It’s true, the cli-fi term has permeated the media in English-speaking countries, and while most people still have never heard of it before or seen it in print, there’s no stopping its global upswing. And as the ‘cli-fi’ term enters dictionaries in Australia and Britain, and appears with more and more frequency in oped articles in newspapers, the term is becoming a climate descriptor as well.
Case in point is an oped titled ”Climate Conflicts: Myth or Reality?” that mentioned cli-fi in a unique and non-literary way, written by Professor Hayley Stevenson in Argentina.
“So what can we expect in the years ahead?” Stevenson wrote. “Are climate wars on the horizon, or do they largely lie in the realm of cli-fi fantasy?”
Stevenson, originally from Australia and educated there and in the UK as well, is an associate professor of international relations at the Universidad Torcuato Di Tella in Argentina. Her oped drew on Chapter 5 of her latest book, ”Global Environmental Politics: Problems, Policy and Practice.”
The piece was originally published in the Global Observatory.
When I spotted her use of cli-fi in that non-literary way, I wrote to her by email (or maybe I was using Twitter at the time) and asked how and where she had heard of the term before and why she used it that way.
She replied on Twitter in internet time, from her home in Argentina to my home in Taiwan — in about 10 minutes — that the word just popped into her head as she was writing the article.
“Thanks your tweet about my article online,” she wrote. “I think the cli-fi term just popped into my head, to be honest. I don´t recall seeing it anywhere before, although cli-fi is now an established genre.”
It’s an interesting development in the current history of cli-fi. Whereas most reporters and literary critics use the term when reviewing novels or movies, and calling them cli-fi movies or cli-fi novels, more and more people, mostly academics and essayists for magazines such as Foreign Policy and The Atlantic and The New Republic and Vanity Fair are using the term not as a literary reference but as a descriptor of weather events or climate issues. For example, recently I have seen such phrases in print as “cli-fi weather,” “cli-fi water wars,” “it’s a cli-fi day today,” “it’s been a cli-fi year so far” and other ways.
To see how Stevenson used the term in her piece, here’s an excerpt from the beginning:
“The specter of water wars has long loomed large in political and popular imaginations. With the end of the Cold War, fresh concerns emerged that future wars would be fought not over ideology but over natural resources. The alliteratively appealing phrase of “water wars” began rolling off the tongue as United Nations leaders and politicians made bold claims about the inevitable carnage that resource scarcity would bring. Climate change heightens these concerns as the gap widens between what science tells us is necessary and what politics tells us is feasible.”
“Climate change poses multiple risks with the potential to trigger tensions within and across nation-states. In some places flooding and the rise of sea levels will threaten homes and essential infrastructure; shrinking access to water for irrigation and consumption will undermine rural livelihoods, especially in semi-arid areas; and warming, drought, flooding, and changes in rain patterns will disrupt food systems and exacerbate food insecurity. The severity of these risks rises with higher global temperatures. In other words, risks are directly related to the present scale of mitigation action. So what can we expect in the years ahead? Are climate wars on the horizon, or do they largely lie in the realm of cli-fi fantasy?”
So yes, cli-fi is becoming a big deal now, since the consequences aren’t that far-fetched anymore, and when a popular writer like Jeff VanderMeer gives a shout-out to cli-fi and its positive value and uses in literature, people listen. In a recent interview John Maher at Pacific Standard magazine in California, JVM said ”climate fiction,” and it’s nickname of ”cli-fi” are here to stay and it’s a good thing, too.
Are climate wars on the horizon, or do they largely lie in the realm of cli-fi fantasy? Think about it. And thanks, Professor Stevenson, for thinking about cli-fi in unique kind of way, outside of its normal literary references.