Fern

Case Studies of Climate Stories in Action

In this article

TV
Films
Novels
Case studies contributed by guest writers

We’re tackling climate head-on in the current season of Grey’s Anatomy. We’re tackling the heatwave that happened [in 2021] and have these comments about climate change that we’ve seeded through the script. It’s the first time we’ve addressed climate change specifically, but this is so important.

Zoanne Clack, MD and executive producer, Grey’s Anatomy

For the last century, television and film have served as society’s cultural connective tissue. Whether it’s coming home at the same time every night to watch The Mary Tyler Moore Show, debating the latest Game of Thrones fan theories at the watercooler, or spending long hours on a Marvel Cinematic Universe fandom Discord server, on-screen storytelling creates community and shared experiences that can bridge the widest divides—and sometimes even help to close them.

This isn’t just wishful thinking! Star Trek introduced more than the Vulcan salute and William Shatner’s speech patterns to the masses: Nichelle Nichols’s depiction of a Black female bridge officer was groundbreaking in a time when Black women rarely had speaking roles on-screen, let alone wielded authority. Though the significance has lessened with time, the Russian Chekov being among the Enterprise’s trusted crew also had a massive impact on Cold War audiences. And speaking of the Cold War, just look at Dr. Strangelove, a comedy about nuclear armageddon released less than two years after the Cuban Missile Crisis that somehow, impossibly, got Americans of all stripes to laugh together at their own existential terror (and won a bunch of Oscars in the process).

A study by UCLA’s Skoll Center for Social Impact Entertainment explored the sitcom Will & Grace, which premiered in 1998 and averaged 17.3 million weekly viewers during its heyday. Researchers talked to people before and after watching Will & Grace and found that watching the show “reduced people’s prejudice the more they watched it and the more they felt positive about the characters.” Sixty-five percent also felt that Jack, one of few openly gay main characters on-screen at the time, offered a refreshing take on “normal” depictions of masculinity. Representation: it works!

The climate emergency is still looking for its Will & Grace (story seed: two gay glaciers . . . never mind). Since scientists first observed the crisis, the most impactful pieces of climate scripted media, like Roland Emmerich’s The Day After Tomorrow, have been the ones that brought much-needed attention and credence to the climate crisis, even as they were criticized for muddying climate science.

Today, there is some brilliant climate storytelling happening in some of the most successful and lucrative shows and films—but we need more. What follows are examples of climate storytelling in films, TV, and novels that are already out there. Some of these contain full-on climate-driven plots, some are brief mentions, and some are awesome experiments in facing reality through fiction.

Rights to some of the novels we’ll list later have already been swept up (because people want this!), but others are still available and would make awesome adaptations—just sayin’! And if you want other ideas for adaptation, head on over to Grist’s climate short story collection, or sign up for Amy Brady’s cli-fi newsletter.

TV

Insecure (HBO)
Season four, episode eight, “Lowkey Happy”
Written by: Natasha Rothwell
Climate connection (mention): Annoyed that her Lyft driver is interrupting her reunion with Lawrence, Issa tries to shut down the conversation by lying that she’s from Alaska. The Lyft driver says it must be cold up there, to which Issa replies, “Nah, climate change.” Later in the episode, she’s riffing with Lawrence about a climate crisis–themed Bourne movie: “Warm Identity. It’s gonna be fire!” They immediately walk back the joke: “No but actually I am really concerned about climate change.” The third and subtler climate beat concludes the episode—when Issa is walking home, the camera pans up and over Los Angeles, with a view of the oil field, pumping and pumping. In the context of the earlier jokes, perhaps this is signaling that, while we’re all wrapped up in our own personal and romantic dramas, this harmful system continues churning.

Succession (HBO)
Season one, episode five, “I Went To Market”; season two, episode eight, “Dundee”; season three, episode five, “Retired Janitors of Idaho”
Written by: Jesse Armstrong, Georgia Pritchett, Susan Soon He Stanton; Jesse Armstrong, Mary Laws, Alice Birch; Jesse Armstrong, Tony Roche, Susan Soon He Stanton, Jamie Caragher
Climate connection (mention): In season one, Ewan gets mad at his brother Logan for his harmful and neglectful news channels, yelling at him, “Global warming, climate change, the blood of millions on your hands!” This is taken further in season two, when Ewan tries to get Greg to quit working for Logan: “He’s morally bankrupt. He’s a nothing man, who may well be more personally responsible for the death of this planet than any other single human being . . . In terms of the lives that will be lost by his whoring for the climate change deniers, there’s a very persuasive argument to be made that he’s worse than Hitler.” To Greg’s dismay, in season three, Ewan puts his climate fury into action by leaving his inheritance to Greenpeace. Greg reacts by announcing he’s going to sue Greenpeace (setting off a flurry of viewer donations to the org).

These mentions are a nod to the real-world consequences of the disinformation that Logan’s news organization spews. It also serves as a reminder to the viewer of the broader impacts we’re failing to notice when we grow absorbed in the family drama on-screen. We are rendered utterly complicit as we root for the bad guys.

Ted Lasso (Apple TV+)
Season two, episode three, “Do the Right-est Thing”
Written by: Ashley Nicole Black
Climate connection: Sam Obisanya, a young Nigerian soccer player who emerges as a team leader, is excited about an advertising gig he’s landed with one of his club’s sponsors, Dubai Air (a fictional airline). He sends his father a message, expecting congratulations, but his dad is disappointed, telling Sam that the airline’s parent company, Cerithium Oil (a likely stand-in for Shell, since “cerithium” is a genus of shell) is responsible for “destroying Nigeria’s environment and bribing government officials.” Sam decides not to be included in the ad. His entire team backs him up in a public protest on the field, using black tape on their jerseys to cover Dubai Air’s logo.

Grey’s Anatomy (ABC)
Season 18, episode three, “Hotter Than Hell”
Written by: Jamie Denbo
Climate connection: On one of the hottest days in Seattle’s history, based on the real-life heat wave that occurred in the Pacific Northwest in summer 2021, Grey Sloan’s entire air-conditioning system shuts down because it can’t handle the extreme weather—pointing to the IRL problem of systems and infrastructure that are woefully unprepared for climate change. Since the whole city is having the same problems, no one is available to come repair it.

The doctors are merely frustrated that they have to slog through the heat—until they realize that the HVAC controls the air-filtration system in the hospital and they can’t perform any surgeries without risking infection. Of course, this is the same day that the famous ob-gyn Dr. Addison Montgomery returns to the hospital to perform a groundbreaking uterus transplant surgery.

