Panel 5: Cli-fi Creations/Writing Cli-fi



Panel 5: Cli-fi Creations/Writing Cli-fi

A Tale of How Radical Climate Justice Just Might Get Us All to 2050 in One Piece [a novella in progress]

John Foran, University of California, Santa Barbara

This presentation will re-envision Naomi Oreskes and Richard Conway’s grim “future history,” through the hopeful lens of today’s global climate justice movement. The talk will conclude by venturing into the uncharted territory of a post-capitalist world (more).

Changing the Narrative: Viewing the Present from the Future

Christopher Bowman, University of Minnesota—Twin Cities

This paper constructs a counternarrative to dystopian climate fiction by identifying sources of optimism and envisioning the outcomes of their implementation. While ultimately depicting a number of collisions with climate change, this paper charts a more likely—and optimistic—narrative for humanity than its apocalyptic predecessors (more).

The Great Transformation: How We (Just) Avoided a Climate Catastrophe

Jeremy Lent, Liology Institute

This talk imagines a world saved from the brink of collapse by grass-roots communities across the world connected through a shared foundation of core values emphasizing quality of life over material possessions. The presenter outlines what such a movement would entail and how it reverted the world from near certain catastrophe (more).

Three Fragments to Generate Alternative Visions of Climate Futures

Laurence Marty, Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales

This talk will draw from the presenter’s personal experience in the environmental realm to tell the story of three fictional characters affected by climate change. By expanding the scope of potentialities, including prefigurative experiments developed by social movements, the author hopes to help imagine and create alternative and fairer climate futures(more).

Q & A

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20 replies
  1. Jeremy Lent, Liology Institute says:

    The Great Transformation (Or How We Just Avoided a Climate Catastrophe)

    Anyone who looks clearly at our climate emergency––and the forces arrayed against the drastic changes we need––has most likely experienced periods of despair. Personally, I find myself oscillating between hoper and despair, with the recognition that, collectively, hope is far more likely to lead us to a flourishing future.

    This presentation uses the “future history” format to explore the validity of hope, without trying to downplay the gravity of our current situation. It offers a vision of what a potential positive future could look like, based on the intersectionality of many powerful movements and ideas already gaining traction today.

    How realistic does this hypothetical future scenario seem to you? Are there any important themes that you think are missing from my “future narrative” that may play a crucial part in our trajectory? What moves you the most, personally, when you consider the next few decades of our global civilization?

    I look forward to hearing your thoughts and engaging in conversation.

  2. Laurence Marty says:

    Dear everyone,
    Thank you for watching our panel on cli-fi !
    About “Three fragments : climate futures”, please let me know if you have any feedback or questions. This video is our first one and we are still experimenting it !
    Some of the questions are essential : Does this kind of videos/texts help to create alternative and fairer narratives ? Are these narratives inspiring to take action ? Do these human and non-human characters allow to embody the abstract climate narrative ? Is it most interesting to work with these kind of fictional characters, or to use and edit real interviews ? (At this point, I got two main ideas to keep working on the project : create characters based on my fieldworks ; create writing sci-fi workshops about imagining a fairer future built on personal experiences and hopes.)
    Any feedback on the form is also welcome (especially if you think theses texts would be better without videos !). And for sure, we are open to any new questions and comments !
    Thank you,

    • Rachel May, Syracuse University says:

      Thank you for this very creative contribution and your project for using imagination to get to a fairer future is really wonderful. I particularly admire your willingness to write in first person and really inhabit the minds of people and things affected in so many different ways by climate change. This is so important and can help all of us approach the issue with more empathy. Also your production values and the emotion with which all three of the narrators told their stories was refreshing and made them more powerful. Regarding your questions: I think the videos need more human images in them – that would certainly help to inspire me to take action, or at least to know what kinds of actions to take. I also think you might try using non-human, natural narrators (trees, say, or a river), to see if you can imagine their perspective.

