Tag Archives: Climate Change

Migration, Conflicts and Climate Change: What the Pope Said and How the US reacted

On Monday morning 16 October, I rushed to FAO, the opening ceremony for World Food Day was to be graced by Pope Francis who had agreed to deliver the keynote address: the theme was migration…Here is the article I immediately wrote for Impakter (it was published yesterday):

MIGRATION, CONFLICTS AND CLIMATE CHANGE: A NEW TURN?

World Food Day held yesterday at UN-FAO headquarters in Rome was full of surprises. An event organized since 1979 by FAO every year on October 16 to celebrate the founding of the organization in 1945, World Food Day is the occasion to draw the international community’s attention to a pressing issue in agriculture and rural development. This rarely excites the world’s attention, but this year’s theme was particularly well chosen: The focus was on what is undoubtedly the number one problem of our times, migration.

IN THE PHOTO: HIS HOLINESS POPE FRANCIS GREETING FAO STAFF DURING THE WORLD FOOD DAY CEREMONY, FAO HEADQUARTERS (ATRIUM).PHOTO CREDIT: ©FAO/CRISTIANO MINICHIELLO.

The numbers are staggering: UN figures show there are roughly 244 million international migrants – that’s more than the whole population of Brazil –  while 763 million are migrants within their own country. Taking the two numbers together, that’s about one billion people, as much as India.

As the video FAO made for the occasion shows, the problem with migration is the lack of choice. And the solution to the migration crisis, is investment in the rural sector to give people a livelihood, so that they are not forced to migrate. Why the rural sector? Because that is where the problem starts, 75% of the world’s poor and food insecure live in rural areas.

In 2015 alone, 65.3 million people were forcibly displaced by conflict worldwide, and more than 19 million people were internally displaced because of natural disasters – many triggered by climate change.

First, Pope Francis is different from other Popes in that he attends more readily UN events. He has come before to FAO and gave a notable address to the ICN2.  Food security is clearly one of his major concerns.

To read the rest on Impakter, click here. You will also find there the video of the Pope’s speech (very interesting, worth seeing, it’s only 20 minutes) and I report on the remarkable position taken by the US Secretary of Agriculture: Since the Trump administration announced last week that the US was pulling out of UNESCO, everybody in Rome feared the worst. But the worst, surprisingly given Trump’s track record, didn’t happen. See what happened and rejoice!

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THE RETURN OF AN OLD SCOURGE: STARVATION

Another one of my articles, just published on Impakter, here is the opening:

Famine was supposed to be a thing of the past. True, 75 million people had died from starvation in the 20th century, but we had learned from these tragedies, how to predict them and how to address them. The largest famines dated back two decades: in the Horn of Africa in 1984-85 and 1992, and in North Korea in the mid-1990s. There had been only one serious famine in the 21st century, and it had occurred in Somalia in 2011, killing 260,000 people.

Now, all of a sudden, the scourge of starvation is back. The news came out over a month ago: 20 million people facing starvation, including 1.4 million children at “imminent risk of death”. The United Nations famine alert concerned four disconnected countries, across Africa and the Arabian peninsula: Nigeria, South Sudan, Somalia and Yemen.

IN THIS PHOTO: Photo was taken in Radfan village in Lahj city. It shows a young girl who is collecting water from a far distance due the water shortage in Yemen. PHOTO CREDIT:  UNICEF/UN018342/ASKOOL

THE FOUR-COUNTRY FAMINE: 20 MILLION PEOPLE AT RISK

The UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres did not mince his words at the press conference he held on 22 February in New York. This was a humanitarian crisis in-the-making, it was without precedent in scope and a total of $ 4.4   billion would be needed by the end of March to “avert a catastrophe” (see full transcript here). The Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien and several UN agencies heads (or their representatives) participated in that conference, including WFP (via video), UNDP, UNICEF and FAO (remarkably, not UNHCR).

Even though this was the largest alert in the 21st century and nobody had heard of anything like this for decades, the UN Secretary General’s appeal fell on deaf ears.

Was it a case of crying wolf too many times?

Read the rest on Impakter, click here.

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The Weather War: UN Report Shows Toll of Climate Change

On 23 November, just a week before the opening of COP 21, the Climate Change Conference in Paris, the United Nations issued a fascinating (and scary) report showing the unexpected toll of climate change over the past 20 years (see here). The author of the report is the UN’s office for disaster risk reduction (UNISDR). Headquartered in Geneva with 5 regional offices, UNISDR is an organizational unit of the UN Secretariat, headed by Margareta Wahlström and tasked to support the implementation, follow-up and review of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 that was adoped by UN Member States in Japan in March 2015.

Margareta Wahlstrom, presenting the report. She is Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) for Disaster Risk Reduction, appointed since 2008. A citizen of Sweden, she started her international career with the Red Cross (1995-2000).

The numbers are mind-boggling. Did you know that over the past twenty years, since the first Climate Change Conference (COP1) in 1995, over 600,000 people have lost their lives and over 4 billion have been injured  in weather-related events? Losses to property are of course commensurate and enormous: 87 million homes were damaged or destroyed over the period of the survey; the total cost of property losses – including from earthquakes and tsunamis – is between US$250 billion and US$300 billion annually (a UNISDR estimate, noting that loss data is systematically under-reported).

Perhaps the most remarkable thing is that weather-related events account for 90% of disasters. We always think of disasters in terms of war and other human-related causes (and of course, those are the worst, on ethical grounds because they could be avoided) and we tend to accept passively disasters caused by climate change.

But we shouldn’t. The pace of climate-related events is increasing: An average of 335 weather-related disasters were recorded per year between 2005 and 2014, an increase of 14% from 1995-2004, and almost twice the level recorded during 1985-1995. That is truly scary.

Yet, there is a silver lining in all this. In the upcoming Climate Change Conference, we have a chance to finally do something constructive. This report proves that, in purely economic terms, engaging in measures to control gas emissions and reduce global warming results directly in lives and property saved. And that translates into an automatic reduction in the costs of controlling climate change. So it’s not a straight exchange, one on one, between economic growth and climate change control. By choosing to curb emissions, even developing countries would find that they are enjoying a better quality economic growth.

