND

Never before has a species knowingly driven itself and all living organisms towards extinction. Yet through our relentless exploitation of the natural world and our reluctance to change our behaviour, we now find ourselves in such a situation. We are entering a new geological period known as the Anthropocene; an age where human activity is regarded as the primary influence on the environment and on our climate. Our land, air and seas have been used as dumping grounds for our pollution. We have driven vast numbers of unique species into extinction. If we do not change our ways soon, we will be left with a planet devoid of much of the unique life which makes earth such an amazing planet to inhabit. Make no mistake that our heinous treatment of the living ecosystems we depend upon will be returned in kind, if we fail to act.

Whilst there are many environmental issues competing for our attention, climate change is regarded as the most important issue that humanity faces. It is not a future threat; we are already seeing climate shocks around the world. However, the extreme weather, migration crises, conflict, melting ice, water stress, drought, wildfires, ocean acidification and coral bleaching are only a small glimpse of the future that awaits us. Should we fail to implement the strict carbon reduction measures proposed, all other issues will become redundant as life struggles to adapt to a violent new world full of unimaginable horrors.

What many people fail to recognise is that numerous modern day problems are inter-connected. We have adopted the neo-liberalism school of thought which has resulted in a consumer culture on steroids. Economic growth is prioritised at all costs. In this aggressive mind set, we lose compassion for our fellow people, for ourselves and for the natural world. Whilst we continue to purchase a wealth of goods and gadgets, our lives haven’t become any more enriched. We do not cherish the belongings which we own, but are addicted to the pleasure associated with purchasing new things.

All around us, landscapes have been utterly decimated to sustain our consumer tendencies. Without realising the extent of our actions, we have contributed to widespread environmental degradation and created massive carbon footprints through our profligate ways. Not to mention the many social implications, such as loneliness, anxiety, depression and mental health issues, which have come about as a result of this misguided policy model. To tackle the root of these problems will require a great deal of introspection, which may not be possible in the timescale we have to tackle climate change.

The good news is that it’s not too late to change course in regards to climate change, but this will require urgent action from our world leaders. In order to embolden our politicians, we need to show them that we care and that we demand immediate action! The first step is to educate the public so that they understand the threats and the solutions. As a community, we are then better positioned to elect politicians with a green agenda, and campaign against those already in power to deliver the sweeping reforms we need. Science communication must be our top priority!

PURPOSE, AIMS AND PRINCIPLES

A good story can engage people on different levels. By interweaving climate change and environmental issues into our stories, either explicitly through dialogue and plot, or implicitly through themes, we can bring these issues to the fore. Cli-fi should strive to achieve one or more of the following:

