I think it was Soli Townsend of Futerra who observed that there has never been a science fiction book where the future was powered by fossil fuels. So it is no wonder that the emerging genre of climate science fiction, what Danny Bloom has called "cli-fi," goes for extremes in this direction. Whether it is utopian or dystopian visions that the authors are bringing forth, or perhaps a mixture of the two, it has seemed to me lately that cli-fi has to be one part of the answer to the problem many of us are trying to solve: How do we engage people more broadly and more deeply on climate change?
Two recent books have hit my consciousness on this. My long-time colleague on the Sustainable Development Commission, Jonathon Porritt, has written The World We Made, set in 2050, and looking back over the events of the first half of this century. And someone I have known for many years, Sarah Holding, has written SeaBEAN, set in 2018, promised to be the first part of a trilogy, and aimed at 8- to 12-year-olds.
What's interesting about this? Well, for a start, both of them come to it with a lot of technological optimism. This is not so surprising for Sarah Holding, who is an architect and a person who has been interested in energy technology for a long time (her father is a pioneer in making electricity from waves, a technology that plays a part in SeaBEAN). But for Porritt, who is of Friends of the Earth heritage, I think the pages filled with diagrams of how technology came to solve a lot of the societal conundrums over the coming (or if you will previous) four decades is a bit of a shocker.
Because there has been a bit of a bifurcation of community for those people who really desire action on climate change. On the one side are the technophiles, who are convinced that technology got us into this mess and technology will get us out of it. And on the other are the behaviorists, who argue that the only way out is for us to change our way of living. At the extreme of this group are those who believe, for example, that we must stop all air transport, not just of people but also of food, convincing people that they only travel when they can do so in a zero or near zero carbon way, that they eat what is grown locally (what, no Peruvian blueberries in London in January?)... you get the idea.
Now I have said for some time that certainly we must change our way of living, but that technology enables that change. To me that is a "user-friendly" message, and what these two books do is show how we can make it a reality. Look, if there is one lesson from the 20th century, it is that we always, always underestimate technology, that it always exceeds our expectations. The technological accomplishments we need over the coming two decades are trivial compared to what has been accomplished in the last two decades in many areas. And really that is what these two books, in their very different ways of telling the story, are saying.
I am giving SeaBEAN to my 8-year-old twin grandchildren to read, and hope that Sarah get the next two volumes out while they are still in her target age range. In any case, I am sure they are going to be captivated by the hero of the story, 11-year-old Alice. And I am giving Jonathon's The World We Made to lots of friends, who I think are going to begin to understand that if we are determined, and undaunted by the catastrophes that are inevitably going to occur because of what we have already done to the planet, we can beat this thing and have a much better civilized existence for the SeaBEAN readers when they are "middle aged."
Every Friday, HuffPost's Culture Shift newsletter helps you figure out which books you should read, art you should check out, movies you should watch and music should listen to. Learn more