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How about a Cli Fi novel about fracking?

Published September 21. 2013 09:00AM


Our most faithful fan does not live in Lehighton or Jim Thorpe or Tamaqua, or anywhere in the hard coal region.

No, he lives on the other side of the world. Dan Bloom is a freelance writer and ex-patriot, who resides in Taiwan where, he says, he is "buffeted around by Pacific typhoons every summer." Maybe that's why he worries a lot about climate change.

Of late Dan has become enamored by Climate Fiction, or Cli Fi as a growing fan base has dubbed it. According to Wikipedia, "Cli-fi (or 'cli fi') is short for climate fiction. Cli-fi novels and films are often set in either the present or the near or distant future, but they can also be set in the past.

While cli-fi does not necessarily infer a belief in the science of climate change, many cli-fi works raise awareness about the major threats that climate change and global warming present to life on Earth. Some cli-fi novels support the views of climate change skepticism."

The Wiki Wizards go on to attest, "The term 'cli-fi' was popularized by climate activist Danny Bloom beginning in 2007 and by Wired reporter Scott Thill in 2010." Dan remains a tireless advocate of the genre. Following last week's column, in which I compared myself to a Portobello, Dan wrote to me, "God does love mushrooms. BTW, any chance of a JIM/ CLAIRE story one day soon on CLI FI as new climate fiction literary term pro and con, does it work maybe for SANDY ANNIVERSITY ONE YEAR LATER?"

Well, Dan, here's your wish granted… sort of. While the Wiki story credits you with launching the Cli Fi movement in 2007, I feel I must give credit where it is also due.

I refer to the late, great Sci Fi writer Michael Crichton. In 2004 - not long before his untimely death - Crichton published "State of Fear." The novel's premise is that eco-terrorists plot mass murder to support their apocalyptic views. These villains are in league with the fictional National Environmental Resources Fund, which is determined to hang onto its funding base of wealthy philanthropists. To keep these donors engaged, they contrive to cause eco-disasters. They also knock off scientists who dare to espouse research results that contradict global-warming theories.

Crichton's story wasn't very PC, I'm afraid, Daniel. In a postscript to his long yarn, Crichton wrote:

"I have been reading environmental texts for three years…. I have had the opportunity to look at a lot of data, and to consider many points of view. I conclude:

• We know astonishingly little about every aspect of the environment….

• Atmospheric carbon dioxide is increasing, and human activity is the probable cause….

• We are also in the midst of a natural warming trend that began about 1850….

• Nobody knows how much of the present warming trend might be a natural phenomenon.

• Nobody knows how much of the present warming trend might be man-made….

• We cannot hope to manage a complex system such as the environment through litigation….

• We desperately need a nonpartisan blinded funding mechanism to conduct research to determine appropriate policy."

Nine years have passed since Crichton wrote those words and his highly irreverent Cli Fi thriller. A lot more research funding has flowed over the federal dam and a lot more research has been conducted.

Though the weight of the data seems to push hard for the conclusion that global warming is real and man-made, the doubters persist. Others - and I admit to being in their ranks - argue that, while global warming is a man-made fact, America's chance at energy independence outweighs the risks of weather change.

North America is the carbon kingdom of the planet and many of us believe that we should be exploiting the heck out of Canadian oil sands, Ohio/Pennsylvania fracking fields, hard and soft coal mines, and the resurrection of old oil fields via new technologies.

Guess that makes me a candidate for the villain in a future Cli Fi novel, Danny. Feel free to do your worst.


The simple fact that we live in a world where there are still people who don't "believe" in climate change - like, say, one might not believe in unicorns - leads me to firmly believe that we are all in major trouble.

But I'm not going to give a lecture on the intricacies of global warming, because I have a feeling that would futile. Instead, I'm going to skip right ahead to some worst-case scenarios, as presented by what I now deem "SyFy CliFi," a new genre of film involving the SyFy channel and a spate of films they've recently screened.

First off, we have "Sharknado." Perhaps you can infer the plot of this movie from the title: it's about a tornado… filled with sharks. Yes, you read that correctly. Sharks glide around California, powered by severe tornadoes, eating up surfers in single, flying bites. The cause of these intense tornadoes? Global warming.

Then there's "Arachnoquake." In this flick, huge earthquakes in New Orleans release gigantic spiders onto the general populace. The twist? The earthquakes were caused by fracking.

It all sounds completely ridiculous, but the science behind these films is real. (Well, the part about global warming causing more powerful hurricanes and fracking wastewater injection causing earthquakes… not the part about tornadoes being strong enough to pick up sharks and fly them around the world.) And for some reason, the public eats this stuff up.

"Sharknado" quickly picked up steam and became a veritable hit; you can find it at any Target or Walmart, which is a big deal for a channel whose movies usually go straight to oblivion, not DVD.

But why? Why do we love to see our world torn apart, again and again, whether it be in apocalypse movies, or Cli Fi films, or in print fiction? Is it because, deep down, we don't believe this stuff could ever happen? Or because, deep down, we do, and seeing it on film trivializes it, sets us apart from it, to a certain extent?

I'm new to this whole "Cli Fi" idea, so I don't have any answers. My only hope is that Climate Fiction does more, on the whole, to educate than to trivialize. Shark tornadoes may never be a real threat, but it's possible that there are even scarier things on the horizon.

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