  1. Reconnect people with the natural world. For many millennia, we evolved with nature and still hold onto fragments of our hunter-gatherer psyche. Today we are further away from the natural world than ever before. If people can take pleasure in the environment, they will be more inclined to fight for its protection. It’s worth remembering the many associated health and therapeutic benefits of spending time outdoors.
  2. To ignite a love of reading about the environment. The earth’s biosphere is home to magnificent flora and fauna, which is unique to this planet. Let us revel in its beauty, so that we may conserve it and prevent a sixth mass extinction from wiping out all we hold dear.
  3. Align your cli-fi message with the interests of the target audience. In order for our messages to be effective, they need to be appropriate and specifically targeted to the readers we have in mind. Would an office worker care that climate change could result in a six degree Celsius global temperature increase by the year 2100? Possibly, but perhaps they would be more interested to know that climate change could considerably drive up the costs of coffee and chocolate as crops begin to fail in the near future. Would a city worker worry that the rapid melting of the Himalayan glaciers is threatening the water supply of millions of people? Conceivably, but they be more interested to learn that extreme weather causing more surface water flooding on roads and railways, thereby causing severe delays on their commute. What about a seven year old child? Well I imagine they would be sad to hear that mass coral bleachings are destroying the habitats of many species including the clownfish, made popular by the Finding Nemo
  4. Fiction and non-fiction literature appeal to different people. Cli-fi can act as a bridge to the knowledge contained within non-fiction sources. Cli-fi can add in the human dimension and encourage empathy and an emotional response.
  5. Great cli-fi can take on a new lease of life. Film rights can be sold and novels can be turned into movies, thereby engaging yet more people with climate change issues in a range of formats. Think about writing the next The Day After Tomorrow, The Road or Interstellar.
  6. To inspire real world action on climate change. What shape should this action take? Are we lobbying politicians to change policies and impose a rising fee on carbon? Or are we limiting our consumption of beef to reduce our individual carbon footprints? Are we organising a demonstration? Or are we installing solar panels on our homes? We can mould the future we want by showing people the steps we need to take to build a more sustainable tomorrow.
  7. Our future can be clean, green and prosperous. All too often authors fall into the trap of writing about an apocalyptic dystopian future. We also need literature that shows what the solutions are and the advantages they can bring. The cli-fi cannon needs to incorporate hope. If we fail to identify solutions, our literature can have the opposite effect and leave our readers in a state of depression and helplessness.
  8. Conversely, without acting on climate change, we could face a new economic crisis coupled with an environmental disaster. A ‘carbon bubble’ comprised of all the fossil fuel reserves that companies have planned to extract, is significantly out of kilter with the scientific consensus and political agreements on what we can burn to avoid catastrophic climate change. Either we stick to government policies and the valuation of fossil fuel company shares plummets dramatically (how many people realise that their pension funds are at risk?) or we go down the business as usual route and commit to a climate system that is out of control, wiping out most of the life that inhabits this tiny blue marble we call home. How can we address this in our work?
  9. To dispel the notion that the science around anthropogenic induced climate change is unsettled. This claim is still churned up by sceptics and denialists, hoping to slow down action on climate change. In reality it is widely acknowledged that over 97% of scientists are in agreement about the causes of climate change. When a climate change sceptic or denialist like Michael Crichton publishes cli-fi, can we reference their novel in our work to set the record straight?
  10. To educate people that we are living in the Anthropocene. What better way to show our impact on the natural world, than through the trail of devastation that is being used to define a new geological era.
  11. There is no ‘Planet B’. We have one earth, and one chance to avoid destroying our climate which has sustained us up until now.
  12. To understand that different media outlets, think tanks and corporations have different agendas. Which organisations are campaigning to help transition to a greener future, and which are dragging their heels and fighting policy changes every step of the way? A myriad of plots can be developed based on this alone! We must also think carefully about how we engage with people who source their information from news organisations which favour sensationalism over science.
  13. To show that those least able to cope with the impacts of climate change, are those that will be first and foremost affected. We can lend our voices to the voiceless who stand to lose everything by inaction on climate change.
  14. To be respectful of people who have spent their careers trying to highlight the impacts of climate change and environmental issues. We have a responsibility and a duty to spread knowledge for the sacrifices they’ve made.
  15. To explore the causes of climate change, so that we may understand how not to fall into the same trap once again. Let’s try and educate future generations about sustainability, so they don’t make the same mistakes we have.

FURTHER COMMENTS

Our task will not be easy. We are trying to educate people against a tide of biased news organisations, which seek to discredit the science around climate change. It will be an uphill struggle to present the current situation to some readers who have predefined views. We are also up against big fossil fuel corporations, who just so happen to be some of the wealthiest and most powerful companies in the world and have a vested interest in preventing meaningful carbon reductions. In certain countries, these companies use their wealth to lobby governments for policies that will work in their favour. We do not have the same resources at our disposal, but we do have the pen, which is said to be mightier than the sword. Let’s prove this to be true!

CONCLUSION

Climate change will come to dominate our lives in the future, and we are ultimately fighting an enemy of our own creation. Our role as cli-fi writers can’t be understated in terms of communicating the science and the solutions. To date, many cli-fi novels have been dystopian in nature, but there is room for a wide variety of plots in this new genre. By reaching out to readers through our writing, we can spur them into action, which may give rise to the bold political leadership we need to help move us out of this situation. We are balancing on a precipice and the recent political earthquakes that have swept the world this year, could tip us over the edge if we fail to hold power to account. So let us unite in our love of the written word and change the world for the better. Let us write as if our lives and those of future generations depend on it, because for all we know this may just be the case.

The Power of Fiction

24th November 2016

I have briefly mentioned that fiction has the power to engage more people than non-fiction on this blog already. This is why I believe fiction can help more educate more people than non-fiction when it comes to climate change. This is why we need cli-fi.

I recently came across a TED talk, which looks at how fiction can change reality and thought I would share for all the cli-fi doubters out there:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ctaPAm14L10

Cli-Fi Book Review: ‘Solar’ by Ian McEwan

23rd October 2016

As part of my degree, we are encouraged to read as much as possible. This week, I completed ‘Solar’ by Ian McEwan, one of the most cited pieces in the Cli-Fi genre. The book spans many geographical regions, including the UK, Norway and the US. It encompasses love, infidelity, divorce and death (though not necessarily in that order) and McEwan does a great job of creating exceptionally believable characters.

The book follows a primary character in the form of Nobel award winning Professor Michael Beard, who has a very messy personal life to say the least. The Professor ends up working on a solar powered solution to tackle climate change – an idea that doesn’t belong to him.