      • Laurence Marty says:

        Dear Rachel,
        Thank you so much for your comment which gives me strength and inspiration.
        I chosen we will not have human beings in images to let people imagine and create the narrators but I really understand we actually need them to identify (and maybe to take action!).
        And thanks for the idea of non-human narrators. It is on the table for the next steps even if I have no idea about how to do without anthropomorphism. Do you have any ideas or references on this point ?
        Finally, you gave me an idea for workshops we are planning to organize : we want to ask people to write how they would like to be/live in 2050, from their personal perspective, maybe by creating a fictional character not to censor themselves, but a character near of what they be, do or love in this world. The new idea is that we could ask people to do the same exercise with a fictional character really far from what they are, do, love, to create empathy and enlarge their/our visions about who are impacted and affected by climate change. So thanks again !
        With gratitude,

        • Rachel May, Syracuse University says:

          I love these ideas! Thinking about how to speak from a nonhuman perspective without anthropomorphizing, one resource is indigenous perspectives that view other species and the earth, wind, and waters as our relatives. My favorite resource on this is Robin Kimmerer’s book, Braiding Sweetgrass (2015). The recent book from Germany, “The Hidden Life of Trees,” by Peter Wohlleben, offers perspective on the way trees communicate and “think.”

        • Jeremy Lent, Liology Institute says:

          I’d recommend a brilliant book by Andreas Weber called “The Biology of Wonder,” which goes deeply into what he calls “poetic ecology,” or understanding feeling as the principle of all life. I think this can be a wonderful gateway into the expression of non-human experience without anthropomorphism.

        • Rick Thomas, UC Santa Barbara says:


          Thank you for sharing this project. This comment is jumping off of the comments of both you and Rachel May. These narratives, although fictional, have an incredible power to them. They not only seem believable, but the narrators sincerity caused me to feel immersed in each of their lives. It almost felt that I was the one speaking to them, and they were sharing their story with me. This is a very effective method of storytelling, and as Rachel mentioned, has the ability to have the listeners approach the issues and consequences of climate change with more empathy. I think it would be beneficial to vary the video content in the future, perhaps even staging other people in the scene, just to really bring us fully into the place. Without people in any of the frames it makes us seem like the viewer and narrator are the only two people left on earth (which for some messages could be quite a fascinating perspective!). There is lots of room for creativity here, which is quite exciting.

          I also was intrigued by Rachel’s suggestion of POV narratives–from the perspective of the trees or the oceans in which climate change is effecting. People may not be able to relate on the same level as they would to a human character, but this is still a good tool in communicating an important issue. Have you heard of the point of view film “Plastic Bag”? It is one of the first that comes to mind when thinking of POV films of non-human objects. This film narrates the epic journey of a plastic bag trying to find its maker, with some tragically compelling scenes of the Pacific trash vortex. I’m attaching a link to the video here for inspiration.

          Finally, I think many of your workshop ideas seem inspiring. I hope to hear more of their success in the future! Thank you once again for sharing this project.

    • Marco Caracciolo, University of Freiburg says:

      Dear Laurence,

      Thanks for pointing me to your paper, I loved your stories! And I do think the interaction between the text and the video adds enormously to the experience. It’s not just the images: the soundtrack plays a role, too. I could hear a child crying during the third story, I don’t know if that was an intentional effect but it gave the text even more poignancy and urgency.

      Even before reading Rachel’s comment below, I wanted to suggest that you might offer another perspective on these human events by letting an object (for instance, the machinery you talk about in the first section) narrate its own story, with humans remaning in the background. I’ve actually written about nonhuman narrators in a co-authored article: Bernaerts, Lars, Marco Caracciolo, Luc Herman, and Bart Vervaeck. 2014. “The Storied Lives of Non-Human Narrators.” Narrative 22 (1): 68–93. Perhaps the article can be useful, if you want to go further in that direction.

      If what I say in my paper for this conference is right, whether a narrative can “inspire [people] to take action,” as you put it, depends (among other things) on the degree to which it can leverage the audience’s imagination and emotions–and defamiliarization, as an effect of narrative, is key to this involvement. Your stories were so effective for me because I was constantly wondering who these people are, when these narratives are set, what events led to the situations they describe. Anthropomorphizing a nonhuman animal, object, or entity may be another way to achieve the same result.