The whole staff is at a breaking point, sweating it out in the ORs, doing surgery at double speed, and fielding crazy rumors that Meredith, Addison, and Derek used to have threesomes. Plus, the babies in the NICU can’t regulate their own temperatures! As they work to fix the system themselves, they have to reckon with not only the unprecedented temperature, but also the heat-magnified emotions bubbling over.

ZOLA: Mom, why don’t we have air-conditioning?
MEREDITH: Because we live in Seattle!
AMELIA: I thought Gen Z was all about climate conservation?

Reservation Dogs (FX)
Season one, episode three, “Uncle Brownie”
Written by: Sterlin Harjo, Taika Waititi, Sydney Freeland
Climate connection: Reservation Dogs is about teenage angst, friendship, father issues, suicide, and Flaming Flamers hot chips, as a group of Indigenous teenage friends try to raise money (legally and not-so-legally) to escape to California. It is a meditation on home and loss.

But to quote cultural ecologist Ameyalli Mañon-Ferguson, “You cannot combat climate change without centering Indigenous people.”

LandBack is an important and necessary climate solution, and a movement that has been going on for decades, that is subtly woven throughout the season. It is mentioned directly when an older white couple is driving by a billboard with “LandBack” scrawled across it. The husband asks, “They mean the whole damn thing? They want the whole damn thing back? . . . That’s just not possible. I could see some of it back. You reckon that’s what they mean? Some of it back? Or all the damn thing?” Cultural disconnects and stereotypes are consistently pointed to and undermined, but never given the full spotlight, which is always trained on the kids, their families, and their immediate, personal issues.

Monsterland (Hulu)
Season one, episode four, “New York, New York”
Written by: Wesley Strick
Climate connection: (ALERT! Spoilers for the season up ahead!) Using religious allegory and very literal monsters, this episode of Monsterland follows a CEO of an oil company responsible for a massive oil spill in the Gulf, who has to contend with his role in the environmental disaster. It takes a cold, hard look at the people and decision-making behind the fossil fuel industry, questioning who is actually to blame for major spills and the other environmental crises that result. In their quest to learn who is truly responsible for not only this oil spill, but the entire climate crisis, characters are literally and figuratively torn apart. The CEO falls ill and becomes possessed by Joseph, Jesus’s father, who exclaims that it isn’t the devil that has caused the world’s problems, it’s humans who do the dirty work and blame God for the consequences. The CEO’s body bursts open and a huge, oil-covered pelican-monster flies out of his stomach and off to terrorize the city. Meanwhile, the CEO’s assistant feels guilty for the oil spill and all its fallout; the episode ends with his partner trying to encourage him to take action, despite his sense that it’s too late: the monster has already escaped and is wreaking havoc on the world.

“So you broke the world, you built it. Besides, they love their BMWs and plastic straws so fucking much they’re never going to kill you for real. They just want to sharpen their axe, so they can sleep at night.”

Years and Years (HBO, BBC One)
Written by: Russell T. Davies
Climate connection: Years and Years is a grounded sci-fi series that follows the Lyons family as they traverse political, economic, technological, and environmental upheaval in the UK between 2019 and 2029. The threat of the climate crisis is embedded throughout. The show kicks off with Trump setting off a nuclear bomb. One of the Lyons sisters is directly exposed to the fallout, leading to later health problems. By the year 2028, the UK is getting soaked by 80 consecutive days of rain thanks to the climate crisis. The characters mention that bananas don’t exist anymore and chocolate is a rarity. Despite these events seeming like catastrophes to us viewers in the present, the characters are used to such changes and barely notice them. They press on with their lives the same way we do with the current state of the climate crisis. Years and Years is filled with heart-wrenching losses for the Lyons family, but it ultimately shows that we will keep on keeping on—finding ways to survive and build community.

The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu)
Written by: Bruce Miller, based on the novel by Margaret Atwood
Climate connection: In the dystopian world of Gilead, formerly the US, a totalitarian government controls the lives of women. The instability started with environmental disaster due to the climate crisis and nuclear fallout, conditions that left a large population of the women in the US infertile. This destabilization created the perfect opportunity for privileged men to take control. Women aren’t allowed to own property, read, or handle money, and many are forced to bear children for the infertile, wealthy elite. Gilead prioritizes eco-friendly actions like banning plastic, driving electric cars, etc., but only because the state is trying to prevent further infertility. In this story world, environmental action becomes a cover to force women to “sacrifice” themselves for the “good of the whole nation,” ultimately benefiting men and the elite.

The Morning Show (Apple TV+)
Season one, episode six, “Natural Disaster”
Written by: Kristen Layden
Climate connection: The backdrop of this episode is the Woolsey Fire of 2018, which grabbed the nation’s attention because of its proximity to LA and the mansions of Malibu. Fred, the wealthy head of the network, who has a house in Malibu, barks orders for his horses to be saved from the flames. He also orders Alex and Bradley to fly to LA to cover the fires in order to distract from Mitch and the allegations against him. Neither Alex nor Bradley wants to be there, holed up in a dingy motel while fires rage around them. As they prep their stories, Bradley suggests they cover how the wealthy are hiring private firefighters to save their homes, taking help away from others. An overwhelmed Alex agrees to the story to make peace with Bradley—but Fred gets angry because the story calls him out for saving his own mansion. This stressful time leads to a bonding moment for Alex and Bradley as their external and internal chaos comes to a head, burning up some of the tension that previously crackled between them.

One Day at a Time (Netflix, POP)
Season four, episode four, "One Halloween at a Time"
Written by: Vincent Brown
Climate connection: On Halloween evening, Elena and Syd emerge dressed up as climate activist Greta Thunberg and a melting glacier: “We’re Thunberg and iceberg!” Elena’s grandmother Lydia assumes that they’re going out trick-or-treating, but the teens are planning a different kind of trick: people will answer the door assuming they’re trick-or-treaters, but they’ll use the opportunity to collect signatures and raise awareness of climate change. Instead of asking for candy, they’ll drop truth bombs: “Bam! Damage will be irreversible by 2030! Bam! Welcome to the insect apocalypse!” Lydia replies, “Bam! That is the sound of a door slamming in your face!” Their eagerness is played for laughs, but not their message or their sincerity. Showrunner Gloria Calderón Kellett said that it was easy to write climate action into the show because it was already so authentic to Elena’s character.