Personally I didn’t find the plot that interesting, but I think the characters helped keep the story moving. I think McEwan also did well to incorporate humour in a book about climate change, which as per all the reviews on the inside book cover, seemed to be appreciated by critics in kind. My favourite part of the book was an incident that took place on the train with the Professor – though I won’t give away any spoilers!

By far and away, the biggest takeaway for me was the way in which McEwan communicated climate science throughout. It is difficult to do weave climate science into a story in a way which avoids ‘lecturing the reader’. But McEwan cleverly uses the Professor to relay this information and you never feel like you are being ‘given a lesson’ in climate change.

I would also like to applaud McEwan for his extremely well researched climate change information; for someone who isn’t an expert in climate science, he did an excellent job in showing that the Professor was.

Most reviews conclude with a rating. But I think I need to read a significant number of Cli-Fi books, before I can give a book an accurate rating. Instead, perhaps at the end of the year I might compile a list of my top 10 favourite pieces of climate fiction in order of preference.

Will this book make it into the top 10? We’ll have to wait and see!

Why Write about Climate Fiction/Cli-Fi?

24th September 2016

I am often asked about why I chose creative writing and why in particular I want to write about climate fiction (CliFi). How and why could writing about climate change through fiction, be more effective than non-fiction?

I recently came across the twelve  points below from Dan Bloom (the journalist who coined the term Cli-Fi), who kindly agreed to let me share these points on my blog, and they provide an excellent answer to the above question.

“12 ways that cli-fi novels and movies can encourage action on climate change” by staff writers at cli-fi.net

  1. They can “show” the story with powerful storytelling and characters rather than just tell it with scientific charts and statistics.
  2. The publication of cli-fi novels and the release of cli-fi feature movies to the global media can influence international leaders and public opinion.
  3. They can highlight the emotional side of the climate change story, with well-drawn characters and compelling story arc to bring the story home.
  4. Cli-fi novels and movies can encourage empathy for the future.
  5. Cli-fi novels and movies resonate in any language, be it English, French, Italian, Chinese, or dozens of other world languages.
  6. By leading by example, and getting their books read and movies seen, cli-fi authors and screenwriters can reach people on a local and on a national and international level.
  7. Cli-fi novels and movies pose an important question, which only individual artists can answer with their stories: Is the future to be hopeful or full of hurt?
  8. Make sure that cli-fi novels and movies are part of the cultural spaces we inhabit now in the 21st century.
  9. Cli-fi novels and movies might offer solutions; on the other hand they might picture a dystopian future without real solutions. In that case, or in both cases, readers and viewers will need to come up with personal solutions and understandings of their own.
  10. Cli fi novels and movies will reach the young generations now in their teens and 20s.
  11. Cli-fi novel and movies will stand out from the noise of a distracted culture.
  12. The stories that cli fi novels and movies tell will be pivotal and important. This is the power of art and culture.

Thank you to Dan, for letting me share these points.

The Journey Begins

20th September 2016

On Tuesday 13th September, I finished my last day of work and  commenced my MA in Creative Writing. If you know me, this degree may sound random given that I completed my undergraduate degree in climate change; but there is method to this madness.

My beliefs are firmly in line with the 97% of climate scientists who acknowledge that climate change is happening, caused by humans and that we need to act fast. As an individual, I therefore asked myself what I could do to help bring about the change we need and I have decided to focus on engaging a wider audience about the impacts of climate change, through various forms of creative writing (including the newly emerging climate fiction or ‘clifi’ genre). Various articles have pointed out that this type of writing could reach people who wouldn’t usually choose to read non-fiction books/articles about climate change.

To put this in context, climate change largely became a public issue in 1988, when Dr James Hansen spoke before a US Congressional Committee, confirming that humans were increasing the levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. In the intervening 28 years, we have taken very little action to avoid a ‘worst case climate change scenario’ from occuring. There are many reasons for this. One of which is that climate science is extremely complex and difficult to convey to lay people. Media sensationalism and special interests have also played a role in ‘muddying the waters’ around climate science and as a result, large swathes of the public are unaware of the future impacts we face and the current events taking place around the world which have been exacerbated by climate change. Yes you read that right, we are already seeing some of the early effects of climate change – it isn’t just a ‘future issue’.

In an auspicious turn of events, it just so happened that the 13th September 2016 was the warmest September day on record for the past 105 years in the UK. In addition, the date also marked the 100th birthday of Roald Dahl, one of the main authors who inspired my love of reading and writing at an early age. Perhaps it was a sign.

I can’t think of a more appropriate way to sum up what I hope to achieve, than with the following quote from Roald Dahl himself:

roald-dahl-1

I think we can all do well to remember that – now more than ever we need a concerted effort to tackle a plethora of pressing global issues, including the ‘planetary emergency’ that is climate change.