And then there’s the moral question. Do we really have the choice of sacrificing lives to the God of Economic Growth and the Golden Calf of Profit?

Adoration of the Golden Calf by Poussin

 

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Climate Change and the Price of Survival

BOOK REVIEW – BACK TO THE GARDEN, by Clara Hume, published by Moon Willow Press (2013) Available on Amazon, click here

BREAKING NEWS: On the forum SFFWorld, there’s an on-going debate on climate fiction where Clara Hume intervenes as Guest Host, using her real name, Mary Woodbury, along with two more Guest Hosts, Brian Burt, author of the Aquarius Rising  trilogy and myself under my pen name Claude Nougat. To see or join this stimulating debate, click here now!

Climate change usually inspires the direst of dystopian fiction: end-of-the-world situations, cities under water, people desperately seeking safety and fighting for survival while children and the elderly are the first to die…With Clara Hume’sBack to the Garden, you get that but you also get much more and something that is very different.

You get a breath of fresh air, a glimpse of hope even though in that book, as in all other climate fiction novels I’ve ever read, the world is overheated and overrun with lawless gangs as society as we know it has collapsed.

What this book tells us is: maybe mankind can survive after all…but at what price! Back to the Garden is like going back to square one, the start of civilization. All technological advances are lost, there is no electricity and little fuel left. This is a world of growing scarcities. But is that “garden”, the one in the book, a new, revised garden of Eden?

Maybe it is, and that is a comforting thought: what we have here is dystopia with a smile.

And that’s what makes Back to the Garden very different and really worth reading.

And pondering over.

This is the story of a trip across a devastated, post-apocalyptic America told from multiple points of view, one for each traveler, and each one is an engaging character. We soon find ourselves liking them, feeling their pains, their hopes, their loves. This is a very human tale, some die and we cry, others live on in spite of dreadful obstacles, and they all finally get “back to the garden” – but I stop here, I don’t want to give away the story and ruin the suspense, I will not tell you about this garden, pick up the book and find out!

One commentator on Amazon (see here), made the interesting comparison with Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, noting that while Steinbeck depicted a cross-country trek of people driven from home by the Great Depression, Clara Hume’s characters are driven by Climate Change. The comparison is apt, although the story is in fact very different (as are the characters). But we are indeed at a literary level, this is a beautifully written novel.

The author (Clara Hume is a pen name) is a young woman deeply committed to fighting climate change and preserving our environment for future generations. She maintains a vibrant website Eco-Fiction  that acts as a hub for a community of people eager to debate environmental themes, including climate change, in both literature and the arts.

Here’s the landing page, and you can glimpse a series of interviews of climate fiction authors:

The site is an outreach project run by Moon Willow Press, an independent small press in Canada (British Columbia) with a mission to “help sustain forests while celebrating the written word”. On the site, we learn that “MWP has planted over 1,000 non-invasive trees in ecologically and economically rough areas since 2011. The press prints only on recycled, hemp, and forest-certified fiber.”

Here’s their opening page (screenshot, there are three images that keep changing, I caught this one about the “Blue Dot Run Team”):

Well done, MWP, this is a social-minded business, it is currently open to submissions for both fiction and non-fiction books. And of course, MWP is the publisher of Back to the Garden and numerous other climate fiction novels – reads that anyone with an environmental conscience and a concern about man’s survival on this planet should not miss…

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Climate Change and the Collapse of Western Civilization

To anyone living in Europe, it is truly puzzling that Americans continue to deny Climate Change.  The anger, recklessness and vehemence displayed by American “climate deniers” are something of a mystery. And their favorite argument is that there is no scientific “evidence” of global warming – in spite of the rising number of “extreme” weather events, the floods, the fires and the melting ice, and some of it happening right on their doorstep.

Now, finally, two American scientists – one from Harvard, the other from the California Institute of Technology – have given us the key to the mystery.  Naomi Oreskes who is professor of the history of science and affiliated professor of Earth and planetary sciences at Harvard University and Erisk M. Conway,  an award-winning historian of science and technology at the California Institute of Technology, have used in their latest book, The Collapse of Western Civilization, a remarkably effective dramatic device. Instead of writing a standard analysis, they have set it in the future, giving it the detached, objective tone of scholarly work. It is intended as the fruit of research by a future scientist looking back on our time and trying to figure out the factors that “explain” how global warming caused the collapse of Western civilization. The year is 2939, and what bothers our future scientist is how the United States, the most powerful country on Earth, was, in spite of its power, unable to reverse climate trends.

Don’t be put off by the dramatic subject. This is a book packed with humour that will make you smile (or perhaps snigger?) and the book description in the Kindle Store perfectly captures the spirit of it:

 “a senior scholar of the Second People’s Republic of China presents a gripping and deeply disturbing account of how the children of the Enlightenment, the political and economic elites of the so-called advanced industrial societies, entered into a Penumbral period in the early decades of the twenty-first century, a time when sound science and rational discourse about global change were prohibited and clear warnings of climate catastrophe were ignored. What ensues when soaring temperatures, rising sea levels, drought, and mass migrations disrupt the global governmental and economic regimes? The Great Collapse of 2093.”

The book is clearly a success on Amazon. This is the ranking (as of February 1, 2015):

And it has already garnered 178 Amazon customer reviews. On Goodreads it got 305 rankings (average 4 stars) and 91 reviews. The mainstream media also paid attention to it, in Nature, Scientific American, the New York Times and probably many more that I missed.I particularly liked this comment from Elizabeth Kolbert, the author whose The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History I’ve reviewed in an earlier post. This is what she has to say: “Provocative and grimly fascinating, The Collapse of Western Civilization offers a glimpse into a future that, with farsighted leadership, still might be avoided. It should be required reading for anyone who works — or hopes to — in Washington.”