I May Destroy You (HBO, BBC One)
Season one, episode seven, “Happy Animals”
Written by: Michaela Coel
Climate connection: Arabella is broke. Her writing has (understandably) been sidetracked over and over again because of the trauma she’s dealing with. Desperate for work, she takes her friend Terry’s recommendation and starts making calls on behalf of an online store called Happy Animals, which points consumers toward ethical, vegan food and product choices. Happy Animals quickly realizes that Arabella has an online following and asks her to be a brand ambassador for them. At her best friend’s birthday party, Arabella’s friends have all seen her new Instagram posts for the company and call her out for supporting white people making money off of their privileged environmentalism. Arabella tries to brush it off, but ultimately agrees with them. Terry, who overhears this, feels guilty about her role in the situation and comes clean to Arabella that the white owners of the company give her a bonus for bringing in POCs to work there. Arabella tells her how messed up that is. The next time she films a live video for Happy Animals, she brings a bucket of real chicken and starts eating it on the live feed, creating a viral sensation that’s also a hilarious backfire for the company. Though it’s framed in a funny bit, this episode brings up a very important discussion about the intersections of climate and racial justice and the whitewashing of the environmental and vegan movements.

The Politician (Netflix)
Season two
Written by: Ian Brennan, Brad Falchuk, Ryan Murphy
Climate connection: The second season of the comedy The Politician follows Payton Hobart, the ruthlessly ambitious would-be high school president, through his run for New York State Senate while attending NYU. Payton’s campaign is centered entirely around addressing the climate crisis, which forces his opponent, Dede Standish, to defend her more conservative stance on the issue. The season introduces numerous climate issues and activist characters, none of which are ever sanitized or simplified to broad stereotypes of nagging tree huggers. Take Infinity, Payton’s friend who returns from season one and agrees to help with his new campaign—but only if he puts his money where his mouth is and actually commits to going totally zero-waste, like she has. Payton huffs about all the hassle, but guess what? He does it, and it’s not played for a cheap laugh. Andi and Jayne are the mother–daughter voter duo split between Payton and Standish: Andi tries to convince her daughter that the climate crisis is not the most urgent issue on the table right now—plus Standish has already done some great things for the environment! Jayne fires back that it “wasn’t enough,” and makes it clear that her generation has no choice but to prioritize the climate emergency—this is the world they were handed, and all the other issues will burn up along with the planet if someone doesn’t do something. When Payton is questioned straight-up if he actually cares about the climate crisis or is just using it for political gain, he honestly answers, “Why can’t it be both?”

Ragnarok (Netflix)
Written by: Adam Price
Climate connection: This Norwegian-language fantasy series is set in the fictional village of Edda, which is run by the Jutuls, a family of wealthy industrialists whose factories are poisoning the local water supply. When a teenage boy named Magne moves to the area, he learns that he is the reincarnation of the Norse god Thor, mythical powers and all. But he’s not the only person in Edda who is more than they appear: the Jutuls are actually jötnar, mythical Norse ice giants who loathe humanity and are happy to exploit natural resources for their own gain. Magne—along with the host of other reincarnated Norse gods he gathers—fights to demolish the Jutuls’ business and save the town from pollution. From the petrochemical facility right smack in the middle of Edda, to the barrels of toxic waste exposed when nearby glaciers melt, to the Jutuls receiving support from the Norwegian government because their factory creates jobs, the mythical battle between good and evil is always played out along the lines of the real-life climate struggle.

Big Little Lies (HBO)
Season two, episode three, "The End of the World"
Written by: David E. Kelley
Climate connection: Not only is this one of the very few storylines openly tackling climate anxiety, it also explores climate change’s psychological impact on children. Amabella, a six-year-old at an expensive private school, has a panic attack and passes out after her teacher gives a lesson on the climate crisis and its implications for the future. The teacher brings her to the ER and her neurotic, overstressed mother, Renata, engages a costumed therapist (kind of like an undercover cop) to figure out what caused her to pass out. Upon finding out the reason, Renata’s reaction is played for comedic effect: she storms into the principal’s office and threatens him and the teacher for “teaching kids the world is doomed.” When the principal tells her that they need to help the kids contextualize the climate news they see all day, she rants that she’ll “buy a fuckin’ polar bear for every kid in this school.”

While this isn’t the A-plot, it’s got some of the funniest lines and liveliest acting in the whole episode, and is an authentic representation of the fear and dread that children are facing. A number of positive and even grateful pieces were written in response to this storyline, proving that it struck a chord with audiences.

Abbot Elementary (ABC)
Season one, episode two, “Light Bulb”
Written by: Quinta Brunson
Climate connection (mention): When bully of a principal, Ava, enters the teachers’ lounge and announces, “February hotter than the devil’s booty all outside,” a teacher, Jacob, whips around to immediately say, “Climate change. We are living in the middle of its disastrous effects.” As he tries to continue, Ava interrupts him, calling him a nerd. While our climate warrior is indeed a nerd (in the most admirable way, as well as a deeply caring teacher), it’s the villain of the story who shuts him down, even as she suffers from the heat, flipping the old trope. And climate change is not forgotten in the other episodes—mentions are woven in, and it clearly exists in these characters’ lives.

Hacks (HBO Max)
Season one, episode eight, “1.69 Million”
Written by: Pat Regan
Climate connection (mention): Hacks follows two comedians: Deborah, a Las Vegas has-been who was once a legendary groundbreaker, and Ava, a millennial comedy writer trying to help Deborah update her material. The generational divide between them is explored throughout the series, with climate popping up as one contrast. When an old friend of Deborah’s makes a snide comment about millennials being too sensitive, Ava snaps back that the only things millennials can expect is expensive health care and “the planet ruined by ignoring climate change.” With a smile on her face, Ava adds that what they can really expect is their children running around a barren hellscape “sucking shriveled dicks for water or whatever.” It’s the way a lot of people her age are feeling about the climate crisis: with so much at stake, the only thing to do is . . . tell penis jokes.

Madam Secretary (CBS)
Season five, episode 16, “The New Normal”
Written by: Alexander Maggio
Climate connection: This show has a stellar track record for climate-centric episodes. One standout is an episode arc that dives into the moral and ethical dilemmas world leaders face as the effects of the climate crisis increasingly impact the lives of their constituents. Secretary of State Elizabeth McCord tries to work with the leader of a tiny island nation in Micronesia to evacuate the whole population before a massive storm destroys the island. Understandably, the islanders refuse to abandon their homes and sacred religious structures, especially at the behest of an outsider like Elizabeth. Their leader is also divided, wanting to save his people while also unsure whether he has the right to ask them to leave. In the end, the island is evacuated and the population is saved, but their home is decimated.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth’s theologian husband gives a talk on the climate crisis to a bunch of evangelical pastors. He mostly receives brush-offs and eye rolls, but the daughter of one pastor, Ruby, seems to absorb his message about protecting God’s creations. She struggles with whether or not to publicly come out in support of climate action, which would mean clashing with her father. Eventually, Ruby goes on TV and makes a poignant appeal to Christians to act on climate. It is left unresolved whether she’ll still be welcome in her father’s home afterward.

