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Climate Fiction: Tales from the Future

Lighting the Advent candle of hope ...

... which glimmers wanly amidst the gloom.
The lighting of four candles on the Sundays of the Advent period symbolizes both an arrival and the anticipation of a new beginning. We at STURMundDRANG pull out all the stops to escape the melancholy and discontent that can set in the run-up to Christmas. Thus rather than a few candles we are lighting a whole bonfire in sending out invitations, like a gift to the world, to an event about a topic of great importance to us.

As they say, ‘there is no time like the present’, thus right now we are inviting you – our friends, employees, business partners and clients – to join us at a festival where people from all over the world will be telling stories. These are no Christmas stories, fairy tales or life stories even, but rather stories about, or “from”, the future. Stories that wake people up, stir discussion, arouse fear and inspire courage.  

Lighting of the first candle:
Climate Fiction (Cli Fi): Tales from the Future

Stories are not just something for the long, dark evenings of the Christmas season. We need stories as part of our daily lives to give meaning to the world around us. Things happening in the world outside these days are often too abstract for us. We can’t connect with things emotionally, we can’t properly adjust our behavior. Stories that seem to plausibly relate events and data give us orientation, especially regarding the increasingly uncertain future we face. As American science fiction writer Kim S. Robinson pointed out: We’re in a science fiction novel, as a culture. Science fiction is the realism of our time.

 

Climate change is such a huge issue … but it is too abstract. While of extreme importance to the human race, it is very difficult for us to grasp. The rational side of our brain, known in some quarters as System 2, does recognize the problem, as evidenced by the fact that 70% of people living in the global West say climate change is the greatest problem facing the world. But to get people to take action on a mass scale it takes a lot more, which is where strong narratives come into play. For narratives can refine cold facts into an emotional fuel without which we tend to just go along ignoring the issue in our everyday lives and avoiding the implications. An interesting book has been written on this subject by George Marshall entitled Don't Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change.

In parallel, we see the rise of Climate Fiction (‘Cli-Fi’) as a contemporary genre of great relevance to our times. Its increasing popularity has now led to organizing of the first-ever multi-day Cli-Fi Festival, to be held from December 4-6 online via the website of Literaturhaus Berlin. From the comfort of our living rooms we will be able to hear talks by science fiction authors from around the world and listen to readings of their climate change-related works.

The genre of Cli-Fi explores issues of climate change and its potential impact on social, cultural and political structures. As  one may anticipate, the future depicted in Cli-Fi is typically dystopian, rarely making for a light-hearted read. For it’s one thing to look at data tables, charts and figures on climate change and another entirely to be gripped by a compelling fictional narrative. Such novels and short stories create mental images and spur the emotions around what the future may hold, operating on and amplifying our fears. The Cli-Fi Festival may in truth not be for the faint of heart, but plausible, strong narratives make readers bond and identify with the protagonist in a way that increases their receptivity to change (an effect called ‘narrative persuasion’).

It is of tremendous importance today to engage in envisioning the future and the role of the individual in it—as a human being and as manager or entrepreneur—in order to actively shape processes of change. Our German culture has a certain affinity for dystopia – not surprisingly so as there is a lot of lethargy and paralysis across nearly all systems in the face of urgent, big decisions. But to bridge the cognitive dissonance between what we should do vs. what we really do, we need positive visions…

What is needed are desirable futures. A project studying the genre conducted in 2020 revealed how the protagonist’s attitude toward the challenges to be surmounted is a crucial element in such fiction. When a Cli-Fi protagonist is depicted as helpless, frustrated or fatalistic, the reader in turn will tend toward a view that the battle is lost, seeing little hope or reason to alter his or her real-life behaviors. Thus, what is needed are protagonists capable of credibly demonstrating how taking action can advance humanity down the questing path from a bleak today to a better tomorrow.

The good news is that there are such realistic plans for a positive future, and this Christmas season we hope to spread that news by recommending a Cli-Fi novel hot off the presses: The Ministry for the Future by eminent US science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson. Climate change has been a primary theme in Robinson’s works over the last twenty years, which reflect outstanding research and provide multiple perspectives on desirable futures. As an interesting aside, the head of the Ministry for the Future concerned in the book, who is its main character, is a woman, and moreover is named Mary (dovetailing nicely with Advent).

 

The STURM und DRANG Team wishes you a pleasant,
future-focused First Advent Sunday.

 

See you at the Cli Fi Festival!