Fiction has always been a route to experience the unexperienced.
In the realm of climate change, it may be a challenge to wrap our minds around what a future devastated by environmental catastrophes can look like.
Novelists have been using fiction to explore these circumstances, ranging from the post-apocalyptic to the political tensions that arise with a scarcity of resources.
Of course, these are rarely affixed to scientific truths, but yet impart the honest gravity that looms in the near future as we continue to stress the planet.
In the run-up to Cop28, we’ve picked eight books that envision a reality governed by climate change.
These cli-fi books are speculative, but draw from the realities of climate change, underscoring the importance of implementing policies to better the Earth’s health.
Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler (1993)
Butler’s classic dystopian novel takes place in a 2024 that is wrought by disease. Global warming has ravaged the planet, disrupting food supplies, and causing water shortages and violence.
Society outside a few walled communities have descended into chaos; and to make matters worse, the US has a president who is more interested in spouting strongman slogans than bettering the lives of his people.
Written in 1993, Parable of the Sower has chilling similarities with present times. The novel is a cautionary tale that is a riveting classic of the cli-fi genre.
How Beautiful we Were by Imbolo Mbue (2021)
The pivoting point of Mbue’s novel is an oilspill by an American firm that plummets the fictional African settlement of Kosawa into turmoil.
Disease spreads across the village as a result of the spill, and Kanga, dubbed the village mad man, starts rallying a revolution.
American War by Omar El Akkad (2017)
El Akkad’s book is set in the US in the latter half of this century. In a landscape suffering from challenges brought on by climate change and sickness, civil war has broken out over fossil fuels.
The novel revolves around Sarat, who is six when the war breaks out, and her family is soon forced to live with other displaced people at Camp Patience.
After meeting an enigmatic official, she soon finds herself being turned into an instrument of war.
War Girls by Tochi Onyebuchi (2019)
Onyebuchi’s young adult novel is set in a post-apocalyptic Nigeria. The year is 2172 and clashes between ethnic groups have surged over the mineral chukwu.
Nuclear fallout and global warming have devastated the world, and much of the population has been subject to cyberisation as a result of war injuries and radiation.
The novel’s story is told between the perspectives of two residents of the War Girls camp, which houses former child soldiers of the Biafran separatists.
The Drowned World by J G Ballard (1962)
A classic within the cli-fi genre, Ballard's novel is set in the 22nd century.
Solar radiation and a debilitated ionosphere have raised sea levels and turned a large part of the planet to a tropical climate. The two poles become some of the Earth’s few inhabitable places.
In the middle of this, a science expedition embarks to the flooded city of London to catalogue the flora and fauna, and it is then that the novel takes a strange and fevered turn.
The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson (2020)
A novel that is as informative as it is gripping, mainly due to author Robinson’s efforts to use scientific accuracy.
The book revolves around the international Ministry for the Future, established under the Paris Agreement with the aim of ensuring the rights of future generations.
The book follows Mary Murphy, who heads the organisation, and Frank May, a US aid worker who is left traumatised after a deadly heat wave in India.
Drawing on several historical figures and events, this one is a must read. Robinson has also written other climate change-related novels, including New York 2140 and 2312.
Bewilderment by Richard Powers (2021)
Shortlisted for the 2021 Booker Prize, Bewilderment by Richard Powers presents the tensions of family life within a landscape of environmental debilitation.
It follows astrophysicist Theo Byrne and his nine-year son Robin.
Refusing to give his son psychoactive medication for his Asperger’s syndrome and obsessive compulsive disorder, he instead resorts to using an experimental form of therapy that uses neurofeedback, which focuses on the brain’s neuronal activity.
With the moving relationship between father and son, the novel is an emotional and poignant read, replete with striking visuals of a devastated world.
Termination Shock by Neal Stephenson (2021)
Stephenson’s book centres on a solar geo-engineering plan. The scheme is conceived by a billionaire in the oil industry who fires sulphur into the air to cool the planet and reflect sunlight back to space.
But how will it affect the planet and its population? The novel touches on political nuances that come about with climate change.
It features characters including the Queen of the Netherlands, Frederika Mathilde Louisa Saskia, and granddaughter of Queen Beatrix, as well as Deep "Laks" Singh, who becomes embroiled in clashes along the Line of Actual Control on the border between China and India.