Yes, can we sway our politicians  or are we destined to perish like the Maya civilization? A few decades of drought, causing an economic collapse and internecine fights, were enough to turn the once-splendid Maya cities into ghost towns by the time the Spanish conquered Mexico. Of course, our civilization is global and it will take much more than a few decades of drought to kill it off. But then, Climate Change is a much more massive event…

Maya site: Palenque

I was so moved by this read that I wrote a review (now on Amazon) that I’m happy to share here:

5.0 out of 5 stars A Powerful Read and a Wake-up Call, January 20, 2015
Delightful read if one may be allowed to use that particular adjective when the subject is so grim. And the authors, two science historians coming from the best universities in America (Harvard and the California Institute of Technology), managed the feat of making serious analysis read like fiction. A real page-turner. Yet it’s not fiction, far from it. The book is in fact reviewing what’s wrong with our society, pin-pointing with deadly accuracy the reasons why we are unable to stop our “civilization” from rushing to “collapse”. This is a book that should be taken seriously by anyone concerned with our future, and in particular by our political leaders.

The idea of analyzing what is happening in the climate change debate from the standpoint of the future (the book is purportedly written by a future historian located in China in 2393) is particularly effective as it gives a neutral, balanced voice to the whole account. And it is refreshingly novel. The fact that it is short (a mere 100 pages) no doubt also helps. This is both a powerful read and a wake-up call. I found the arguments particularly convincing and being an economist, I especially liked the twist they put on economic concepts, for example, Hayek’s and Milton’s “neo-liberalism” calling it “market fundamentalism” (indeed, those theories are ideologies rather than scientific) or “gross national product” amusingly described as an “archaic” concept.

The humor is there but it is ultimately very dark humor. The message is clear. If we don’t do anything, if we don’t reverse engine and control gas emissions, we are doomed and why this is so is masterfully demonstrated. Many factors are at play and the authors pull them together in a compelling way, using the detached tone of a future historian who is puzzled by the fact that Western Civilization could not avoid collapse in spite of its remakable advances in science and technology.

The reasons for our failure to address climate change are clearly analyzed and deconstructed – and suddenly, reading this brilliant essay, I began to feel like the Mayas must have felt when decades of unexpected drought destroyed their civilization, causing economic collapse, local wars and social chaos. Just like in the case of the Mayas, the reasons we are failing are all linked to each other – to global warming of course, but more importantly, to the way we handle it (or rather do not handle it – we simply deny it’s there).

The book is at its best in explaining exactly why we deny climate change, in pointing to the “internal” causes, things that lay at the heart of our civilization, things that made it once great and that are now causing its fall – like, for example, “reductionism” which is the idea (that began in Descartes’ time) of solving large problems by breaking them down into smaller, more “tractable” elements. The approach has proved powerful to advance knowledge but as the narrator coldly remarks “reductionism also made it difficult for scientists to articulate the threat posed by climate change, since many experts did not actually know very much about aspects of the problem beyond their expertise.” As a result, scientists did not speak in a single voice, climate change continued to be denied, fueled by the interests of the “carbon-combustion complex” – another witty take on Eisenhower’s famous “military and industrial complex” – and political leaders thought they had more time to address it than they really had.

Other contributing factors are also identified, such as over-reliance of scientists on the concept of statistical significance (also termed an “archaic”!) – something that had never occurred to me before and yet totally makes sense. And this is yet another reason why I loved this book: the authors managed to shed new light and come with new insights on an argument, climate change, that I tend to consider “closed”, in the sense that I can’t imagine what more could be added.

Actually, although I gave it 5 stars, I don’t think the book is perfect. It falls in two areas, as I point out here:

There are only two aspects I regret, one, is the reference to just one climate fiction novelist (there are many, climate fiction is a brand new genre and rapidly rising with the likes of Margaret Atwood) but of course, the authors have a right to their own likes and dislikes in fiction; the other, is the premature burial of the United Nations following the collapse of international talks on climate change at some point in the mid-21st century. Personally, I view such a collapse totally unlikely – the United Nations are here to stay, they are indispensable and most likely to preside over the collapse of our civilization rather than being buried before…But those are minor details and don’t detract from the main strengths of this excellent book, which is to unravel the puzzle of climate denial.

Highly recommended.

Yes, regarding the United Nations, I do think the authors got it wrong. The road is long and difficult, but the United Nations could well be the one institution that will help to wake up the world to the danger and save Western Civilization from collapse! But I do take it on board that the authors were writing a worse case scenario and therefore had to somehow delete the UN from the equation.

As to the idea that we will experience Global Collapse as soon as 2093, why not? I suspect it is a little early, but I could be wrong on that one. In any case, in my own book about the future (Gateway to Forever), the story starts in 2222 and global warming is not longer a subject of debate, it’s a fact. Why did I chose that date? Because I rather like the numbers that repeat themselves (!). And I didn’t want to fall in the error Orwell made with his 1984 which was far too close to his publishing date (1948)… But then, he too liked to play with numbers and simply reversed them!

Naomi Oreskes rock climbin at Jackson Hole 2011 (photo Andy Tankersley)

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Our Future on Earth: Fab or Scary?

This week, our future is the talk of the town, from Tokyo to Lima.The message from the Japanese designers show, “The Fab Mind”, is positive, it’s a fab future: “fixing stuff, repairing the world” as Alice Rawsthorn, a British design critic wrote in the New York Times (see her article  here).

Repairing? Not quite, Takram, a Japanese design engineering firm, has produced a visualization of the impact of rising sea levels, heightened radiation and dwindling resources on Earth 100 years from now. More scary than fab!

As to the show in Lima, it’s the Climate Change Conference organized by the United Nations,  called in UN-ese language: “the 20th session of the Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, or UNFCCC” – and here the future is definitely scary. The goal is to build the foundation of a new climate agreement to curb greenhouse gas emissions before it’s too late — an agreement to be struck in Paris next December and take effect in 2020 (for more, read this Newsweek article here).

Will it happen with American climate deniers stomping around?

I have my doubts. The recent agreement between Obama and the Chinese President to curb their greenhouse gas emissions over the next five years has encouraged environmentalists. But this is without counting on a Republican-controlled Congress that is bound to block any progress towards global climate measures. In America, financial interests in keeping the way things are have become so politically strong, especially since the Supreme Court opened the door to the financing of political parties, that we cannot reasonably expect  any rational decision-making from the US. Yet America matters, it may only be 5 percent of the world population, but it accounts for 25 percent of total carbon dioxide production. It’s still the world’s top polluter and China comes second.

