The Practicality of Climate Fiction in Steering Global Climate Debate
Growing up in western Kenya, where agriculture is the sole activity depended upon by the majority of the population for food and income, I have witnessed how even a slight fluctuation in the climatic patterns can affect an entire society. I witnessed a year when farmers planted without rains with the hopes of it coming as it had been every other year and how the seeds remained in the soil for weeks without germinating. So much effort and resources went with the hope that people had. Similarly, we as a society have endured grief when abrupt rains cause floods in the neighboring areas of Budalangi and the people we know, some who are relatives die and properties washed away in floods. There is no other explanation I have regarding my decision to study geography at the university, I just wanted to understand the earth, its people, and the conditions that would cause such pain and losses.
Since I started to write, I have been faced with the additional need to explain my motivations and intentions again. The truth about me is, I read and write a lot of fiction more than I read geography and yet I aspire to teach what connects the disciplines. For years, I have invested in that desire, I came to understand that my motivation has been in climate fiction, and here is my account of the findings that are pushing my aspirations to teach climate fiction in classrooms.
I have come to understand from my reading that contemporary fiction for this generation cannot solely be defined by the dynamics of identity, politics, and technological advancements. The world as it is currently cannot be described without the mention of the adversities related to climate change. The long periods of drought, unpredictable rainfall seasons, how all these have reshaped human existence, and the amount of debate that is being made a priority for various states, regional bodies, and international forums to discuss. The climate crisis, therefore, becoming a serious theme in contemporary fiction is appropriate. Its fictionalization has however been received with a mixed understanding of the intentions of the writers. Writer Jeff VanderMeer’s essay ‘Climate Fiction Won’t Save Us’ published by Esquire raises the question of whether the genre can really be a manual for useful change. Finding an answer to this has been my endeavor for the last few years.
Amongst my findings, climate fiction has been defined as a form of fiction literature that features a changed or changing climate. The term is credited to climate activist Dan Bloom who used it to describe his book Polar City Red, a story that is about climate refugees set in 2075. The term was popularized in the 2010s even though the elements of the genre have been existing in works for centuries like in Darkness by Lord Byron that was written in 1816 and in latest works; by Margaret Atwood in Oryx and Crake (2004), The year of the Flood (2009) and MaddAddam (2013), by Daniel Quinn in Ishmael (2009) and by Octavia Butler in Parable of the Sower (1993).
Previously, most of the works that featured the elements of this genre were considered to be works of ‘ecological science fiction’. These works of fiction explicated the actions of humans to the existing ecology for example the unsustainable use of resources and the counter reactions of these actions in creating crisis related but not limited to the changing of the climatic conditions and natural disasters in the spaces. It must be appreciated that ecology is at the core of expert discussions regarding sustainability. The pioneering of the climate crisis as a thematic area in literature in texts such as Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower points to the existence of different yet closely associated factors that should be part of the climate debate, from inequality, greed, legal frameworks and regulations that together initiate practices that counter sustainability in the existing ecology. In The Man Who Awoke by Laurence Manning, human activities such as deforestation and the use of fossil fuels are brought out in their contribution to the destruction of the earth’s climate.
Climate fiction, therefore, is not just a form of communication to offer predictions of the potentiality of a doomsday happening, it is a grounding genre providing underlying true facts of the horror that awaits human beings and should not be treated as just a form of entertainment and enlightenment to give false hope that the crisis is just in the pages and once the cover is turned, fiction settles back on the shelf. It is from this point of view that I scrutinize the existing potential of climate fiction in offering practical approaches and thoughts in steering the global climate debate and action.
Writer Jeff VanderMeer asserts that all fiction is political, it is in order to say so. Every fictitious portrayal is political, with every literary material consumed, one should create of it a debate worth the attention of the concerned population. For years now, there has been the existence of activism in fiction. To push for the acknowledgment of various dynamics in human preference and understandings, groups and individuals have been fictionalizing truth to present them for consumption with the aim of steering relevant discussions. Fiction has been used to push for human rights, acceptance of the queer existence, and in fostering issues such as Pan-Africanism. Climate Fiction should therefore not be read just to get predictions and hope but rather initiate a movement that will bring the genre into classrooms for students to study and into libraries for everyone else to access. There is a need to popularize and create the right amount of relevance that will reshape the mind of the readers of the genre to appreciate the reflections of truth in the works of climate fiction and foster the thoughts that will discuss the climate crisis from a speculative point of view as the readers would have had journeyed through pages to understand the potentially devastating outcomes of every human action both regarding unsustainable resource use and in the culture and politics of the environment and associated engagements.
It has been argued that climate fiction has the potential to help prepare for and cope with the challenges posed by the global climate crisis. Through the presentation of fictional explorations of potential solutions to the climate crisis, readers are provided with the ground to reimagine practical potential ways to reverse or avoid further crises. Among the major typical elements of climate fiction is the centralization of the plot around the emotional arcs of the characters which perhaps will steer appropriate sustainability consciousness that will form the foundation of resolving the climate crisis.
I think it’s time for the world to acknowledge that fiction writers do not imagine from the spheres of emptiness but from the depth of reason. Climate fiction exists for a reason and its existence should be humanized and politicized to help in the rethinking of how people of all ages and backgrounds can be introduced to being part of the climate activism and environmental conservation movement.
My climate story is therefore not one for what I have experienced, but rather that of a movement I yearn to be part of.
Kelvin J. Shachile is a Kenyan writer and researcher. He co-wrote Hell in the Backyard and Other Stories (2019) – Queenex Publishers Limited-Nairobi, Kenya. His major contributions appear in The Armageddon and Other Stories (2021). Nsemia Inc. Publishers-Nairobi, Kenya. A Country of Broken Boys-Boys are not Stones II (2020). Poemify Publishers and ACEworld Publishers-Aba, Nigeria, The Best New Poets 2018 Anthology (2019)-Mwanaka Media and Publishing-Zimbambwe. He has been published in Agbowo, Kalahari Review, and elsewhere. Kelvin holds a BA in Geography and is currently studying for his MA. He lives in Kisumu City Kenya.