      All the best,


  3. John Foran, UC Santa Barbara says:

    And hello from me, fellow cli-fi and culture-creating scholars and activists. I am so delighted to be part of what I hope will become a very productive and creative discussion.
    We need more, gripping, radical cli-fi! I’m always on the lookout, and got so desperate that I proposed the novella I speak about in my talk.
    If I wrack my brain for an example of what I am talking about, I come up with … well, my memory for books and films I’ve read and seen is like a sieve, but even so, nothing comes immediately to mind.
    And you? What work fits your bill, and why? What have I missed?
    with gratitude and a welcome to all

    • sdlindber says:

      I will be watching your presentation again! As a lapsed theatre practitioner, you have me thinking about what might be in that world I used to know. Hmmm.

      Your presentation also reminded me of the film, Children of Men. I got curious, wondering if the film was based on a novel and, yes, it was. P. D. James wrote Children of Men about a disillusioned academic living in a world where women could no longer bear children. He is drawn into the company of radicals and the story unfolds from there. If you want to check it out, here are the book’s details: published by Vintage in pb 2006. “The human race has become infertile, and the last generation to be born is now adult. Civilization itself is crumbling as suicide and despair become commonplace. Oxford historian Theodore Faron, apathetic toward a future without a future, spends most of his time reminiscing. Then he is approached by Julian, a bright, attractive woman who wants him to help get her an audience with his cousin, the powerful Warden of England. She and her band of unlikely revolutionaries may just awaken his desire to live . . . and they may also hold the key to survival for the human race.” I just ordered a used copy–haven’t read this yet. The film is a significant departure from the novel.

      As I list in my bibliography for the presentation I’ve done for this conference, I like Margaret Atwood, Octavia Butler, Ursula Le Guin, and Starhawk’s novels about future times. Most include much or a little about the effect of a changed climate on the future worlds.

      Now I must check out the novella you discuss, and hope that I will soon be reading yours. Thank you for the presentation.

      • John Foran, UC Santa Barbara says:

        Thanks, Sara, for this comment. I would love to see cli-fi played out on stage, so please do go for it!
        I would also note that “Oxford historian Theodore Faron” is intriguing as his last name is an anagram for my own. I am not, thankfully, “apathetic toward a future without a future.”

    • Laurence Marty says:

      Dear John,
      Thank you for organizing this conference, thank you for really thinking about realistic and hopeful climate futures narratives, thank you to move boundaries about what we can do as social sciences researchers, and finally, thank you for inspiring me so much.
      It was such an event to read the « Imagining and Creating Just Climate Futures » call for papers when I was really needing to explore fictions. And it was an other event to discover how much this concern about climate fictions, based on your work as sociologist, is central in your e as it is in mine. I hope « Three fragments » would be inspiring for your novella project. I’m increasingly thinking about how to integrate projections in my PHD. And I know that I will for sure continue with this idea to explore different points of view / affected positions around climate change (with fictions or not).
      To try to bring something to your novella at this point, I will just say something from an European perspective where social movements seem to be built differently than in US. Indeed, we do not have so wide grassroots coalitions which integrate climate issues in their concerns. Actually, most part of the French climate justice movement would like to build movement as this one, and try to translate this US pattern, with ups and downs… But it seems that other social and political forces (around work especially) are more powerful. That’s why maybe I’m a bit sceptical about the idea that change will come from a global climate justice movement (even if I try to participate to build it in my activism !). In this perspective, I was wondering if you could advice me any references on these wide kind of (climate) coalitions in US, and in other parts of the world, especially about how these movements are built practically.
      With gratitude,

    • Jeffrey Santa Ana, Stony Brook University says:

