Embracing Cli-Fi

Ultra-runner great Rob Krar, winner of this year’s Western States 100, says he doesn’t focus on his competitors but instead on that spot he calls “the Cave.” Or as he explains, “I love going to that dark place . . . I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone else, because it’s suffering, but when I race, I sink hard in the hole, and I want to be there” (Running Times, August 2014). Yes, the dark place. The what-doesn’t-kill-you-makes-you-stronger place (No, I tell my students, Kelly Clarkson didn’t say that first, a guy named Nietzsche did). And yet I agree with the Dalai Lama: “I find hope in the darkest of days.”

While I think the world is in a dark place right now, I am not preaching doom and gloom. I have too much Anne Frank in me and believe that people are basically good at heart. At least until they obtain political office or work their way high up the corporate ladder. Something strange starts to happen then. Maybe it’s a lack of oxygen that accounts for the loss of common sense.

Case in point, on Meet the Press this past February Representative Marsha Blackburn, in a heated discussion with Bill Nye, spoke repeatedly of cost benefit analysis concerning climate change. Like anyone, I am very conscious about costs and benefits in my own personal finances as well as the country’s economy. However, I don’t see any benefit to stonewalling the discussion about climate change but do see an enormous cost in the future if we continue on this path. In his New York Times article Shattering Myths to Help the Climate (Aug. 2, 2014), Robert H. Frank points out, “In other domains, uncertainty doesn’t counsel inaction.” For example, doubt about being invaded doesn’t mean we recommend disbanding the military. The only thing uncertain about climate change, Frank adds, is how much worse it will get.

I suppose the effects might not turn out as badly as predicted, but what if they do? Even George W. Bush spoke of adaptability when it came to climate change. Furthermore, evangelical Christians, the majority of which have long dismissed global warming as real, are beginning to speak up. For instance, climate scientist and evangelical Christian Katharine Hayhoe asks, “What’s more conservative than conserving our natural resources, making sure we have enough for the future, and not wasting them like we are today?” Again, in the words of Dr. Jonas Salk, “Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors.”

As a trail runner, a fly-fisherman and a lover of the outdoors, I admit to being a certified tree hugger and believe it’s my duty to be a good ancestor. That is why I wrote The Wastelanders. That is why I write Cli-Fi. Cli-Fi is a term coined by Danny Bloom. As Bloom states, “This is about climate change and global warming and using a new genre to help wake up the world.” You will be hearing more about this burgeoning genre from the likes of Hamish MacDonald of Scotland, Lisa Devaney of the UK, and Mindy McGinnis and Paolo Bacigalupi of the US, to name a few. Oh, and I intend to keep my name in there too because I believe it is a subject worth writing about.

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A Little Background

Recently a colleague asked me what The Wastelanders is about. I gave my usual short dystopian blurb to which she replied, “Of course.” Now I have a thick hide. Years of teaching middle school will do that to you. However, her response ticked me off, though the moment passed before I could explain why.

I began The Wastelanders before the term Cli-Fi had been coined, before I’d heard of Suzanne Collins or Paolo Bacigalupi (looking forward to The Water Knife!). My colleague thought I was jumping on The Hunger Games bandwagon, of course. What I should have explained was that two very different people influenced the writing of this novel: Stephen King and George W. Bush.

Like me, Mr. Bush is a runner. In fact, one of my goals is to beat his marathon time of 3:44:52. I also respect that he overcame his drinking problem. Now I don’t agree with his politics at all, but he did understand that “action is a unifier.” The quote is Eric Hoffer’s from The True Believer. Hoffer also wrote “there can be no mass movement without some deliberate misrepresentation of facts.” In the years following 9/11 I read a lot of Mr. Hoffer, and in a way I have Mr. Bush to thank for that.

The influence of the Stephen King is probably more obvious. I had reread The Stand when I got the idea for The Wastelanders. Actually, my first title had been The Water Cartel, but my agent changed the name. At first I balked because it sounded too close to The Waste Lands, book three in King’s Dark Tower series, but I was overruled. I had also read King’s book On Writing in which he gives this gem of advice for aspiring writers: write the book you want to read. And that’s what I should have told my young friend. I thought it might be interesting to read a book about power, the nature of mass movements, the dangers of climate change, and through it all, love. Consider it my response to George W and my homage to the old master, Stephen King.