Together, these storylines explore how the climate crisis affects people on both macro and micro levels, placing pressure on relationships and identity and at the same time causing sweeping consequences for whole populations. And, as a little BTS tidbit, the character of Ruby was based on Good Energy’s very own Anna Jane Joyner!

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (FX)
Season 14, episode seven, “The Gang Solves Global Warming”
Written by: Rob McElhenney, Charlie Day
Climate connection: A heat wave has all of Philadelphia sweating, and the Gang have turned up the AC at Paddy’s Bar so people will come hang out there and save energy at home. When the ice machine breaks, Dee, who has already been lecturing everyone else about how little they’re contributing to the fight against the climate crisis, convinces Charlie to help her go pick up ice, rather than the more eco-unfriendly option of getting it delivered. Their many attempts to bring the ice back result in multiple rideshares, buses, and ruined shoes, as Dee keeps trying to do the “greenest” thing, but the ice keeps melting because it takes too long to get back to the bar. Meanwhile, the AC at the bar breaks down, which first leads to a sexy no-clothes dance party, but then turns into a riot when nobody will agree to ration the booze or stop dancing to keep the heat down. It’s a discourse on the tragedy of the commons and the way disaster has the potential to turn humans against each other—but with beer. By the time the bar finally empties out, Dee and Charlie have given up and gotten the ice delivered. Dee tries to post an Instagram story of her eco-friendly trip, but Charlie counters with a montage he created of all the times she messed up and took the easier way. In the end, the show repeatedly affirms the importance and urgency of the climate crisis, and the laughs come from watching flawed and wacky characters navigate a high-stakes issue with more than a little clumsiness.

The Affair (SHOWTIME)
Season five
Written by: Sarah Treem
Climate connection: The final season of The Affair presents two timelines: one in the present day and one in the future. The future storyline takes place in Montauk, 30 years after the end of the last season. Joanie, whose mother Alison died by suicide/drowning when she was a child, has grown up to become a climate scientist, transmuting the trauma of feeling abandoned by her mother into a drive to protect her native Montauk from climate destruction and sea level rise. Her arc explores the various ways she’s dealing with her past, including self-sabotage and dangerous maladaptive coping behaviors, and juxtaposes it with the damage done to Montauk by the climate crisis. Joanie’s story is tightly interwoven with climate, and the depression and pain from her mother’s death mingle with the helplessness she feels about the climate emergency. Joanie isn’t a perfect do-gooder, nor is she cynical; like many of us, she’s caught between caring so much that it hurts and wanting not to care at all.

Films

Woman at War (2018)
Written by: Benedikt Erlingsson, Ólafur Egilsson
Synopsis: Halla, a 50-year-old climate crusader who sprints as fast as Tom Cruise, is trying to take down a big Icelandic fossil fuel corporation—with a bow and arrow. Her dangerous mission is complicated when her application to adopt a child is finally approved after years of waiting.
Climate connection: The climate crisis is fully integrated into the story world of Woman At War, with a dry yet loving wit. When Halla distributes a manifesto about industrial crimes against the planet, it’s immediately twisted and undermined by the government. They create their own narrative, painting her as an extreme ecoterrorist who is driving up prices.

In this way, the film undermines the trope of the “ecoterrorist” by showing the very mechanism by which it is generated. This is so true to life: the fossil fuel industry demonizes and undermines the words of environmentalists every day through Twitter trolls and front groups.

Halla is anything but an ecoterrorist stereotype: she is a single choir teacher who has been wanting to adopt for years. She’s a tough, physically agile middle-aged woman. Her twin sister is also concerned about the environment, but her response to the crisis is the opposite of Halla’s: she believes that meditation is an act of healing.

The screenwriters also thread in Halla’s inherent privilege as a white woman: she is never quite a suspect, while a Spanish tourist in the wrong place at the wrong time is easily blamed for her crimes. Halla is unlike any other action hero we’ve ever seen.

Don’t Look Up (2021)
Written by: Adam McKay (screenplay by), David Sirota (story by)
Synopsis: In a clear metaphor for climate inaction, a comet is heading to Earth and no one is doing anything about it.
Climate connection: It is surreal and flabbergasting to live in a world where climate catastrophe is happening all around us, where we have a scientific consensus, and yet where our elected officials are not acting. This madness is driven home by Meryl Streep’s portrayal of a self-centered POTUS who cares more about her polling than saving her constituents’ lives, and by the egregious (but all too believable) decision to put tech interests ahead of human life.

We love how flawed the “heroes” are—like when Kate steals Xanax and gulps down glasses of wine at lunch to drown her anxiety, and has (very understandable) rage outbursts. Her relationship also falls apart because she’s facing and having to communicate about the end of the world while everyone else is acting like things are fine. Meanwhile, scientist Dr. Mindy is prone to panic attacks, cheats on his wife, and is wooed by fame and lust—hardly a straight-down-the-line hero. These characters are all trying their best, but they have no clue what to do, or how.

In a sense, “the public” also functions as a character. No finger is pointed directly at them—it’s pointed at those in power instead—but they are nonetheless complicit, as shown by the portrayal of those who are “for the jobs the comet will provide.”

The film also explores the moral complexity of staying close to corrupt power to try to change the system from the inside vs walking away so you don’t have to sacrifice your integrity.

The film’s website takes viewers on a journey toward climate action, and cast videos make the climate connection clear. And here’s Adam McKay talking about tackling climate through comedy.

Don’t Look Up is a love letter to climate scientists and activists, and it allows folks in the movement to feel seen. Timothée Chalamet’s prayer exemplifies the confusing blend of despair and courage we often feel: “We ask for Your grace tonight despite our pride, Your forgiveness despite our doubt . . . may we face whatever is to come in Your divine will with courage and open hearts of acceptance.” As activists and as writers, whatever happens, we, like Kate, are “grateful we tried.”