      Hi John,

      Thank you for your presentation. I admire you for wanting to write a novella in the climate fiction genre. I am presently teaching an undergraduate climate fiction course called Environmental Crisis Literature. We’ve read Oreskes and Conway’s The Collapse of Western Civilization, which enlightened and disturbed my students. And then we read Roy Scranton’s Learning to Die in the Anthropocene, which really provoked strong reactions among my students because they interpreted his discussion of violence as his advocating violence to encourage a revolution against what he calls fossil-fuel capitalism. But two books so far have really moved my students and allowed them to see how the vast scale of climate change can be grasped within the realm of human understanding and imagination. These two books are M. Jackson’s While Glaciers Slept: Being Human in a Time of Climate Change and Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior. Both books have spoken powerfully to my students because they frame an apparently unimaginable climate change within the personal. For Jackson, a doctoral student of earth science and glaciology, the immense loss from climate change is comprehensible within the realm of mourning for her parents who tragically die from cancer within two years of each other. For Kingsolver, reckoning with climate change and species extinction (specifically, the extinction of monarch butterflies in the novel) is understandable within the realm of caring about the female protagonist, Dellarobia Turnbow, and her struggle to develop a distinct voice and connect with the world outside her farming community in Tennessee. Dellarobia also allows herself to experience romance on her own terms, not according to what’s conventional or socially acceptable for a working class white woman in a farming community. The students especially liked these two books because they make climate change tangible and comprehensible through the human experiences of mourning the death of loved ones (Jackson’s narrative) and experiencing love and self-care in connection to and recognition of the world outside one’s local place (Kingsolver’s novel). Therefore, I definitely think you should include in your novella human experiences like romance (love) and mourning. These experiences are central to environmentalist narratives that I really like such as Sinha’s Animal’s People, Ghosh’s The Hungry Tide, and Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction. By the way, have you read Ghosh’s The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable? One of Ghosh’s main points is that the novel has not been able to represent the vast geographic scale of climate change nor the long durée of the Anthropocene because the novel traditionally has been about the “regularity of bourgeois life” (58). He writes, “Within the mansion of serious fiction, no one will speak of how the continents were created; nor will they refer to the passage of thousands of years: connections and events on this scale appear not just unlikely but also absurd within the delimited horizon of a novel–when they intrude, the temptation to lapse into satire, as in Ian McEwan’s Solar, becomes almost irresistible” (61-62). I guess human experiences like romance, love, grieving, and mourning would be considered intrinsic to the regularity of bourgeois life, but, as it’s been for my students, these experiences definitely allow us to grasp the spatial and temporal scales of climate change in ways that make climate change very present and tangible.

      Thanks again for your work and your presentation!
      Jeff Santa Ana

  4. Jeremy Lent, Liology Institute says:

    Thank you, Laurence, for your sensitive portrayal of the real effects of climate change on what feel like real human beings. I was especially struck by your first portrayal of a lignite coal miner in Germany. It’s so important for those of involved in the climate movement to be able to empathize with the worldview and values of people directly impacted by the tumult of the times, who don’t understand so clearly what is happening or why, and are true victims of the global capitalist system without even realizing it. You did a great job in humanizing that side of the conflict.

    • Laurence Marty says:

      Dear Jeremy,
      Thank you for your comment. I am really happy the Three Fragments create empathy. And it seems the first one is particularly interesting (at least for you and Sandra !), because it helps to include visions and people that we tend to put aside.
      And thank you for your video. I really love the “intrinsic connectedness” idea and I also think it is a key issue (if you have one or two references on the topic from your perspective it could be really interesting for me !). And I also really like the moment about “the non-linearity for change”, especially the “widespread adoption” and the inevitable “it was inevitable”. It gives me hope !
      Your video also raises a question, connected perhaps to the lignite coal miner in Germany in the Three Fragments : I had some troubles with the moment about the three subcultures (traditionals, moderns, and cultural creatives) because in a way it divides people between the good guys and the bad guys where as connections and edges are much more interesting (as you say yourself !).

      • Jeremy Lent, Liology Institute says:

        That’s a great point, Laurence, about the “othering” of the traditional segment of the population in my presentation. In our current Trump-dominated electoral horror show, it’s especially important to find ways to reach out to those who are alienated––exactly as you modeled in your lignite coal miner segment.

        For an exploration our “intrinsic connectedness,” I’d recommend Thomas Berry’s “The Great Work: Our Way Into the Future” if you don’t already know it. Also, my own nonprofit Liology Institute offers an alternative integrated worldview, combining systems thinking with traditional wisdom as a set of foundational values for the Great Transformation. There’s more on it at––you might find it interesting.


