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Climate Change in Fiction: Views from the Present and Future - Draft

GraceNL's picture

Climate Change in Fiction: Views from the Present and Future

“Climate change is happening, humans are causing it, and I think this is perhaps the most serious environmental issue facing us.” –Bill Nye

            Climate change is one of the major issues facing humanity today. It is one of the most debated issues in American politics as well as around the world. Is it really a problem? What can be done to stop or fix it? Can we stop or fix it?

            In both fiction and non-fiction writing climate change has become a prevalent topic. While authors will write for different purposes in different ways one of the key factors that often remains is that humans actions are one of the mains reasons behind climate change and that in order to remedy or stop climate change a change in human actions are needed. For authors such as Elizabeth Kolbert, Naomi Oreskes, and Erik M. Conoway climate change is indeed a pressing issue.

            In Kolbert’s “The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History” and Orskes/Conoway’s “The Collapse of Western Civilization” the effects of climate change are discussed and interpreted. Both books look at the effect humans have on the environment, climate change, and what we are doing that hurt/helps the environment. While Kolbert’s piece focuses on the effect of climate change on non-human systems and organisms, Orsekes/Conway’s piece focuses on the effect of climate change on humans and human political and economic structures. Kolbert’s piece is a non-fiction scientific work written about and in the present while Orsekes/Conway’s piece is scientific fiction written from the future looking back at present day and present-future. By focusing on the present day and the immediate effects of climate change on the environment and organisms within it Kolbert’s “The Sixth Extinction” is more effective in instigating a response from readers than Oreskes/Conway’s “The Collapse of Western Civilization”.






Kolbert vs. Oreskes/Conway



Non-fiction, like a research report


Looking at problems of present

Looking from the future as a history of the present and present-future



Looking at individual organisms/species

Looking at overall climate, politics, and economics

Environment and species of animals

Politics and economics

Scientific facts

Scientific facts and made-up facts

Exploring what people are currently doing to help the environment and animals

Looing back at what people did wrong in terms of climate change, focusing on big picture

Sixth Extinction

Overall climate change

Humans cause climate change

Humans cause climate change



Frogs, graptolites, birds

Politics, economics

Zoos and Frozen Zoos












Anne Dalke's picture

you start with a catalogue of interesting comparisons--
* Kolbert focuses on the effect of climate change on non-human systems and organisms, while

*Oreskes/Conway look @ its effect on humans and human political and economic structures;

* Kolbert’s piece is non-fiction science set in the present, while

* Oreskes/Conway’s is scientific fiction written "from the future."

we can talk about this more thoroughly during your conference this week, but i'd like to nudge you away from the 'book review' approach of judging which approach is more 'effective' [how can you say? how do you know about readers' responses? are you going to conduct a survey? or just generalize from your own?] i'd ask you to think more, instead, about why oreskes might have moved away from science --what are the limits of conveying scientific information? why hasn't it been effective? for starters, you might look again @ the interview included in the back of oreskes' book, as well as @ this article,

. "A Chronicler of Warnings Denied: Naomi Oreskes Imagines the Future History of Climate Change." The New York Times: Science. Oct. 27, 2014.