Snowpiercer (2013)
Written by: Bong Joon-ho, Kelly Masterson
Synopsis: On a luxury train zooming endlessly through a frozen, uninhabitable world, those forced to suffer and live in poverty in the back of the train attempt a rebellion.
Climate connection: The premise of Snowpiercer is rooted in climate catastrophe, magnified by human intervention. In a bid to solve the climate crisis, scientists released a new cooling chemical called CW7 into the atmosphere—but the effort backfired and the chemical froze the entire Earth. The only way to survive is to never leave the giant, self-sustaining train that has been circling the planet for 18 years. The train itself is a metaphor for the continuing inequity of the climate crisis, and how easily powerful people can take advantage of global chaos. The poorest passengers are relegated to the back of the train, eating cockroaches and being punished by guards, while at the front of the train, upper-class passengers live in luxury. The back of the train stages a revolt to change their status, emulating on a much smaller scale what could happen if we aren’t able to shift our actions to stabilize the climate and redress the injustices of the crisis.

Bonus moment in the film: the two characters that everyone writes off as drug addicts learned from an Inuit woman how to survive in the weather of the outside world (lesson: listen to Indigenous people about the climate crisis). Spoiler alert: they are the only ones who survive in the end.

WILFORD: Curtis, everyone has their preordained position, and everyone is in their place except you.
CURTIS: That's what people in the best place say to the people in the worst place.

Frozen II (2019)
Written by: Jennifer Lee
Synopsis: Elsa the Snow Queen has an extraordinary gift: the power to create ice and snow. But no matter how happy she is to be surrounded by the people of Arendelle, Elsa finds herself strangely unsettled. After hearing a mysterious voice call out to her, Elsa travels to the enchanted forests and dark seas beyond her kingdom—an adventure that soon turns into a journey of self-discovery. She and her sister Anna investigate their family’s history, which encompasses a deadly betrayal of the native people and an attempt to exploit the natural order of the forests and rivers they inhabited. If they want to save Arendelle and set right the mistakes of their family’s past, they’ll have to trust in their connection to the land, as well as to each other.
Climate connection: The filmmakers have said in their press tours that they were thinking about the rapidly heating planet as the film was being written and developed. While there’s no clear villain, everyone in the movie faces the same threat: environmental disasters from a world thrown out of whack. There’s also a theme of Indigenous wisdom as a way to respond to the crisis, developed in collaboration with Sami people. Characters like the cute, magical snowman Olaf articulate the feelings that come up about these events that are beyond their control. “This is fine,” Olaf says, as a hole suddenly appears in the ground in front of him. “I sense some rising anger,” he tells Anna, perhaps pointing to the emotions youth activists are feeling. (And this isn’t even the first Disney film that has integrated climate: Moana is about an adventurous teen who responds to threats to her people, inspired by Pacific Islanders’ struggle against the climate crisis.)

First Reformed (2017)
Written by: Paul Schrader
Synopsis: Ernst Toller, an alcoholic parson at a small, failing church in upstate New York, is grappling with personal grief and pain, as well as the trauma of the violence humans have done to the Earth and the resulting losses.
Climate connection: Toller’s church is being subsidized by a consumer-focused megachurch, making him feel like a failure. However, Toller still has parishioners, and one of them, Mary, asks for his help: her husband, Michael, a radical environmental activist, wants her to abort her new pregnancy because he can’t face the idea of bringing a baby into a world doomed by the climate crisis. Toller speaks to Michael and finds him resolute, while Mary discovers a suicide vest among his possessions. Toller heads to talk Michael out of using the vest, but he has already committed suicide. When Toller honors the dead man’s wishes for a funeral set at a toxic-waste dump, the leader of his church’s sponsor (who is connected to oil interests) criticizes him for “politicizing” the funeral. Toller goes down a rabbit hole as he follows Michael’s research, immersing himself in the horrors of climate change and human destruction of the Earth.

This film is concrete proof that climate stories can be told with as much beauty, poetry, and emotional depth as anything else. The least sympathetic character is the one who casts the climate crisis as a “political” issue. The film draws a direct line between climate change and religious faith, emphasizing how hope and despair are intimately intertwined in each.

The question “will God forgive us for what we’ve done to the Earth?” is never explicitly answered, but it is explored from both hopeful and discouraging points of view. Mary, who tried to save her husband’s life and will soon be a mother, represents life and the ability to exist through good and bad. Her husband’s choice to use the suicide vest, which belonged to Michael and which Toller contemplates using, might represent the desire for oblivion: not just death but the absence of hope. One is dynamic, one is static; one is full of potential, the other is its obliteration. The struggle of living in between the two, with full awareness of both the terrible future ahead and the possibility of love and joy in human connection, is at the heart of the film. As Toller advises, “Courage is the solution to despair. Reason provides no answers. I can’t know what the future will bring. We have to choose despite uncertainty. Wisdom is holding two contradictory truths in our minds simultaneously.”

Novels

Migrations (2020)
Written by: Charlotte McConaghy
Rights optioned by SunnyMarch (Benedict Cumberbatch to produce, Claire Foy to star)
Synopsis: Franny Stone is determined to follow what may be the last migration of Arctic terns from the Arctic to the Antarctic. To do so, she must work with the fishermen she blames for the loss of birds, do some illegal shit, and contend with unfathomable losses in her past.
Climate connection: In an undetermined near future, the world has suffered mass extinctions—monkeys, wolves, many species of birds: gone. This loss is felt and woven deeply into the characters of Franny and her bird-biologist husband.

As McConaghy puts it, instead of going big, she zeroed in on one implication of the climate crisis, asking: “How would it feel to be alone here? How would it feel to watch the animals fade away around us, to know that maybe the bird you just saw out the window might be the last bird you ever see?”

Franny’s grief over the loss of the terns is inextricable from her personal grief and trauma. When we meet Franny, she has lost her will to live. As she moves toward life, even amid this death and loss, the reader is moved to find resilience among our own rubble of climate grief.

And for resilience inspiration, we need look no further than the novel’s tough little birds that migrate from one pole to the other, even as both habitats are melting. Migrations is an intimate, emotional look at the crisis through an unforgettable character. Franny’s journey is a tribute to lost love, all the lost homes, and all the lost ways of life.