  5. ccbowman says:

    Dear viewers,

    I want to join my panel-mates in thanking you so much for taking the time to watch our presentations. If you have any questions regarding my talk (“Changing the Narrative”), please let me know. I will preliminarily acknowledge that in writing my paper, I left many facets of climate change out with the hopes of containing my talk to a digestible 15 minutes. As such, I tried to focus predominantly on potentially positive developments in response to climate change’s challenges, at the obvious expense of the more painful challenges that are to come (essentially, doing precisely the opposite of what Oreskes and Conway did in their article). With that in mind, I welcome questions of any sort, and will strive to engage with them to the best of my ability.


  6. Sandra Lindberg says:

    To the creators of Three Fragment: First, I want to share how I approach comments on creative work. I come from a background in Authentic Movement. Informed by that discipline, I will offer what I experienced as I viewed and listened to your videos. My hope is that you will find new ideas emerging for you as you learn about what I thought and felt.

    The word “Yes!” kept showing up as I watched the first video about the lignite coal miner. Right now I am working on an article about this idea of Just Transitions. I want to talk to workers about what they are experiencing as they live in the midst of this transition time. “True!” I also thought, when I heard the miner say that no one ever talks to the workers. I wasn’t exactly comfortable, but I was curious as the miner challenged me to see the beauty he saw as he looked at the mining site. I felt new connections happening in that little section.

    The second piece about those occupying the proposed airport land sent my mind’s eye back to the photos and videos of the peace camps in North Dakota that have filled my days recently. This deep sadness poured in like a flood when the woman talked about the psychological violence she and her friends had experienced. So much attention has focused on the physical violence being experienced by the First Nation people trying to stop the oil pipeline that little attention is being paid to the psychological effects. I remembered as I watched this second video of yours that one Native woman said that everyone in the North Dakota camps had begun to suffer from PTSD symptoms: flashbacks, anxiety, avoidance, anger. I also felt myself admiring the woman speaking in the video who could talk about anti-speciesism and feminism even as she shared her feelings. I admired what felt complex and balanced to me.

    The third video filled me with visual questions. I wanted to understand more what was happening to the very white people moving through a natural landscape. Then I found that I’d missed something shared by the speaker because I was concentrating so hard to make out what the figures were doing. So I felt a little conflict there. The part of the video that was so vivid for me was the section when the woman described how the gated communities were going to build a route with fences on either side so people could travel to another gated community. I almost laughed out loud at that image! I was so interested and felt so easy in the company of the woman talking in the video that I couldn’t imagine why anyone in the gated community would feel the need for a fence! The absurdity of that hit me strongly.

    I felt after watching/listening to all three videos that I would have been happy to spend much more time with these people. Thank you.

    • Laurence Marty says:

      Dear Sandra,
      Thank you so much for your comment and the inspiring method you used to write it.
      As you did, I will answer on the points that particularly touched me when I was reading you.
      The first moment was when you say how you were not comfortable with the idea of the beauty of the mine. Indeed, I choose to emphasize this point because it stuck me when we entered into the pit last may to block it : I was completely fascinated by the power (and the magnificence!) of the area, even if I was thinking at the same time that I cannot love this landscape of destructions. Maybe because it looks like mountains, maybe because of the giant dimensions of everything, maybe because energy infrastructures are forbidden places, maybe all of that. It was such a disturbing experience..
      The second moment was when you write you suffer the same invisibilisation of psychological violences in the North Dakota movement even if they have terrible effects… Many friends and I get traumatized by the first eviction attempt of the zad in 2012, and write the second fragment was a way to deal with my fears and anxieties when the State was really threatening to try to evict again this October. With some friends we are still exploring ways to deal with these kind of violences with collective support and care and some of them organized places especially on these issues in activist camps and occupied zones ! And I realize it was a key idea on the second fragment : we can organize to protect from these violences, we have to.
      Finally, I just wanted to give you an answer about the “very white people” in the third fragment. I found these images on Internet by searching “thermal camera” and “crossing borders”. It is inspired directly from a recent French documentary « La mécanique des flux »By Nathalie Loubeyre about European borders. Frontex, the company paid by European Union to watch borders used these cameras which literally transform refugees in hunting targets… It is frightening.

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