Cli-Fi - Genre of the Twenty-First Century? Narrative Strategies in Contemporary Climate Fiction and Film

Research output: Chapter or section in a book/report/conference proceedingChapter or section


Climate change fiction has emerged as a new genre, dubbed ‘cli-fi’, which is characterised by a focus on human-induced global warming, and (in most cases) a desire to bring home to readers and cinema-goers the seriousness of its consequences and the need for urgent action. However, writers and critics alike have noted the unique challenges of representing climate change. This essay critically evaluates the strategies adopted to meet these challenges by American and German novelists and filmmakers. Disaster narratives and thrillers are the most commonly encountered forms of cli-fi. However, these bring with them genre expectations which tend to distort reality. With reference to the blockbuster film 'The Day After Tomorrow' and Michael Crichton’s bestselling novel 'State of Fear', four key problems in telling the story of climate change are illustrated: communicating scientific knowledge, making the spatial and temporal scale of climate change meaningful, doing justice to natural as well as human agency, and avoiding the implication through narrative closure that the problem has been solved. The essay ends by discussing Franz Friedrich’s novel, 'Die Meisen von Uusimaa singen nicht mehr' (On Uusimaa the Tits Have Stopped Singing), as an example of work taking an alternative, poetic and mythical approach to the subject. It argues that while no single form is without drawbacks, there are ways of mitigating these: narratives and tropes can serve as literary and filmic mechanisms to make climate change real for readers and viewers, and help society adapt to a more sustainable way of life.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationGreen Matters
Subtitle of host publicationEcocultural Functions of Literature
EditorsMaria Löschnigg, Melanie Braunecker
Place of PublicationLeiden and Boston
PublisherBrill | Rodopi
Number of pages22
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2019

Publication series

NameNature, Culture and Literature
PublisherBrill Rodopi


  • cli-fi, climate change novel, climate change film, genre, narrative strategy, The Day After Tomorrow, Michael Crichton, Franz Friedrich

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)


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