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The uneven literary merits of "climate change fiction"


The Chronicle of Higher Education reports on the rapid growth of US college classes devoted to the subgenre of “climate change fiction,” which has been given the regrettable nickname “cli-fi.” Some professors claim that these texts help students understand the complex scientific and ethical aspects of climate change without jargon-filled language. But the literary merit of some of these texts is questionable, written as they are by scientists moonlighting as novelists with a message. Here’s an excerpt:

Cli-fi courses have grown rapidly in frequency, says Dan Bloom, a journalist who is often credited with having coined the term, in 2008. Three years ago, there were only a handful of courses at North American colleges that would be considered cli-fi, he says, but that number has ballooned to at least 100 since then.

One of the keys to the courses’ popularity is that the books can be presented as relevant and relatable to issues students have heard about, says Richard Crownshaw, a senior lecturer at the University of London. He believes that his own cli-fi class offers students a chance to discuss how society sometimes tries to avoid having difficult talks about the damage that is being done to the earth.

“These novels are a tool to explore how climate change is continually subjected to a form of cognitive dissonance, and, therefore, the novel can change how we sometimes fail to think about climate change or displace the problem onto future generations,” says Mr. Crownshaw.

But the courses have occasionally drawn criticism from scholars who wonder whether it is a good idea to base a curriculum around books that could be viewed as “less literary,” Mr. Crownshaw says.

That criticism is understandable, says Sina Farzin, a sociology professor at the University of Hamburg, who is organizing “Fact and Fiction: Climate-Change Fiction,” a workshop next month in Germany. “This is not all great literature if you would measure by purely literary standards,” she says. Cli-fi authors comprise a large range of people, such as scientists and activists, which means the novels may not turn out as classics that stand the test of time.

Image via Chronicle of Higher Education.