Yet, for years now, if you’re surfing the Net for pictures of the future, you’ll find plenty of evidence, and most of it is the stuff of nightmares. Here’s a photo of today’s coastline in Spain, snapped in 2009, and what, according to Greenpeace, it will look like 100 years from now as a result of rising sea levels:

This was part of a photo album Greenpeace had put together, hoping to sensitize the Spanish to the effects of climate change (it worked, at least in Spain).

Unfortunately, and in spite of mounting evidence, lots and lots of people in America still don’t believe it’s happening. They claim there’s no scientific proof even though top American scientists, from Princeton University to the Goddard Institute Space Studies, say otherwise. By now, the climate models run by hundreds of scientists prove beyond any possible doubt that climate change is with us and that it has become irreversible.

It’s no longer a question of “will it happen” but of “what can we do to mitigate the effects”.

For those still hesitant, I urge you to watch this Discovery Channel video about “what you should know about global warming”. Done under the guidance of  American news anchor Tom Brokaw, one of 19 recipients of the 2014 Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor bestowed on “inspiring, bold Americans”, I think it’s one of the best films on climate change. Even though it dates back to 2012, it is still, alas, exceedingly topical:

It will take an hour out of your life to watch, but it really is time well-spent. I predict it will change your understanding of what is in store for mankind, particularly the latter part of the video…

You’ll learn about “feedback loops” that can kickstart and accelerate change in unexpected ways. Carbon dioxide by itself cannot cause global warming, it’s those feedback loops that make the difference – for example, with the increase in water drops in the air (clouds), heat will be trapped in the atmosphere and you could get a rise of between 4 and 6 degrees in this century. And of course, as spring comes earlier and summers last longer, whole species of plants and animals will disappear, polar bears and corals will be no more – yes, the 6th Extinction is upon us.

At the same time, a warmer climate will favor certain species like insects. Expect them to multiply and insect-borne diseases like malaria to rise (by the way, there are new strains of malaria that cannot be treated – at least for now). Humans of course won’t be spared, drought will cause famines, wars will be fought on whatever productive land is left.

So are we doomed?

To figure this out, you need to take into account two other big trends besides climate change:

  • increasing income inequality, as described by Thomas Piketty in his now-famous book that has become a number one best seller in economic history on Amazon;
  • the fast pace of technological change: the digital revolution is accelerating; there is absolutely no stagnation in technical progress, as shown in this masterly book written by two MIT professors: “Race Against the Machine”.

And of course, it’s not just the digital revolution. NASA with its recent Orion test is giving us an exciting glimpse of the future.  The test was a big success,  a flight to Mars by 2040 – that’s just 25 years from now! – is very much in the cards. Here is the key moment when the Delta IV rocket lifted Orion on December 5, 2014:

And here, some 4 hours later, is the recovery of Orion – the spacecraft withstood amazing temperatures (up to 4,000 degrees Farhenheit) and landed in the Pacific exactly where it was supposed to be, 600 miles from San Diego:

So the future is going to be highly technological, profoundly unequal and…very hot!

That’s something that is a matter of concern to me, as a mother and grandmother.

In what kind of world will our grand-children and great-grand-children live? Since I also happen to be a fiction writer, I tried my best to imagine the future, when global warming has wrecked havoc to the fullest, when plants and animals are headed for extinction and whatever remains of mankind is trying to survive the best it can on the little good land left.

I figure all that won’t happen tomorrow morning, nor will it happen all that fast. Give or take another 200 years before we have to face full extinction. At that point, global warming will no longer be a subject of debate, it will be a given. That is the setting of my novel Gateway to Forever – and in that sense, the book can be said to fit into climate fiction, or cli-fi, a word coined by Daniel Bloom, to define what is fast becoming a hot new genre in both books and films.

Gateway to Forever for Twitter
Available here

What will the world be like?

You have to remember the two trends I mentioned above. There will obviouly be a handful of super wealthy individuals facing impoverished masses; the rich will enjoy all the benefits of science, the others won’t. That means it will be a world divided not only between the rich and the poor, but the technologically advanced and the backward. The impoverished masses will live in medieval conditions, some worse off like cavemen, others slightly better like the middle classes today.  The rich, the One Percenters, will live in gated communities that will provide them with a perfect, pollution-free environment. They will enjoy the benefits of an Age Prevention Program that will keep them looking young till they drop dead at a ripe old age. They will take control of the only virgin land left on Earth, Antarctica, and they will be able to travel to other planets, even traveling faster than light as the technology to compress space and time becomes available.

In short, they can escape while the rest of us can’t.

That makes of Gateway to Forever a very unusual science fiction book.

Fans of sci-fi love to imagine a robotic future where the machines are king, but in my book, what matters are not the machines but the machine owners, the One Percenters. I’ve even had one reader comment that the future I depict in my book is not “futuristic” enough! But that’s the whole point: the future will not be “futuristic” at all for the poor masses, only the rich elite will live a futuristic life. They will have the possibility to avoid extinction and take refuge in space, nobody else will. And that’s what the book is about: how can mankind survive, and in particular, how can one very pretty girl called Alice escape when she wasn’t born a One Percenter?

Gateway to Forever is exceptionally available at the giveaway price of 99 cents from 9 to 12 December. Hurry, grab your copy here, and find out what happens to Alice…

This is the portrait I made of her, fiery and defiant, staring at a dead world:

Yes, come and imagine the future with Alice!

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CLI-FI – A DISCUSSION WITH AUTHOR CLAUDE NOUGAT

If this is a good interview, you should thank best-selling author Bob Rector, he had really good questions!

CLI-FI – A DISCUSSION WITH AUTHOR CLAUDE NOUGAT.

Bob Rector

Some of the books discussed:

– New York under water:

Monarch butterflies invade a small corner of the Appalachian mountains causing a scary “flight behavior”:

Climate fiction also includes climate change deniers: in this book climate activists are described as “eco-terrorists”:

If you think cli fi is recent and strictly linked to climate change, think again! This is the first cli fi book published and it came out in 1962!

