There aren’t that many Jewish climate activists obsessed with trying to stop runaway global warming before it gets out of hand and puts future generations at extreme risk. There are Jewish philanthropists funding climate change projects and there are Jewish artists and writers devoting themselves to creating stage plays and novels with global warming themes. Hollywood is beginning to get into the act, too, with activist producers like Marshall Herskovitz advocating for more scripts and directors taking on climate themes.
Top Jewish journalists like Andrew Revkin and Joe Romm and George Monbiot and John Schwartz are tackling the issues in print and online, even rabbis are now giving occasional sermons about sustainability and ocean acidification and geoengineering projects that are on the drawing board at places like Harvard and Stanford.
Everyone knows about climate change now but not enough of us are doing anything about it. But it behooves us as Jews to start paying more attention to what ails this planet we call home. Without a vision, the people perish, the ancient sages told us, and especially today, without a global vision of finding ways to adapt to what some pundits are calling the coming Climapocalypse, future generations of man will be doomed, doomed.
I’m an optimist. I believe we have 30 more generations to science our way out of this mess we are in, and that in the next 500 years we will engineer fixes to a broken, tired, angry Earth. I believe we humans won’t go down without a fight.
It’s the Anthropocene era we are living in now, a term that Andy Revkin helped coin in a science book he wrote in 1992. He called it the Anthrocene then, and he was the first to do so. Later, the term was elongated by academics to the longer version.
As a literary theorist deeply concerned about climate change and its very real potential to put an end to the human species in the coming centuries, I created a new literary term for a genre focused on global warming. I call it cli-fi and its my informal nickname for climate change fiction. A hyperterm modelled after the popular genre term of sci-fi, cli-fi was conceived as a platform for novelists and movie directors to use to create works that will speak to the masses worldwide. Books and movies can do that, and sometimes more dramatically than governments statistics and scientific charts.
The ‘cli-fi’ name came to me about ten years ago as I was thinking of ways to raise awareness of novels and movies about climate change issues. I toyed with using such terms as ”climafic” or ”climfic” or ”clific,” for the longer term of “climate fiction.” But I wanted an even shorter term that could fit easily into newspaper and magazine headlines. So using the rhyming sounds of ”sci-fi,” I decided to go with the short, simple to say and simple to write “cli-fi”. And the short term caught on worldwide, beginning in April 2013 when NPR radio in Washington, D.C. did a five-minute radio segment about ”cli-fi.” That was the beginning of its global outreach and popularity among academics, literary critics, journalists and headline writers.
A few weeks ago, I approached Rabbi Michael Lerner in California, the founder of Tikkun magazine, about writing a blog post for his publication, and he kindly invited me to send my piece in. A few days later, it was published, with the headline “A ‘Cli-Fi Missionary’ with Jewish Roots Who is Fighting Global Warming.”
I started off the oped by telling Jewish readers of Tikkun that I am close to 70 and graduated from Tufts University in 1971 with a major in literature. Promoting the literary fortunes of cli-fi is now my life’s work as I coast towards death. And I emphasized that I’m Jewish, and my Jewish education and family life in western Massachusetts in the 1950s and 1960s plays a central role, even today, in my climate activism.
So what’s cli-fi? It’s a subgenre of sci-fi, according to some observers, and a separate stand-alone genre of its own, according to others. I feel that cli-fi novels and movies can cut through the bitter divide among rightwing denialists and leftwing liberals worldwide over the global warming debate. I’m not into politics; I’m into literature and movies.
We are a world now divided bitterly over climate change issues. In my view of things, novels and movies can serve to wake people up in ways that politics and ideology cannot. That’s where cli-fi comes in. In my late 60s, with a heart attack-related stent keeping my ticker ticking, and my days numbered now, I’m combining my Jewish heritage with its emphasis on social justice with my personal concerns about the future impacts of man-made global warming.
As a Jewish person, I learned from an early age the need to look out for others and have empathy for the world at large. Climate change is the most important issue the humankind has ever faced. As a Jew, I cannot look away.
My short, five-letter literary coinage has been picked up by the New York Times, the Guardian, the BBC and Tikkun, among dozens of publications worldwide. Google the term.
In addition, I set up a website called ”The Cli-Fi Report” (www.cli-fi.net) to broadcast my views about cli-fi and to gather feedback from literary critics and novelists around the world.
I fund my work myself on a very small shoestring budget in my sunset years, but I had a father and mother who left me an inheritance more important than money: a Yiddish term called menschlekeit. And to be a PR guy for cli-fi in my late 60s is in direct gratitude for the good life I’ve had on this planet, and it’s also my way of saying thanks to my first-generation immigrant parents, Bernie Bloom from Avenue J. in Brooklyn, and Sylvia Epstein Bloom from Blue Hill Avenue in Boston.
What I want to say today is thank you, Bernie and Sylvia. You both taught me that it was important not only to be a mensch in one’s daily life but also to try to help ‘repair the world’ — ‘tikkun olam’ in Hebrew.
And for me, with my contribution of a new literary term to the world, that is what my work on the climate fight is all about: tikkun olam. I am not writing a book about cli-fi, I am not appearing on TV talk shows, and I am not making a documentary about my work. I am not interested in fame or money.
As a global climate activist, I recognize the importance of my Jewish heritage, first described in the second creation story in the Torah, to steward the Earth’s resources. That’s why I was inspired to coin and publicize the cli-fi term: to try to save future generations of humankind as global warming impact events make themselves felt worldwide more and more over the next 30 generations of man. I’m a visionary of sorts, but I don’t hear supernatural voices. I only hear what everyone hears; We need to change our ways.
Since most people prefer fiction and movies to factual material, it is my hope that the cli-fi approach could be a major help in increasing awareness about climate change, so important to help shift our imperilled planet onto a sustainable path. I’m Jewish and I’m worried about the future of global warming. Won’t you join me?