The fictional worlds we engage with can change how we think about politics and how we justify our political beliefs. According to a study published in the Cambridge University Press people who read dystopian fiction are more likely to support extreme political reactions to things. The point? Read something that is good for you, go read some classic literature and try to avoid overly-dystopian worlds (or at least read them knowing the impact they may have on you).
Given that the fictional narratives found in novels, movies, and television shows enjoy wide public consumption, memorably convey information, minimize counter-arguing, and often emphasize politically-relevant themes, we argue that greater scholarly attention must be paid to theorizing and measuring how fiction affects political attitudes. We argue for a genre-based approach for studying fiction effects, and apply it to the popular dystopian genre. Results across three experiments are striking: we find consistent evidence that dystopian narratives enhance the willingness to justify radical—especially violent—forms of political action. Yet we find no evidence for the conventional wisdom that they reduce political trust and efficacy, illustrating that fiction’s effects may not be what they seem and underscoring the need for political scientists to take fiction seriously.
Fiction is an effective tool to picture how others live and what other possibilities exist for humanity. Stories like Star Trek inspire people to strive to make the imaginary real through existing science and technology, so why not do that for the transition to a fossil fuel free economy? That’s exactly what Climaginaries is trying to do. The program searches for the best works of fiction that can help people foresee the benefits of a fossil free future.
Lastly, the project aims at enabling new ways of envisioning transitions to a post-fossil world. In this component we turn to the cultural realm to explore creative ways of producing imaginaries that go beyond conventional climate efforts. Through a series of activities, scholars and artists will be brought together to enable the development of new climate imaginaries. Activities could include, but are not limited to, writing climate fiction based on modelling, and modelling climate fiction based on imaginaries in literature, art, TV-series and cinema. Additionally, we will collaborate with local artist-in-residence to produce innovative forms of new imaginaries. The exact form for this is yet to be decided on, but could include an exhibition, an installation or a theatre performance. The creative characteristic of this component also allows us to study imaginaries outside the common framework such as radical and unsustaianble imaginaries.
If you want to understand current anxieties about the future then all you need to do is turn to science-fiction, and historically this has been true. Sci-Fi isn’t a way to predict the future but it is a way to understand what we think about the current state of humanity. Unsurprisingly, there is so much stress about the climate crisis that enough writers have created a new subgenre called climate fiction. Cli-Fi captures the anxiety we’re collectively experiencing about the environment while also being a useful teaching tool.
Atwood has become a major figure across the cli-fi literary universe. She not only helped the term catch on when she tweeted it in 2012, but her 2013 novel MaddAddam has been a popular teaching tool which largely summarizes the need for the genre in the first place. The book tells the story of a group of environmentalists, known as the gardeners, who rebuild the world after a global pandemic. The novel shows how fragile our global systems are. “People need such stories, because however dark, a darkness with voices in it is better than a silent void,” Atwood writes. The book was part of the curriculum for a course on cli-fi at Brandeis University in 2015.
Another notable book in the genre is Omar El-Akkad’s The American War. The book was listed as required reading in a 2018 freshman-level course entitled “Narrating Climate Change” at New York University. The 2017 novel is set in America’s second civil war when southern states defy a law that outlaws the use of fossil fuels. The book is told through the lens of Sarat Chestnutt, who is from Louisiana and is displaced by the rising waters of the Mississippi River. El-Akkad shows the life of an American climate refugee.