But what is really going to change life on earth over the next few centuries can be traced back to (1) globalization and (2) industrialization and both are the result of a new, growing divide between the rich and poor, the One Percent vs. the 99 Percent, and now the data is in – the divide is not the result of someone’s sick imagination:

And of course(!) my own cli fi novel:

Available on all e-platforms, for Amazon click here: http://www.amazon.com/Forever-Young-Part-One-Gateway-ebook/dp/B00JU99LS4/

Available on all e-platforms, for Amazon click here: http://www.amazon.com/Forever-Young-Part-One-Gateway-ebook/dp/B00JU99LS4/

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Why Climate Fiction is Here to Stay

Climate fiction has gone viral for a very simple reason: it deals with climate change and global warming, issues that are getting worse every year. We’ve been used to dire reports from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for years but now we are getting one, equally somber report from the United States, long the homeland of climate change deniers: the National Climate Assessment, done with 300 experts. It’s full of information and has some amazing photos (like the one above illustrating the collapse of ice sheets – now on-going in Greenland and Antarctica and adding to sea level rise – photo source: Paul Souders/Corbis).

Things have never looked so bad, and it’s not happening in some distant, unlikely future but right now.

The New York Times reported on it (see here) and got some 1300 comments in  just a few hours. One of the commentators (who also happened to be a climate scientist living in Seattle) noted: “We are well on our way to the 6th mass extinction. Shelled animals in the waters off the coast of the Pacific Northwest are showing damage from the ocean’s acidity. Unfortunately, people don’t get into gear when they hear doomsday pronouncements.” (highlighting added)

They don’t. 

It’s hard to imagine, hard to go beyond the raw numbers and the (cold) data (or should I say hot?).

And that’s precisely why we need climate fiction – because it works on the emotions

And when you realize the problem is here and now and concerns you, well, it’s normal, it makes you sit up! 

That’s why Nathaniel Rich  cli-fi novel Odds Against Tomorrow was eerily spot on. He had imagined New York under water. When his editor at Farrar, Straus and Giroux was finalizing his draft for publication, hurricane Sandy hit New York and all of a sudden, Rich’s book didn’t at all look like fiction, it looked like social realism! 

Take a close look at the book cover (I’ve added a circle and an arrow) and see what New York could look like in a not-so-distant future after yet another hurricane – because now we know without any shadow of a doubt that extreme weather events will hit us more and more often…

We have certainly covered ground in 10 years! 

Think of it, one book by a best-selling 20th century author that was in fact a disruptive and much talked-about climate fiction novel (though it came out in 2004, fully four years before the term cli-fi was coined by Dan Bloom) depicted climate activists as…”eco-terrorists”! Yet it was undoubtedly climate fiction: climate change was its central theme. I am speaking of course of Michael Crichton’s State of Fear

This illustrates well how broad a genre climate fiction really is, if it can include a book that is music to the ears of climate deniers. Because that is my point: climate fiction, whether you are denying climate change or believe in it, is here to stay – a constant source of inspiration for writers.

I would  also like to add that climate fiction inevitably will include books that go beyond climate change. 

Why? Because climate change is but one of the negative trends that will affect our future. The others are well-known and nobody disputes them: an unstoppable population explosion, rapid industrialization especially in developing countries, a world-wide rush to urbanization, increasing income inequality causing social tensions, the multiplication of local wars as weak states struggle to politically emerge and mature in working democracies.

The main point here is that all these trends are inter-linked and interact on each other, reinforcing each one. For example, industrialization of itself wouldn’t be so devastating if it wasn’t accompanied by rapid urbanization and rising population, etc etc.

So if you try to look at the future and figure out what awaits humanity in the long run, you have to take into account not only climate change but all the other trends as well – which is what I tried to do with my new serial novel Forever Young (Part One and Two are out, Part Three will be released next week.)

How well I’ve explored the future, how realistic it is, I leave it to you to judge! But do let me know what you think – the future of humanity is one of the most important issues facing us all. Your views? Do you think writers have a role to play? 


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Book Cover for a Cli Fi Novel: Which is Best?

Cli Fi, or Climate Fiction, is rapidly becoming a widely accepted term to designate a new genre of books dealing with Climate Change but not only: many elements taken together – like the demographic explosion, growing income inequality, urbanization and the rapid industrialization of the Third World – contribute to threaten our survival on Earth.

Personally, I am convinced that things will get from bad to worse in about 200 years and go kaput in 600 years, if we don’t do anything about it.

And that’s the worst of it: because it is a relatively slow process, a lot of us don’t feel the urgency and even deny that the process is going on. Result: on a political level things are moving at a snail’s pace and the end of the world could really sneak upon us in 600 years!

The involvement of literature in the Climate Change debate is growing, and one UK academic, Dr. Adeline Johns-Putra recently noted that in the past eight years, at least 150 novels dealing in one way or another with the likely future collapse of humanity have been published, fifty of them pure “cli-fi” (I blogged about it here).

In this regard, I had an interesting email exchange with Dan Bloom, the man who coined the term back in 2008, and he quoted to me something  Adeline Johns-Putra, Reader in English Literature at the University of Surrey in the UK told him:
”I think climate change fiction (or ‘cli-fi’) has, in just a few years, moved beyond simplistic apocalypse scenarios to engage intelligently with questions of science and policy (Kim Stanley Robinson‘s Science in the Capital trilogy) and environmental justice (for example, Barbara Kingsolver and Paolo Bacigalupi, in very different ways). By making us ‘live’ both the devastating impacts of climate change and ways of dealing with these, these novels can’t help but intervene in the ongoing debate on climate change policies.”

I love that: “these novels can’t help but intervene in the ongoing debate on climate change policies”…Makes me happy, I certainly hope my Forever Young will be viewed that way, I conceive of it as a contribution to the debate though my main objective always remains one of a story teller at heart!

Now I am working on the cover of my cli-fi/sci-fi book Forever Young that will soon be published and I need your help. 

Dear reader, this is a difficult challenge, there are no established norms for the covers of Cli-Fi novels…Consider the variety, from New York submerged in water (like on the cover of Nathaniel Rich’s novel Odds against Tomorrow) to the bucolic charm of Barbara Kingsolver’s novel (about a monarch butterfly invasion).