Something New Under the Sun (2021)
Written by: Alexandra Kleeman
Synopsis: Near-future Los Angeles has run out of water. But don’t worry, there’s plenty of bottled WAT-R: the synthesized, privatized stuff runs through every pipe, a monopoly embraced by California as a response to the drought. When Patrick, a middle-aged novelist relegated to PA on the film adaptation of his book, starts to question whether this movie is actually a front, he teams up with the film’s young, damaged star, Cassidy Carter, to uncover shady connections between the film producers and WAT-R. Meanwhile, around the city people start suffering from a “new kind of dementia”—could it be the “water”?
Climate connection: Wildfires rage, fresh water is simply no longer available, and economic inequity is magnified by lack of access to and quality of water. The looming threat of this new and scary dementia is a nod to the disconnect most of us so often inhabit: the psychic inability to address or see the scale of the damage our human systems have caused. The POV shifts in ways that put us uncomfortably close to—even inside—the heart of the fire, the toxic embers that weave around the characters.

Climate grief is given a spotlight through the characters of Patrick’s wife and daughter, who escape to a commune in the Northeast where every morning a eulogy is read for another extinct species.

And yet, the book is funny! The satirical tone rides a seesaw between playful and poignant. We’re reminded that it’s okay to laugh at the absurdity of the suicidal systems we’re trapped in—and that it’s also okay to weep.

“How can we metabolize the information we are given about climate change, how can we become less insulated, in mind and behavior, from the climate catastrophe that is already arriving? Literature doesn’t create direct change, but it can help us think through the impasses that keep us from organizing and taking action.”—Alexandra Kleeman, from Amy Brady’s newsletter, “Burning Worlds”

All the Birds in the Sky (2016)
Written by: Charlie Jane Anders
Synopsis: A witch, Patricia, and a science nerd, Laurence, were childhood besties, and when they find each other again in adulthood, they end up on opposing sides of the fight to “save the world.”
Climate connection: When Patricia and Laurence meet again in adulthood and their romance begins, climate disasters loom large, and they don’t realize how opposed they will be on the issue. Laurence works for the Ten Percent Project (funded by a billionaire), whose aim is to save 10 percent of humanity by sending them to space. While the witches are trying to heal people and defend nature, the scientists want to move those chosen humans off the planet before climate catastrophe hits. The tech guys see the Earth as a resource, while the witches see humans as the problem, and therefore not worthy of being saved.

This is, above all else, a love story, set against climate catastrophe and a great showdown between science and magic. It illustrates how life just keeps happening—people have babies, start relationships, get fired, lose loved ones—all while the climate crisis casts a shadow around us. All the Birds is, in part, about mourning the exciting future you thought lay ahead of you, because the world you knew is falling apart—and about finding joy even as it does. But even as the novel ends with a glimpse of how we might use technology in relation to nature, it’s impossible to forget the birds who chorus “too late, too late.”

“Milton really thinks we’re going to need a new planet, maybe soon,” Laurence continued. “We’ve got to get off this rock. All our models suggest a decent likelihood of a catastrophic combination of natural disasters and destructive war, within one or two generations[ . . .] As far as we know, we’re the only intelligent, technological civilization ever to develop, in the entire universe. There’s complex life all over the place, but we’re still basically unique. We have a fucking duty to preserve that. At all costs.”

[Shortly after, Patricia replies:] “This planet is not just some ‘rock.’ It’s not just some kind of chrysalis we can shed, either. You know? It’s, it’s more than that. It’s us. And this isn’t just our story. As someone who’s spoken to lots of other kinds of creatures, I kinda think they might want a vote.”

Bewilderment (2021)
Written by: Richard Powers
Synopsis: An astrophysicist dad and his climate-activist, neurodivergent nine-year-old try to navigate their grief over their lost wife/mother amid the harsh realities of this changing world.
Climate connection: While Powers’s previous book, The Overstory, is an expansive novel connecting deforestation to the climate crisis over many decades and points of view, Bewilderment is an immediate, slim novel about a father and son facing the existential threat of climate breakdown.

Robin is a neurodivergent nine-year-old who acutely feels the changing climate and all the Earth’s losses. His empathy for dying species and his grief over the loss of his mother two years prior send him into spirals of rage. His astrophysicist professor father, Theo, enrolls his son in an experimental neurofeedback therapy that helps Robin train his brain along different, beneficial neuropathways. Robin’s rage lessens, and he is able to put his energy into his activism. Robin, and his efforts to bring awareness to endangered species, go viral. His father helps where he can, but is still looking to the stars.

Bewilderment is a beautiful and poignant portrayal of where personal grief meets climate grief. Robin’s empathy is ablaze. He is flabbergasted, to put it lightly, that adults would let this happen to the world, come to understand the science of what’s happening, and still do nothing to stop it. His bewilderment at the beauty of the world, and the human inaction to protect it, is powerful enough to strike readers to the bones.

Queen of Urban Prophecy (2021)
Written by: Aya de Leon
Synopsis: Deza is a female rapper whose career is on the rise after one of her songs predicted the exact details of a real-life police shooting of a young Black girl. It’s eerie and intense to be deemed a “prophet,” let alone be a woman in the male-dominated, often toxic hip-hop world. The novel follows Deza’s journey toward self-knowledge and self-actualization, as she finds her own way of claiming power and using her voice—not just in music, but in life.
Climate connection: Black Lives Matter, feminism, and climate justice intersect throughout Deza’s journey, interwoven in her struggles with sex and romance, a complicated family, and her responsibility as a celebrity. She shines onstage, but also feels caged by the customs and expectations of an industry riddled with toxic masculinity and deeply entrenched in consumerism. Her DJ (and sometimes lover) is the first person to bring up the climate crisis directly, when he tells Deza about losing his uncle in Hurricane Maria. She sees the real-life consequences of industrialization when one of her merch sponsors’ factories burns down, killing the enslaved children in its sweatshop. After touring the Katrina Memorial in New Orleans, she is moved to tears and starts speaking out about the climate crisis from the stage.

A young Black woman from Chicago, Deza considers herself a fighter, but once she’s suddenly a “prophet” in possession of the extraordinary power that comes with fame and influence, she feels unsure and torn. The climate crisis, racial justice, and feminism pull Deza out of her own self-doubt and make her realize that there are others who very much need help—help that she can now provide. But these critical issues aren’t shoehorned in through contrived speeches or do-gooders; they’re woven through Deza’s personal dramas and music tour, elements of the real world comingling with her internal growth as a person and an artist. The book ends with Deza planning a climate-themed rap album, making it clear that for her, the power of art is inseparable from the causes she advocates for. Both are challenges to which she will rise.

