Fiction tapped in climate change advocacy

Cli-fi depicts degrading habitat and prompts action to save it

In Summary

• Cli-fi has evolved from a niche literary genre into a prominent cultural force

Cover of an iconic cli-fi book
Cover of an iconic cli-fi book

The ongoing abnormal rains in Kenya and the resultant disasters across the country cast a sharp focus on the nexus between literature and the environment. By extension, this brings closer home the emergent genre of prose arts, called climate fiction, or cli-fi.

This type of writing has evolved from a niche literary genre into a prominent cultural force, reflecting the global growing awareness and concern about climate change both inside and outside Africa.

Initially emerging as a subgenre within science fiction and environmental literature, cli-fi has now garnered widespread attention from readers, writers, scholars and activists alike.

Its rise in popularity can be attributed to several factors, including the increasing urgency of the climate crisis, the accessibility of information about environmental issues, and the desire for narratives that grapple with the complexities of a changing world.

One significant aspect of cli-fi’s status as a literary genre is its ability to engage readers on both intellectual and emotional levels. By depicting the potential consequences of climate change in vivid detail, cli-fi stories compel audiences to confront the reality of environmental degradation and consider their own role in addressing it.

This genre of prose often explores themes of resilience, adaptation and hope, offering readers a sense of empowerment and agency in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges.

Take the case from the rave American novel by Kim Robinson called 'The Ministry for the Future: A Novel'. As a quintessential cli-fi, it offers a gripping exploration of a near-future world grappling with the urgent challenges of climate change.

Published by Orbit in 2020, the novel delves into the efforts of the titular Ministry for the Future — an international organisation formed to advocate for the interests of future generations — in combating climate change and advocating sustainability.

Through a diverse cast of characters and a richly woven narrative, Robinson intricately explores the complexities of climate politics, scientific innovation and ethical dilemmas. He presents a compelling vision of hope and resilience in the face of existential crisis.

Set against the backdrop of environmental devastation and social inequality, the novel portrays the catastrophic consequences of failing to address climate change. It also offers insights into innovative solutions and systemic change.

Critically acclaimed for its ambitious scope and thought-provoking storytelling, The Ministry for the Future has resonated with readers and critics alike. Robinson’s meticulous research and ability to blend hard science fiction with social and political commentary have earned praise for the novel's relevance to contemporary debates about climate change and environmental policy.

The portrayal of the catastrophic consequences of inaction in this curious novel has sparked important conversations about the need for urgent action. Its exploration of innovative solutions, meanwhile, has offered readers a compelling vision of hope and possibility amidst the challenges of the Anthropocene era.

It has received rave reviews from the like of Bill Gates and former US President Barrack Obama, who considers it publicly as one of his favourite books.

In Gates' review, as he reflects on the novel’s themes and implications, he recognises both its harrowing depiction of potential futures and its underlying message of hope, underscoring the critical role of literature in our comprehension of matters climate.

Our country is nestled in the Greater Horn of Africa region and thus faces the looming spectre of climate change, with more than 80 per cent of its landmass classified as arid and semi-arid, exacerbating existing developmental challenges and vulnerabilities.

As news reports continue to show, we are no strangers to the ravages of climate hazards, particularly droughts and floods, which collectively, and in ironical interchangeable fashion, wreak havoc across our critical sectors, leading to substantial economic losses estimated at 3 per cent of our GDP.

This vulnerability underscores the critical need for proactive measures to mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change, and writers of literary arts have a role to play here as have their counterparts elsewhere, such as Robinson.

Literature and the performing arts are powerful tools for both understanding and pondering the complex challenges posed by climate change. Robinson’s brilliant novel resonates deeply with the global discourse on climate change, drawing our attention to the pressing need for concerted action to address its far-reaching impacts.

Through a diverse cast of characters, ranging from scientists and policymakers to activists and ordinary citizens, Robinson deftly navigates the intricate web of political, economic and ethical dilemmas inherent in confronting climate change on a global scale.

As floods cast their ominous shadow over our national landscape, the genre of climate fiction, or cli-fi, emerges as an invitation for us Kenyans to explore the intersecting dynamics of literature and climate change.

Cli-fi, with its ability to engage readers on both intellectual and emotional levels, can be adopted and adapted here as art of our time but also as a catalyst for dialogue and action, compelling audiences to confront the stark realities of environmental degradation and envision pathways towards a more sustainable future.

Prominent cli-fi authors, such as Kim Robinson, Henry Ole Kulet and Helon Habila, have invited us to read the genre seriously, to learn from their thought-provoking narratives illuminating the complexities of climate change and inspire us to collective action.

Let us write more for the youth and the general public about the actions that are precipitating environmental mutations. Let us have literary arts on rising sea levels of our coasts, lakeshores and riverbanks amidst the tumult of climate change.

At the competitive and commercial performing art spaces, more needs to be put on the table on the ramifications of water scarcity in drought-ridden arid and semi-arid lands of our nation. Playwrights and film makers need to train their focus on the interplay of power, politics and environmental degradation.

As we grapple with the impacts of climate change and the menace of the current floods, it is high time we breed and engage with the Robinsons and Habilas of our land. Art here does not exist for its own sake. It should help us understand ecological sustainability from angles of the human relationship with the environment.

WATCH: The latest videos from the Star