In a recent quiet and friendly exchange on Twitter, the American climate activist Bill McKibben wrote to Elizabeth Evans and Doug Gordon, who were in on the conversation:
“A must-read: Kim Stanley Robinson’s novel ”New York 2140.” If you love New York, it’s one of the best books since E.B. White. And it has a lot of boats in it’.’
To which Evans replied with a question she had: “Holy Cow. Is there an evolving genre of climate fiction?”
To which Bill replied in the affirmative: “indeed, Google “cli-fi.”
This news from Twitter in 2020 brings to mind an essay Bill wrote in 2009 titled: ”Four years after my pleading essay in Grist in 2005, climate art is hot.”
Of that ”pleading little essay” he wrote in 2005?
“It was probably the last moment I could have written it,” Bill said in 2009, again in Grist. “Clearly there were lots and lots of people already thinking the same way, because ever since it’s seemed to me as if deep and moving images and sounds and words have been flooding out into the world.”
That torrent of art has been, often, deeply disturbing — it should be deeply disturbing, given what we’re doing to the Earth, McKibben noted, careful to capitalize the word Earth, even though his editors told him not to.
That’s why, in his spirited exchange on Twitter in 2020, it bears repeating, the veteran climate activist wrote to his two friends Elizabeth and Doug, who were in on the Twitter conversation:
“Must-read: Kim Stanley Robinson’s ”New York 2140.” If you love New York, it’s one of the best books since E.B. White. And it has a lot of boats in it.”
And to which Evans replied, as noted above: “Holy Cow. Is there an evolving genre of climate fiction?”
And to which Bill, yes, replied in the affirmative: “indeed, Google “cli-fi.”
“Artists, in a sense, are the antibodies of the cultural bloodstream,” McKibben wrote in 2009: “They sense trouble early, and rally to isolate and expose and defeat it, to bring to bear the human power for love and beauty and meaning against the worst results of carelessness and greed and stupidity. So when art both of great worth, and in great quantities, begins to cluster around an issue, it means that civilization has identified it finally as a threat. Artists and scientists perform this function most reliably; politicians are a lagging indicator.”
And now in 2020, Bill has fully embraced the new literary genre of cli-fi, first promoted online in 2011, just two years after he wrote that 2009 essay.
If you haven’t heard of the term yet, then as Bill suggests, Google it.