What do you think of my two book covers? I’ve set up a poll below where you can answer, voting for your favorite.

Version 1, through a porthole:



Version 2, the full woman:

Why a woman instead of space ships and distant planets as is the norm for science fiction? 
Because space travel is not the point of the book. One particular woman is – she’s a major character, her name is Alice. She’s young and beautiful, warm-hearted and very, very independent. One of my beta readers, Bob Rector, who also happens to be a hugely talented writer (he just published Unthinkable Consequences that is fast becoming a best seller), quite literally fell in love with her and asked me to put her on the cover.

So I did a portrait of her, here it is:

 

To help you decide which cover is best, here’s a quick word about the book:

Forever Young, a serialized novel in 4 episodes, is set 200 years from now, in a world divided between the ultra rich, the One Percent, who live in gated communities and the others who don’t and suffer the full onslaught of pollution and Climate Change. The One Percent  are the only ones who can afford all the advances of technology, in particular the exclusive Age Prevention Program (APP), whose members wear special Life Watches that enable them to expand their life span to the genetic maximum of some 140 years and look young till the day they die.

The novel interweaves several plot lines; the first is a love triangle between Alice, a young Swiss nurse, beautiful and independent, Lizzie, a talented golf player, the descendant of the mythical Tiger Woods, and Jamie, an ambitious reporter who works for the World and US Post, an amalgam of the Huffington Post and the New York Times.

The second covers the rising threat to life on earth, as humanity is headed for extinction; there are only two options, both reserved to One Percenters: one, escape to another world, a pristine exoplanet a thousand light years away; the other, retreat to Antarctica, the last virgin continent.


The third follows the murderous attempts of one determined 99 Percenter, a retired Blue Beret who has served all his life in the United Nations Peace-keeping Forces and is hell-bent on carving a place for himself in the Age Prevention Program.

And here’s the poll:

Please vote, let me know what you think in the comments below (not on the poll site, I may miss it there). To show my gratitude for your help, I’ll send an advance copy of the book (digital – pdf) to the three best and most useful comments (lottery drawn if there are too many!).

Again, many thanks for the help!

Post scriptum. Just as I closed this post, I came across an article in the New York Times Magazine, about the amazing “Uncivilization” festival organized in the UK by the Dark Mountain Project led by British author Paul Kingsnorth (see here). 

His vision of a future “global collapse” is exactly the one I envision in Forever Young – a future that will come slowly but inexorably and that you have to live with…like Alice and her friends. Yes, there is a good reason why the sky above Alice is blood red, or alternatively, why she is plunged in a frightening sick-greenish world…

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Interview with the Father of Cli Fi: How this New Genre Was Born is Revealed

American climate activist Dan Bloom 
visiting a local university in Taiwan  to
do some research on climate change issues

My blog post about Climate Fiction, a “hot new genre” (here) led me to “virtually” meet  Dan Bloom, the journalist and “green” activist who coined the term “Cli Fi”. I was very happy to meet him, he’s a fascinating and somewhat explosive person, a Tufts graduate who’s worked in Alaska, Japan and Taiwan (where he now lives). And he’s agreed to answer a few of my questions here.

Claude: Dan, you coined the term Climate Fiction, cli-fi for short, back in 2008. When did the term start to catch on?
Dan: The term was modelled after sci-fi, of course, and at first it didn’t really catch on, not until 2013 when NPR did the first big media story on the cli-fi genre (see here ).
Claude: I took a look at that article, it has a great title “So Hot Right Now: Has Climate Change Created a New Literary genre?” and a striking introduction mentioning a best-selling cli-fi novel, as you can see on this screen shot:


Dan: Yes, and now the term is fast becoming a buzzword in the media, culminating in the recent article in the New York Times about using cli-fi in the classrooms to teach American students how to handle the challenge of global warming (see here ).
Claude: Yes, that’s how my attention was drawn to it, from reading it in the New York Times. I noticed the story was picked up by others as well, including Sadie Mason-Smith on the Melville House website (here). And now, according to the UN’s IPCC latest report on Climate Change, climate warming is fast getting worse because too many countries have dragged their feet for too many years (see here ) So there’s a definite need for Climate Change activism! I’d like to find out how the idea of “cli fi” ever occurred to you. Why did you coin the term?
Dan: I have been an independent deep-green climate activist since 2006 when the big earth-shaking IPCC report on climate came out and it was that IPCC report and the accompanying news media articles about the report that woke me up.
Claude: So your concern for global warming and its consequences is relatively new?
Dan: Yes. Before then, I was not thinking very much about climate issues. But I woke up in 2006. Not being a scientist, there was not much I could do to join the debate about climate change and global warming.
Claude: What was your “wake-up” moment?
Dan:  A 2008 blog post by New York Times science reporter Andrew C. Revkin on his “Dot Earth” sustainability blog. That’s what did it. He mentioned how artists and novelists can use “the arts” to communicate climate issues to a broad public. That made me think what I could do, if anything, to add to that concept of art and literature as tools of communication.
Claude: So, concretely, what was your next step?

Dan: One day while I was doing some PR for a climate-themed book by Jim Laughter, a Tulsa, Oklahoma author, for his novel titled Polar City Red set in Alaska in 2075 (the book came out in 2012, see here ) I hit on the cli fi term I had coined in 2008 to describe Hollywood movies focused on major environmental change like The Day After Tomorrow. I decided to inject the cli fi term as part of my press release about Jim Laughter’s Alaska novel. So I sent out some press releases to book reviewers and I called his novel a ”cli fi thriller” and slowly the term took on a life of its own. A few newspapers and blogs used the term in talking about Jim’s novel, but nothing more, although one newspaper in North America reviewed it.
Claude: Yes, a major newspaper too! I noticed that the New York Times has described his book as “a thought experiment that might prod people out of their comfort zone on climate.”
Dan: Right. And, in spite of relatively slow sales for that book, I didn’t give up and tried to keep the cli fi term alive with many blog posts and by leaving a large digital footprint on the internet, so that if any reporter googled the cli fi term, hundreds of items would show up in the Google search list.
Claude: And on Wikipedia. You can read about it here. But what was the turning point?
Dan: It came in late 2012, when a climate scientist in Atlanta, Georgia named Judith Curry got interested. She is not only a dedicated scientist with a keen interest in the science of climate change but also a woman with a deep appreciation of the humanities and the arts. So she did a big post on her ”CLIMATE  ETC” blog; it’s a very popular blog and she gets 300 to 500 comments on each post – the post about cli-fi novels she titled simply “Cli fi” (see here)

