Cli-fi shifts readers’ beliefs, but not for long, according to the first empirical test of the effects of reading ”cli-fi,” in which researchers tried to measure the power of narrative persuasion. It’s worth thinking about as 2020 marches slowly but inexorably toward 2021 and beyond.
Reading a short story or a novel about climate change can increase people’s climate concern, according to academics who study the issue. While the impact is at best only temporary, some literary activists in the cli-fi movement worldwide feel that in combination with other messages, reading cli-fi could make a real difference in shifting public attitudes about climate change. So there’s that.
Cli-fi, first coined and promoted worldwide in 2011, represents one of the most important trends in global literature over the past three decades. The cli-fi backlist is now hundreds of books deep, and includes works by some of the most popular and celebrated authors writing in English, German, French, Norwegian, Finnish, Spanish, Chinese and Swedish, among other languages. Think Margaret Atwood, Amitav Ghosh, Kim Stanley Robinson.
There’s a growing body of research now about narrative persuasion that shows that reading fiction can change people’s attitudes about a variety of topics. In fact, it has been found that cli-fi stories and novels (and movies) can increase climate concern. While some short-sighted academics believe that the effect of reading cli-fi on climate beliefs is temporary and that it all washes out after a month or so, this is total hogwash and completely unfounded and unsubstantiated.
It’s been demonstrated that many writers of cli-fi are motivated in part by raising concern about climate change, and ultimately they write works of art and not propaganda designed to inculcate all of the exact ‘‘correct’’ attitudes about climate change. They are artists first, activists second.
So there you have it, readers in the Anglophone world and beyond. Cli-fi as a literary genre is here to stay, and it’s making a dent in our awareness of things in the Anthrocene.
Curious novelists and readers online here might want to take a look at a very good academic study of these issues entitled “Climate Fiction Literature as Persuasion: An Experimental Test of the Effects of Reading Cli-Fi.”