Climate Change and the New Nature: The emergence of “Cli-fi”

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“Nature is a victim of domestic violence – we all live in the same house and we’ve beaten the shit out of it.” Anson Cameron’s strong words resonated across the room at the Sydney Writers’ Festival to a momentary stunned silence, before the audience burst into applause.

Cameron, author of five critically acclaimed novels and columnist for The Age newspaper, joined fellow panellist John Bradley, winner of a number of Australian and International awards for his four novels, to talk about an emerging genre called “cli-fi” – that is, climate fiction. Both have recently authored dystopian novels that fall under the genre.

“The lines between natural and unnatural are blurred,” Bradley said, citing scientific breakthroughs of recent years such as bionics and artificial intelligence. “Nature is damaged and altered, and there’s an urgency there considering the rapidity of these changes. There is a science fictional nature to the world we now live in.”

The ensuing discussion proved how the effects of a prolonged lack of concern regarding climate change have led to changes in literature about nature. According to Cameron, past literature has depicted either harsh, violent, frightening nature such as in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Wuthering Heights, or, on the other hand, romanticised nature as if made by God. It is evident that this approach has given way to stories of bleak, ravaged wastelands and love letters to something that has been lost.

“How much of New Nature is about loss? It seems to me a tribute – ‘these are the things we’ve lost’,” climate change expert at the University of Sydney, Professor David Schlosberg, queried. Bradley reminded the audience that in 1998, one quarter of the world’s coral died and there was very little concern. “It’s brain breaking,” he said. “It reminds me of the saying ‘one death is a tragedy, a thousand deaths is a statistic’.” Bradley strives to make this loss more tangible. “Loss is deeply wound up in this genre.”

However, both authors agree that to an extent, it’s important to retain a sense of hope going forward. “Hope – like beer, wine and song – is essential,” Cameron said. “Opting out of hope is a failure.” While Bradley doesn’t see the ending of his novel as particularly hopeful, he believes it shows possibility. “The future is still open,” he explained. “It’s difficult to write a bleak ending because a novel is a human form.”

Overall, the talk was an illuminating discussion about how climate change has not only affected our physical world, but also our literature.

Originally posted on Sydney Uni Life: http://blogs.usyd.edu.au/sydneylife/2015/06/climate_change_and_the_new_nat.html#sthash.v5C2GOmD.uxfs&st_refDomain=t.co&st_refQuery=/zTJ8jtEIod

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