Dr. Judith Curry

Claude: She opens her post by noting that cli-fi is a “fledgling new genre in literature”. Then she immediately mentions Michael Crichton’s blockbuster State of Fear, a 2004 techno thriller against the backdrop of global warming. However it got panned  apparently because of gross scientific errors. She argues that a climate scientist could however pen such a techno thriller without losing his reputation and she cites Rex Fleming .
Dan:  Cli fi as a genre was certainly ‘fledgling’ back in December 2012. But Dr Curry herself changed that. She makes a list of about 20 or so cli fi novels, including big names like Clive Cussler, Ian McEwan and Barbara Kingsolver. And she included Jim Laughter’s Polar City Red and used my press release term of calling it a “cli fi thriller”. That led four months later to NPR interviewing Dr Curry for its CLI FI radio program announcing that a new literary genre had arrived. I had sent dozens of press releases to the NPR book department email address about the cli fi concept, but the station never replied to any of my appeals for an interview or a radio show about the new genre.
Claude: Par for the course, I suppose that was rather discouraging…Of course, Dr. Curry is a big shot at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
Dan: She heads the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences since 2002.
Claude: Isn’t she also a rather controversial figure? There is this interesting article in the Scientific American that calls her a “climate heretic” who has “turned on her colleagues”. But that article was written in 2010 and is now probably reflecting an outdated position in the American scientific community. I rather like her position on the latest Climate Change report from the UN: she welcomes the idea of putting the Climate Change discussion behind us and focusing on the needed survival strategies rather than pursue mitigation or curbing measures… What is your take on this?
Dan: I read Dr Curry’s blog posts regularly and keep in touch with her by email from time to time, too. I deeply respect and admire the kind of scientist (and humanist) she is. She’s one of my teachers now, too.The world needs more scientists like her, who are not afraid to speak their minds and even join the debate from different sides of the table. And I am so glad she blogged about cli fi novels back in December 2012. Her post led to all this today.
Claude: You mean the interest shown by NPR?
Dan: Yes. So imagine my surprise one day in April 2013 when I see via my daily Google search for cli fi news that NPR did the story! I immediately set about doing all I could as a PR operative and a climate activist and a literary theorist to push the cli fi meme uphill, using the NPR link as the wake-up alarm. I wrote to the Guardian and asked if they could do a cli fi story for British readers. They did. I wrote to the Financial Times in the UK and asked my contacts there if they could do a cli fi story, and they did. Alison Flood, the Guardian’s book critic, did a blog post on “why cli-fi is here to stay”.
Claude: Wow, I’m impressed!
Dan: At first most media never responded to me, or even answered my email pitches. But they did line up, one by one, to add to the ”cli fi genre is rising” chorus, from Britain to Australia. I kept up the PR blitz, contacting every media outlet I could.  The New Yorker magazine followed the Brits, as did Dissent magazine last summer. There was something in the air I think, but my PR campaign was crucial. I then spent time lobbying the New York Times to report the cli fi news, and I contacted 12 reporters and met up with 6 months of rejections and emails that read “sorry not interested.” But in January 2014 I found one Times reporter I knew from earlier contacts ten years ago and I emailed him. And three months later his New York Times article came out worldwide not just in the U.S print edition and on the newspaper’s popular website, but also via the New York Times News Service which syndicated the article to over 400 newspapers worldwide, from Italy to France to Japan to Sweden.
Claude: So the New York Times article, the one I noticed, was a major turning point.
Dan: It was. Now I am focusing my media contacts on the Associated Press and Reuters News Service for wire stories about the cli-fi genre. And Nicholas Kristof, the New York Times columnist who has a keen interest in climate change issues, told me he will write a Sunday column soon about his take on the power of cli-fi literature to serve as a wake-up call. So things are happening.

Nicholas Kristof

Claude: They sure are! I’m looking forward to Kristof’s piece, I think he’s a remarkable columnist and I totally agree with the concept that climate fiction can serve as a much needed wake-up call. We need to go beyond sterile discussions about who or what is responsible for global warming and do something about it because one thing’s certain: it’s happening! Is that why the idea of cli-fi occurred to you?
Dan: Yes, as a climate activist but also as a literary activist…My major at Tufts University in the 1960s was French literature and I spent a year in Paris in 1969 absorbing the culture and drinking the coffee — I felt that a new literary term for climate-themed novels might help serve as a wake-up call for the future humankind faces now. Besides, I’ve always loved words and word games and crossword puzzles and sci-fi. I grew up with sci-fi novels in the 1950s and 1960s. I am a big sci-fi fan. So one day, my imagination just jumped over the fence and told to make a new word and call it cli-fi and see what happens. I like to see what happens. So I did it.
Claude: So are you a writer in pectore?
Dan: No, I am not a novelist or a short story writer or a screenplay scriptwriter. I don’t have those kind of writerly skills. I am just a climate activist, first, and a lifelong reader of novels, second.
Claude: I gather that Margaret Atwood was an early supporter, though she calls her own novels “speculative fiction” rather than cli-fi — while at the same time fully supporting your creation of the cli fi genre for whoever wants to work in it.

