Climate fiction, also known as cli-fi, is a film genre that has emerged in response to growing concern about climate change and its potential consequences. This genre explores future scenarios in which our world has been significantly altered. Cli-fi presents a vision of what life might be like on a planet affected by global warming, sea level rise and other effects of climate change.
Generally speculative in nature, but scientifically grounded, a cli-fi film may take place in the world as we know it or in the near future. The genre frequently includes science fiction and dystopian or utopian themes, imagining potential futures based on how humanity responds to the impacts of climate change. The foundations of the genre usually assume knowledge of anthropogenic effects (human-altered climate as opposed to climate and disasters in general), although there are broader definitions that include non-man-made natural disasters. Technologies such as climate engineering or climate adaptation practices often feature prominently in cli-fi works exploring the impact on society.
Through captivating stories and interesting characters, film is a powerful tool for communicating these ideas to raise awareness and inspire people to take action to mitigate the effects of climate change. Some of the more popular examples include:
THE IMPORTANCE OF URGENT ACTION TO PREVENT A DYSTOPIAN FUTURE CAUSED BY CLIMATE CHANGE
“The Day After Tomorrow” (2004),
Based on the book ‘The Coming Global Superstorm’ by Art Bell and Whitley Strieber, the film chronicles catastrophic climatic effects following the disruption of the North Atlantic Ocean circulation in a range of extreme weather events that lead to global cooling and usher in a new ice age. Perhaps it will encourage us as a society to take the Paris Agreement more seriously.
THE STRUGGLE FOR NATURAL RESOURCES IN A WORLD AFFECTED BY CLIMATE CHANGE
“Mad Max: Fury Road” (2015)
In a post-apocalyptic future marked by water, oil and energy shortages, economic crisis and social chaos following a nuclear war, factional gangs rule the roads of Australia, where there is no government presence. After watching this film, we can look at the transition to green energy and, above all, world peace with different eyes.
MASS MIGRATION AND SOCIAL CONFLICT DUE TO THE EFFECTS OF CLIMATE CHANGE
In 2014, an attempt to counteract global warming through climate engineering causes a new ice age, extinguishing almost all life in the following years. The only human survivors are on the ‘Snowpiercer,’ a huge train created by a transportation magnate and inventor that runs on a track circumnavigating the world. Technology may offer solutions, but we should not play the geoengineering card without exploring avenues such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions, recycling and cutting back on our use of fossil fuels.
ADAPTATION AND RESILIENCE OF SOCIETIES TO CLIMATE CHANGE
It’s the year 2500, the polar ice caps have completely melted and the sea level has risen by more than 7,600 meters. As a result, all of the Earth’s continents are now under water. The remnants of human civilization live in ramshackle floating communities and have forgotten what it was like to live on Earth. Yet people still believe there should be a mythological ‘terra firma’ somewhere out in the ocean.
THE ROLE OF TECHNOLOGY IN MITIGATING AND ADAPTING TO CLIMATE CHANGE
In the year 2154, the capitalist elites live on a space station called Elysium, which has its own atmosphere and electromagnetic field. Elysium has clean air, water and everything you need to live safely, healthily and in comfort. The station is orbiting the Earth at high altitude and was built by a private space corporation as a contractor for private investors. Meanwhile, ordinary people live in an overpopulated and ruined Earth ridden with disease, disability and congenital illness, and ravaged by climate change. The environment is soiled with industrial and nuclear waste, the air is polluted, the streets are unsafe, gang warfare is rampant and garbage piles up everywhere. There’s a lot to think about.
CLIMATE JUSTICE AND EQUITY IN A WORLD AFFECTED BY CLIMATE CHANGE
“Erin Brockovich” (2000)
The film is a dramatization of the true story of Erin Brockovich-Ellis, an environmental activist who won a major court victory against the Pacific Gas and Electric Company. This company used Hexavalent Chromium in its processes, contaminating local waters, affecting the health of an entire town. A nudge to remind us that we all count, and that even individual action can make a difference.
THE ROLE OF NATURE FOR THE SURVIVAL OF MANKIND
“Blade Runner” (1982)
In November 2019, in the dystopian city of Los Angeles, we find a future in which, through bioengineering, artificial humans called ‘replicants’ are manufactured and employed in dangerous jobs and as slaves in Earth’s ‘off-world colonies.’ When we think of ‘Blade Runner’ we do not remember its ecological message, but the world imagined by Ridley Scott was the consequence of a society that did not take into account its environment. The result: they had to live with industrial rain that plagued each scene and accompanied the lonely walks of the unforgettable protagonist. The climate change theme, in fact, was also present in the 2017 sequel.
‘Blade Runner’ has been lauded as one of the most influential films of all time for its minutely detailed and original setting, and as a postmodern visual landmark, with its realistic depiction of a decaying future. It was ahead of its time in raising fundamental issues and concerns for the 21st century.