Cli-Fi: Eco-Disasters and Electric Sheep

Last month I wrote about eco-disaster as a form of entertainment and its lack of spirituality. While conducting some research I came upon a news story from the University of Copenhagen of a thesis defense that argued environmental disaster fiction prepare us or inform our imaginations on potential climate change disasters.

Gregers Andersen PhD, using the term ‘Cli-Fi’ (coined by climate activist Danny Bloom) for the genre, is quoted in the university news piece, “We use these films and novels to imagine what life and society might be like in a future when global warming has dramatically changed our world because, as opposed to numbers and statistics, fiction can make us feel and understand the changes.”

Andersen importantly diversified the spectrum of experiences created by the Cli-Fi he studied breaking them down into five themes: social breakdown of civilization, nature judges man, establishment conspiracy, loss of nature’s aesthetics and mankind developing technology to survive disasters.

Also, Andersen hit on something with fiction adding punch to our understanding potential ecological disasters. Only when rendered in print or pixels does disastrous consequence come to life, even if briefly.

An example of fiction’s power to portray ecological themes is a scene from 1968’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? In Phillip K. Dick’s novel the extinction level of animal life is vividly portrayed by the character of Rick Deckard encountering a wildlife menagerie collected at astronomical costs.

In the scene, Deckard is transfixed by an owl, long time symbol of wisdom and mystery, “For a long time he stood gazing at the owl, who dozed on its perch. A thousand thoughts came into his mind, thoughts about the war, about the days when owls had fallen from the sky; he remembered how in his childhood it had been discovered that species upon species had become extinct and how the papers had reported it each day- foxes one morning, badgers the next, until people had stopped reading the perpetual animal obits.”

Deckard longs for a real owl and sees a raccoon for the first time. He understands a clearing house has been created for the sale of once mundane now exotic animals and loathes the synthetic sheep which he cares for, “the tyranny of an object,” as Dick wrote. The sharp loss of something like a raccoon seems insignificant considering they are often nuisance animals to suburbanites. They are pest dumpster divers to be trapped or poisoned. Yet remove them from the picture entirely, as Dick does, and the raccoon becomes as precious and invaluable.

Perhaps our every day lives keep us preoccupied or blind to the news of climate change, disasters or extinctions. Or perhaps we retain an pre-Copernican view, where we are the center of the universe, the Earth merely a vehicle for our corporeal form to bide time until an after life? Potential disasters are as inexplicable or mysterious as the minute tweaks and changes of Darwin’s Evolution. And no fiction or scientific lecture will change minds.

The complete press release on Andersen’s thesis defense can be read here.

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