Weather (2020)
Written by: Jenny Offill
Synopsis: Lizzie is a failed PhD student turned college librarian living in NYC. She has a lot on her plate, between managing her husband, son, and mentally unstable mother and brother. As a side hustle, she takes over answering the email Q+As for her former mentor’s climate podcast, Hell or High Water.
Climate connection: Weather is one of the best illustrations of climate anxiety out there. It gives voice to all of our conflicting questions: Does anything matter if the world is going to end anyway? How do I prepare for a climate disaster? How can I make space and time to deal with climate disaster when I also have to keep living my everyday life, which is contributing even further to this pending disaster? Fair warning: this novel doesn’t necessarily comfort you or answer these questions.

Though Lizzie takes on answering the podcast questions as a side hustle, they quickly engulf her life. Her research process leaves her constantly grappling with how impossible it is to solve this thing. The deep, anxious hole she falls into affects her marriage and her ability to parent her child. Her husband and son end up going to stay with his family while she wallows. Eventually, she realizes that she needs to find a balance between solving her personal problems and solving the world’s problems. Even so, her husband agrees they should build an off-the-grid trailer in case they need it to escape catastrophe one day. Weather perfectly captures the day-to-day dilemmas most of us face while trying to comprehend an almost incomprehensible problem.

“‘What it means to be a good person, a moral person, is calculated differently in times of crisis than in ordinary circumstances,’ she says. She pulls up a slide of people having a picnic by a lake. Blue skies, green trees, white people. Suppose you go with some friends to the park to have a picnic. This act is, of course, morally neutral, but if you witness a group of children drowning in the lake and you continue to eat and chat, you have become monstrous.”

The Inland Sea (2020)
Written by: Madeleine Watts
Synopsis: In a near-future Sydney, a young Australian 911 operator starts to fall apart under the stress of her work, the slow destruction of her city, and the demons from the past that won’t stop haunting her.
Climate connection: Sydney is under constant threat of wildfire and noxious smoke, resulting in constant death and destruction. This is the world our unnamed narrator must navigate as a 911 operator.

She tries to self-sabotage as a means of escape, using sex and alcohol as distractions from the fact her home is literally disappearing before her eyes. But between her work, her surroundings, and her own trauma, there’s nowhere she can turn to where she doesn’t feel the devastating effects of the climate crisis. Eventually, she decides to go on a journey around the world that emulates a trip undertaken by one of her ancestors, back in a time before the climate had ravaged so many natural features and skewed the seasons. She’s looking for a “fresh start,” although she’s aware that such a thing is hard to find in a damaged world. The final image in the novel finds her lying in the water on a beach in Sydney, smelling the wildfire smoke, surrounded by pain and destruction—yet finding an element of peace in just sitting with the feeling. It’s an uncertain ending, but one that does not exclude possibility.

Cloud Cuckoo Land (2021)
Written by: Anthony Doerr
Synopsis: Set in multiple timelines, from Constantinople to present-day Idaho to a spaceship in the future, the power of one very old book connects young people across centuries.
Climate connection: Between this book’s multiple intersecting timelines, one message is clear: stories are powerful—they connect us to each other and to ourselves. In this case, an ancient book, about a fool searching for paradise, reaches across time and space to help young people grapple with loss.

The themes of war, extraction, and climate are woven through each time period, and each setting is shaped by its relationship to its resources. Just before the siege of Constantinople, a young girl first finds the precious book and flees her burning city. In modern-day Idaho, wildfire smoke fills the air as a loner child’s beloved friend, a wild owl, is killed at a housing development site; this child personally feels each wound to the Earth, and eventually joins a band of ecoterrorists. And far in the future, we meet a girl born on a spaceship, the purpose of which is to preserve humankind and human knowledge after climate collapse. She has only known VR images of plants and animals, sun and sky, never having experienced any of it herself. She longs and grieves for something she can only imagine. But in each time period’s end, there is a glimpse of hope, a glimpse at the type of resilience we will all need to face the climate crisis: each character finds, in some way, community and compassion, people caring for one another, and carrying on.

Gun Island (2019)
Written by: Amitav Ghosh
Synopsis: A rare books collector returns to his ancestral origins in West Bengal, where he journeys into the Sundarbans to investigate the mystery surrounding a long-dead merchant. Before he finds any answers, he will come across gods of the past and refugees of the future, both of whom will open his eyes to a new way through the world.
Climate connection: Set mainly in Venice and the Sundarbans forest in the Bay of Bengal, this novel mixes the magic of myth with hard truths about climate migration and refugees in the modern era. We visit wildfires in Los Angeles, but the novel has little to do with the United States, focusing on two areas that have been deeply affected by the climate crisis and the mythologies embedded in them.

While the main character’s journey takes him back to the Sundarbans, two young men from the area are driven out by climate-induced storms. One of them makes his way to Venice (as a large number of Indian climate refugees do), but the other disappears en route. His friend’s search for him highlights the dangers posed to individuals by forced climate migration, and begins to hint at what might happen when these shifts occur on a mass scale. This brutal realism is contrasted with the mythology of the Sundarbans, with multiple characters witnessing (or thinking they witness) the old myths being played out by living animals. The novel recontextualizes the myths created to make sense of the natural world long ago, bringing them back into play in this world where nature is being forced out of balance.

Case studies contributed by guest writers

Mary Annaïse Heglar
We checked in with Mary Annaïse Heglar, the incredible climate essayist and podcaster who cohosts Hot Take with Amy Westervelt and, in 2020, was the inaugural writer in residence at Columbia University’s Earth Institute. Below are her favorite climate stories in novels and film.

Film: Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)
Written by: Lucy Alibar, Benh Zeitlin
Six-year-old Hushpuppy lives with her alcoholic father, Wink, on an island in the Louisiana bayou that they call the Bathtub. An unnamed hurricane decimates their home, but Wink refuses to leave.

It’s startling how overt the climate crisis is in this movie. Right at the start, Hushpuppy’s teacher—who is teaching out of a country schoolhouse, no national curriculum here—tells the kids that the ice caps are melting, and they better fend for themselves. It’s not framed as a depressing message, but as a rallying call to the children of a community who are incredibly resourceful and deeply dedicated to their home. That love of the land and the water, which is so compromised by climate, is very accurate to the region. It’s a love song to Louisiana.

Even though the movie is so sad and emotional, it ends triumphantly. If you leave that movie with faith in anything, it’s in that little girl and that community.

The interpersonal relationships are a mirror for the nuanced, messed-up reality of the climate crisis: an abusive, alcoholic dad who loves his daughter and wants the best for her, but can’t get out of his own way—does that sound familiar? It especially works because kids are also the real-life protagonists of the climate crisis.