Margaret Atwood (Author page on Amazon)

Dan:  Exactly. Margaret Atwood has written three op-eds applauding the creation of the new genre that has been dubbed cli fi, one was published in the Canada Living magazine, one was published in the Huffington Post and another was published in the Financial Times recently in London. And she has often tweeted and retweeted cli fi news links to her 450,000 followers!
Claude: That’s a lot of followers on Twitter!
Dan: So yes, Ms Atwood has been instrumental in helping to popularize the cli-fi genre, come what may. I consider her my teacher, although we have never met. My other two teachers in the cli fi project are James Lovelock, whose ideas about the Earth being a kind of Gaia goddess that needs to be respected and protected or it’s curtains for the human race, and Andrew Revkin who runs the Dot Earth blog at the New York Times and which I have followed since its inception.
Claude: Okay, now let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. What is your definition of Climate Fiction?
Dan: First of all, I want to make it clear: the term I created is “cli-fi” which stands for climate fiction, of course, CLImate FIction with caps and lowercase letters, and I never use the term “climate fiction.” My PR work is not about “climate fiction” but about “cli-fi.”
Claude: I hyphenate the term by analogy with sci-fi, but I notice you don’t…
Dan:  So I want to use the term “cli fi” only in this interview and I also only use cli fi in my press releases. Why? As a lifelong journalist and PR guy, I know the power of headline buzzwords to serve as signposts along the road. So cli fi is a signpost and a wake-up call. The term “climate fiction” has been used for a long time, and I never coined that term. I just took it and tried to transform the longer version into a kind of code word and I thought of calling it “cli fi.” So let’s just talk about cli fi and leave “climate fiction” for scholars and professors to discuss. The New York Times article about cli fi just mentioned the term once in the entire 1000-word story, and not in the headline at all. 
Claude: I put it in the title of my blog!
Dan: Good! I was hoping for a headline mention of cli fi in the NYT, but in the PR business one cannot control how headlines are written or even how news articles are written. But the Times article was very important and for one special reason: cli fi has now been mentioned in the newspaper of record, The New York Times. That’s a first. This is the beginning. There is no stopping the rise of cli fi novels now.
Claude: What hopes do you have for the genre? What do you expect to achieve through it?
Dan: My hope is that cli fi will serve to bring together novelists and editors and literary agents and publishers — and readers! — as we explore the role of novelists in the ongoing debates over climate change and global warming. My hope is that the news media will start reviewing cli fi novels as cli fi novels, and stop calling them science fiction novels.
Claude: You don’t consider cli-fi as a subgenre of science fiction?
Dan: As I see things now, after several years of working on this project and getting a lot of feedback from readers and writers in both the sci-fi community and the growing cli fi community, cli fi is not a subgenre of sci-fi but a genre of its own. And sci-fi novels can also focus on climate change and still be classified as sci-fi novels, if that is how the novelists themselves want it and how literary critics see it. But at the same time, I now see cli fi as a separate genre that has attracted its own community of writers and readers worldwide. And sci-fi and cli fi are not competing genres at all; they complement each other, and they are, in a way, sister genres. I love sci-fi, and always have. 
Claude: Me too. I consider Aldous Huxley and Orwell among the greatest writers of the 20th century…
Dan: Now I am trying to popularize cli fi, too. I believe we are on the same page, sci-fi writers and cli fi writers. But one thing needs to be pointed out: While cli fi is usually filled with the moral implications of climate change issues, sci-fi is usually filled with the intention of exploring the possibilities of science and its relationship to humankind. So that is where cli fi and sci-fi go in different directions, and both genres are valid and useful.
Claude: Yes, both are useful and I love both! But what sort of future do you see for cli fi?

Dan: My hope is that a modern Nevil Shute will arise, male or female, in any country in any language, to write and publish a climate-themed cli fi novel with the same power as Shute’s 1957 novel On The Beach which served as a wake-up call about nuclear war and nuclear winter. And the movie was important, too.
Claude: The Next Big Novel that will shake society should be in “cli fi”!
Dan: Right! So I am looking for the Nevil Shute of cli fi. And to do this, I am quietly setting up what I call the international Nevil Shute Climate-Themed Novel Award to be first awarded in 2020 for the best cli fi novel in the previous ten years and to repeat the award every ten years internationally and awarding a prize of $1 million to the winner.
Claude: Hey, I’m going to candidate my soon-to-be published Forever Young! Though I must admit that cli fi is only one element, there are other things in it like the demographic explosion and growing income inequality…
Dan: Why not? You and many more writers, that’s what I’d like to see. I am now in the fundraising process of this new project, an offshoot of my cli fi PR work. I am looking for sponsors and a committee of judges to honor these kinds of cli fi novels. And I hope to see the “Nevils” — as I am dubbing the awards — keep going for 100 years, awarded every ten years for a total of ten times. And if the awards committee in 2120 wants to keep the awards going for another 100 years, I will nod yes from the grave. Literature matters. Words matter. Novels and movies made from novels can wake people up. The world is still asleep. We are facing the potential end of the human race. Wake up, world!
Claude: An impressive project! What else have you got up your sleeve?
Dan: Another thing I am working on is this: I am trying to find a reporter in New York or London who covers the book industry to find out if they can do a print newspaper or online story about how literary agents and everyone in the publishing industry view the rise of cli fi as a new genre and if they plan to use the term in future book titles or book covers. Raising the media profile worldwide of the cli fi genre is now my life’s work. And then I die. This is my way of giving back to a world that has given me so much. I go out every day to my PR office not to make money but to make a difference. I was educated to think of life this way, and now in my mid-60s, I have found a way to express myself on my own terms. I am not doing this cli fi work for myself or to benefit from it in any way. I do not want money or fame. I like to work quietly in the background and I find the internet a very pleasant place to hang my sign: “Dan Bloom, climate activist – no fees charged.”
Claude: Dan, that’s wonderful and I wish you every possible success in this most worthwhile cause. Thank you so much for joining me here and telling us about your dreams and your plans. 

I look forward to comments from my blog readers: has anyone read a cli fi novel recently? If you have, or know something about the genre that has not been covered here, please share!


Dan Bloom BIO:

Dan Bloom grew up in the Boston area, attended Tufts University where he majored in modern literature and minored in French, and has spent his adult life working as a newspaper reporter, editor and blogger in Alaska, Japan and Taiwan. He is now dedicating his life to promoting the new
literary genre of cli fi and working on it 24/7 from his “office” in a small internet cafe in southern Taiwan (as Dan does not own a computer and never has, describing himself as a Neo-Luddite.)

For readers or media people worldwide who want to contact him, his email at the internet cafe is danbloom@gmail.com and he welcomes all inquiries and in all languages. For more information, visit Dan Bloom’s bog, CLI FI CENTRAL, click here

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