Photo: Owly Skywarn, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association’s adorable herald of apocalypse.
Earth National Park!
Our ascendance of cli-sci and cli-fi culminates in David Brower’s radical concept of Earth National Park, an existential utopia. Esteemed biologist E.O. Wilson lately calls it Half-Earth, but the nomenclature is nowhere near as important as realizing that our current technocracy leads directly to extinction. We’ll have no choice sooner than we think.
Earth National Park fluidly phases between necessary non-fiction and cli-fi’s speculative fiction.
A daring concept reframing astronomical reality, it rewarded its author, naturalist and Sierra Club founder, David Brower with exile to the fringes of the environmental movement.
“Brower was obviously using the idea rhetorically or ontologically, trying to shift consciousness, but the concept has grown enough,” director Mark Kitchell told me during an interview about his sprawling documentary of the environmental movement, A Fierce Green Fire. “We might be able to make the whole world a national park. When I look at where the movement is heading today, I see restoration, adaptation and amelioration of climate impacts.”
From decelerations like degrowth and deconsumption to accelerations like reforestation and rewiliding, cli-fi’s moving visions, from masterpieces of Miyazaki to Legend of Korra, are gaining traction and adoption. Cli-fi isn’t reanimating zombies for or from an exhausted, annihilated past. Its time is and always the here and now, should we have chosen to accept its formidable mission. We didn’t. We should.
Much of sci-fi proper is human skin wrapped around a mechanical mind, but Newtonian force flows also toward the foundations of rigorous philologist, J.R.R. Tolkien, whose personal/political rage against machines sequenced the genes for fantasy as we understand it so far. Both are riven with technocratic exhaustions and world wars. Tolkien’s Middle-Earth epics could arguably function as pure sci-fi, variously anchored as they are by the technological domination of the One Ring, the weapon annihilating Middle-Earth’s ecosystems and species, who await the revolution to cast it into the engine from which it came.
Lord of the Rings subterranean Hobbits, sentient Ents, mining-mad dwarves, and more are archetypal inhabitants of Earth National Park. Through their looking glass lies the desertified killing fields of the Mad Max franchise, and further extractive fantasies of sex and violence.
Regardless of these mounting and multitudinous differences and their resolutions, Earth’s turbulent transformations are already exhausting nationalism, as envirogees flee natural disasters and disaster capitalism alike. Previously existing borders are simultaneously rendered essential and meaningless. Given too many centuries for its ego to run amok, capitalism is rebooting Earth as a ruined park.
But its apotheosis cannot withstand a thermal wasteland wracked by a megavolcano, like the one in Yellowstone overheating America’s heartland. But perhaps a solarized utopia empowered, by antimatter fusion and capture strategies, may still be in flux.
Whether it is Half-Earth, Earth National Park, or another conception that manages to make its way into the Real, so much remains uncertain. We could settle for Alan Moore’s Mogo, a sentient planet who also happens to be a galactic peace officer. From its living, breathing world, to the inexhaustible optimism of Elon Musk’s future industries, and further life-saving wonders Earth-centric science can teach us, cli-fi’s ambitious terraformations are evolving beyond merely discovering their common language and purpose.
They have literally come to save us. We have only to embrace them, and ourselves.
Who Am I?
My name is Scott Thill, and I am not a number. I have labored as a writer, journo, editor, coder and much more for Wired, AlterNet, Salon and many more. Here is my full biography.
What Do I Know?
I was the first to inject cli-fi into the mainstream at Morphizm, Wired, AlterNet and more, but not nearly enough as I wanted. Back in 2009, I employed it as a portmanteau with deeper possibility, especially given the accelerating exhaustion of sci-fi. Despite my efforts, I couldn’t interest publications in greater explainers and conceptions. The argument that sci-fi was unstable and unsustainable, to say nothing of less interesting than cli-fi, was a pitch did not extend beyond the listicle.
That inevitably changed, as the predictable climate crisis worsened and sci-fi started to seriously suck. Cli-fi quickly infiltrated the market, yet despite this increasing popularity, it remains an underwhelming signifier creatively restrained by marketing, marooned from more influential meaning. Even today, its Wikipedia entry is narrowly restricted to the safe space of written fiction, an ironic judgment of a medium anchored to the souls of dead trees, in an Anthropocene of exponentially replicating transmedia.
My own transmedia replication evangelizes cli-fi’s wider ambitions, not just describing but advocating for more sustainable futures. Having helped bring cli-fi into being, and watched its development for years, I understand its strengths and weaknesses like few others. And as you will find reading through my overall Terror and Terraformation series, as well as Morphizm and my resume proper, I have open lines of communication to some of the most influential figures of our globally warmed time.
And so my analysis will be firmly anchored in more productive climate science and cultural production, featuring recognized names as well as underrepresented voices. Interested? MAKE CONTACT.
GRAPHIX: Pictures At An Extinction
Here are some; more to come. Not all are fiction, because some are Real:
- Naomi Klein, No Logo, The Shock Doctrine, This Changes Everything
- Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
- Ursula LeGuin, The Dispossessed, The Left Hand of Darkness and more.
- Margaret Atwood … is cli-fi.
- Alan Moore, Watchmen, V For Vendetta and pretty much everything else. Check out Morphizm’s Alan Moore portal for more.
- Grant Morrison, SuperGods, We3, All-Star Superman and, like his peer Alan Moore, pretty much everything else. Check out Morphizm’s Grant Morrison portal.
- Mike Davis, City of Quartz
- Jean Baudrillard, The Gulf War Did Not Take Place
- Craig Childs, Apocalyptic Planet: A foundational cli-fi exploration whose author is probably too busy diving into an ice cave to be aware the term exists.
- Jared Diamond, Collapse, Gun, Germs and Steel
- Annalee Newitz, Scatter, Adapt and Remember