Novel: Parable of the Sower (1993)
Written by: Octavia Butler
Soon to be adapted into a film by A24, with Garrett Bradley directing
It’s ultimately about adaptation: a teenager living in a dystopian, chaotic world, surrounded by people who are trying all sorts of different things to survive, and figuring out how she’s going to do the same. The setting was based on pretty reasonable projections from the time it was written (1993), and it’s eerie that it reads so much like it was written today.

There’s a thriller vibe to this book, like the unpredictability and danger of a world devastated by the climate crisis is the real antagonist that the main character has to constantly try and keep ahead of. That’s true to life: for instance, New Orleans wasn’t the same during or after Ida, and it never will be again. “God is change,” as the book says, and characters are just responding to crisis after crisis while their trauma piles up inside.

In the end, the main character creates what is technically a cult—but it’s also a community whose members take care of each other and regain an element of control over their surroundings. There are no magic fixes for the apocalypse, just like there are no characters who are wholly evil or good. The novel’s ultimate wisdom is a version of the Serenity Prayer: “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”


Novel: Salvage the Bones (2011)
Written by: Jesmyn Ward
This story is about family, both chosen and blood, and how communities can—and have to—learn to be there for each other during a climate crisis. It’s about how men treat women—another shitty father who loves his kids but can’t get past his own pain to really be there for them—and about how the rest of the world treats poor people when they’re victims of a disaster. Before Katrina, the last time there was a similar storm in New Orleans was the 1960s . . . people can be forgiven for not being prepared!

Like a lot of Southern writers, Ward pays homage to the South and the people who live there. On the Gulf Coast, the climate crisis is right there in your face, as are racism and class divides. There’s no bullshit, especially when it’s a matter of survival.

Amy Brady
We spoke to the awesome Amy Brady, author, editor, and the executive director of Orion magazine. Check out her column in the Chicago Review of Books and her newsletter about climate literature and art, “Burning Worlds.” We asked her about some of her favorite climate novels.

Novel: The Ministry for the Future (2020)
Written by: Kim Stanley Robinson
This novel opens with one of the most harrowing scenes I’ve ever read—then it pans out, and we see it’s not just the hero in trouble. It portrays the grief and guilt a person of privilege might feel when they see firsthand who the climate crisis impacts most. It depicts collective action in action. Somehow Robinson makes policy and political machinations interesting. An adaptation could be like an Argo for climate: What happens at the policy level that affects the world?

Novel: A Children’s Bible (2020)
Written by: Lydia Millet
It’s a parable and a pointed F— you to an older generation, saying: your antipathy and tendency to give up and not fight is pathetic, and the kids are having to do all the work.

Remarkably, it’s also very funny. Lydia Millet plays with tone and lets us laugh a little, which is so important. Tonally, climate change is typically talked about as a dualistic proposition: tragic or hopeful. But as a human being, I’ve never felt one thing at a time. Good art allows for a range of human emotions to exist simultaneously. Reading A Children’s Bible, it felt so real to be able to laugh in the middle of tragedy. People laugh at funerals. We contain multitudes.

Novel: American War (2017)
Written by: Omar El Akkad
In this novel, the climate crisis is not looked at in isolation. Omar El Akkad is so smart in his understanding of geopolitics; the structure of power as it exists among nation states, not just people; and how all of that contributes to the climate crisis. He makes it clear how these large, unwieldy concepts actually feed each other.

Readers will come away with a better understanding of why it’s important for national leaders to talk to each other. It’s not going to work if just one country makes radical change and no one else does. This book shows that beautifully.

Novel: Bangkok Wakes to Rain (2019)
Written by: Pitchaya Sudbanthad
This novel looks at Bangkok over 200 years as it becomes inundated by climate change. People in the US tend to think of the climate crisis as something that happens elsewhere and in the future. Sudbanthad is saying, My home city is already drowning. Just because you aren’t, doesn’t mean the planet isn’t. This book drives home beautifully how serious the climate crisis is right now, for people who don’t look like me and who are in less privileged landscapes.

Matthew Schneider-Mayerson
Matthew is an associate professor at Yale-NUS College, an author, and an interdisciplinary scholar in all things climate fiction. He has been thinking about the power of climate storytelling for a long time, and has researched its impact on readers. Here are some of his favorite climate novels.

Novel: The Man with the Compound Eyes (2011)
Written by: Wu Ming-Yi
This is a story about Atile’i, born on the isolated island of Wayo Wayo and sent on a boat to die like all second sons, because resources on the island are limited—but his fortunes change when he hitches a ride on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. It’s also about Alice, a Taiwanese professor whose late husband built a house on the edge of the rising sea, who plans to kill herself until a kitten washes up on her doorstep. And it’s about Hafay and Dahu, who represent the diverse and complicated lives, perspectives, and resilience of the Pangcah and Bunun people in contemporary Taiwan. Eventually, these stories converge, with a flood, a Bob Dylan song, and the mysterious man with the compound eyes playing a climactic role. This is a sprawling, eclectic, polyphonous novel that touches on the climate crisis, plastic pollution, nonhuman animals, activism, indigeneity, animism, and imagination through Wu’s version of magical realism. (It demands to be adapted to the screen!)

Novel: The Wall (2019)
Written by: John Lanchester
At a certain age, you, like everyone else since the Change, must spend two years serving as a Defender on the Wall, the concrete National Coastal Defence Structure that surrounds your entire island nation. There you will spend your time bored and freezing, watching for groups of Others who might scale the Wall and enter your country. When you see Others, you kill them; if you don’t, you will be put out to sea and become an Other yourself. This dystopian vision warns about the risk that wealthy, powerful nations will respond to the climate crisis by militarizing their borders even further—creating a world of lifeboat ethics, climate apartheid, and genocide. The hauntingly faceless descriptions, the author’s ability to convey information about the story world, and the narrator’s dry humor make this cautionary tale feel painfully real.

Novel: The Carbon Diaries: 2015 (2008)
Written by: Saci Lloyd
This YA novel is rare among climate fiction in its description of deep decarbonization policies (in this case carbon rationing) as well as the global weirding, social destabilization, popular mobilization, and political energy that push them forward. Against this backdrop, Laura, the protagonist, is 16 when the novel begins, and many of her concerns are familiar teenage fare—relationships with her boyfriend and friends, conflict with her family, and her band, Dirty Angels. It’s a valuable vision of life amid ecopolitical upheaval. We need novels, films, and TV series that depict, in supportive and inspiring ways, radical political activism and fundamental social change.

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