Jewish literary theorist coins ‘cli fi’ genre term for climate change awareness
Danny Bloom grew up in western Masschusetts in the 1950s,
studied Jewish ideas under Rabbi Samuel Dresner, was bar-mitvahed in
1962 under the cantorial direction of Cantor Morty Shames and then
started travelling. France, Israel, Greece, Italy, Alaska and Japan.
Now he’s 65 and
working on what he calls a very Jewish project, Jewish because it
comes out of ideas and values about having a vision and being a
dreamer that he picked up on his way to becoming a bald, goateed
Bloom lives in Asia now working as a public relations writer and doing
his best as a climate activist to push a new literary genre to the
fore. He calls it “cli fi,” from the earlier sci fi term, and it
stands for climate fiction novels and movies.
It’s more than just a daydream or an idle thought. Cli fi is actually
catching on with the likes Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood backing
the idea and a host of newspapers and websites agreeing that its time
Wired magazine discusses it on page 33 of its December 2013 issue in the Jargon Watch corner edited by Jonathon Keats.
Post-Sandy and post-Haiyan, cli fi literature resonates as a literary
term, Bloom says, adding that promoting the genre is ”now my life’s
work, come what may.”
Earlier this year, two major news outlets in the U.S. and
Britain, NPR (National Public Radio) and the Guardian, ran stories
about the term. While some
commentators have said it is a new genre, others have said it is just
a subgenre of science fiction.
NPR put it this way: “Over the past decade, more and more writers have
begun to set their novels and short stories in worlds, not unlike our
own, where the Earth’s systems are noticeably off-kilter. The genre
has come to be called climate fiction — cli fi, for short.”
British writer Rodge Glass noted in his piece in the Guardian that the
literary world is now witnessing the rise of cli fi worldwide.
After the NPR and Guardian news stories went through the usual social
media stages of tweets and retweets, a literature professor at the
University of Oregon, Stephanie LeMenager, announced that she had
created a seminar that she will teach early next year titled “The
Cultures of Climate Change” using the cli fi theme as a main theme of
Bloom says that cli fi is a broad category, and it can apply to
and movies that take place in the present or the future, or even in
the past. And cli fi novels can be dystopian in nature, or utopian, or
just plain ordinary potboiler thrillers.
With carbon dioxide emissions in terms of parts per million (ppm) now
hovering at around 400ppm, cli fi writers have their work cut out for
them, Bloom says.
Post-Sandy and now post-Haiyan, there has never been a more opportune
time than now to
pay attention to the emergence of this newly-minted literary genre dubbed
“cli fi.” Not sci fi, but cli fi — for ”climate fiction” novels.
From Barbara Kingsolver’s “Flight Behavior” to Nathaniel Rich’s “Odds
Against Tomorrow,” and with over 300 novels already on a growing list,
including some that take a contrarian view of global warming,
cli fi novels are increasingly becoming a part of the literary
landscape. Short stories, novels, movies: cli fi is an apt term for
what’s coming down the road year by year as the 21st Century heads
towards the 22nd Century — in terms of coming to grips with climate
change and global warming issues, and from various points of view as
In “State of Fear,” Michael Crichton’s 1994 cli fi novel, the author
used his story to criticize climate activists and dissed global
warming as a non-issue. Bloom says all points of view are welcome in
the cli fi stable, even though he himself does not agree with
”Just as sci fi has had a variety of themes and practicitioners, cli fi
novels cannot be bundled into one convenient bookstore shelf. In fact,
like Al Gore’s documentary “An Inconvenient Truth,” cli fi novels will
also rest on authors’ individual perspectives, and not every author will toe the
line. That’s to be expected. Literature should be open to all.” he says.
But post-Sandy, and post-Haiyan, cli fi arrived in its own quiet way.
And the next
100 years, we will see more and more of this kind of
literature, Bloom says, adding that Hollywood movies will follow the
trend as well.
Expect cli fi movies like Jewish director Darren Aronofsky’s “Noah,” set in the
distant past of the Hebrew Bible story and scheduled for a March 2014 release
expect literary critics and academics to turn cli fi into a
Does cli fi have a
“Yes,” says the travelling PR man. “Yes.