Climate fiction may be fiction, but it can affect the real world. How big of an effect can it have? How much can it do?
In today’s world, climate change is quite the hot topic, and not everyone seems to be convinced that it’s actually happening. Some people have set opinions about the topic and are less likely to be convinced toward either side of the debate. However, some people are on the fence about the situation and could be swayed. Is there a way fiction could persuade people to believe the reality of climate change? Climate fiction writers, or writers that create fictional literature about climate change, may have a chance to enlighten the minds of the people who read their work.
Matthew Schneider-Mayerson has been studying the effect that climate fiction has on readers, and he discusses this effect in his 2018 article “The Influence of Climate Fiction: An Empirical Survey of Readers.” He surveyed 161 American readers who have read any climate fiction book from a selection of 19 works.
The readers were asked how they came to read the book that they chose, along with other open-ended questions. One such question was “Did you discuss this book with others? If so, who did you talk to, and what did you say?” (Schneider-Mayerson 2018). Even if readers did not discuss what they read with others, the dangers of climate change still stuck with the readers and made them consider what could happen in the future. But about half of the readers discussed what they read with their families, which often led to conversations about climate change. Climate fiction provided a gateway to a subject that is highly relevant today.
Climate fiction may just be fiction, but it can affect its readers. It may give that little extra push to those who are on the fence or only mildly interested in climate change to learn more about it. Schneider-Mayerson explains that “literature can be quite effective at enabling or compelling readers to imagine potential futures and consider the fragility of human societies and vulnerable ecosystems” (2018, 495). Fiction has the power to not only spark imagination but also create emotion and empathy.
But the effect doesn’t stop with the readers. As they discuss what they’re reading with others, they can influence their family and friends. Schneider-Mayerson states, “Given the value of interpersonal communication in raising an issue’s perceived importance and creating in-group norms, the potential for climate fiction (and environmental media in general) to facilitate such conversations deserves more attention” (2018, 493). These kinds of discussions can bring people together and unite them for a common goal.
Fiction writers who have avid feelings for the topic of climate change can use their writing skills to persuade more people to think of the implications it can bring. The effectiveness of climate fiction should not be ignored.
To learn more about the effect of climate fiction, read the full article:
Schneider-Mayerson, Matthew. 2018. “The Influence of Climate Fiction: An Empirical Survey of Readers.” Environmental Humanities 10, no. 2 (November): 473–500. https://doi.org/10.1215/22011919-7156848.
—Taylor Lash, Editing Research
FEATURE IMAGE BY MARKUS SPISKE
Find more research
Check out Kassidy Acker’s Editing Research article to learn more about how fiction can affect readers: “The Secret to Evoking Empathy from Fiction Readers.”
Take a look at this interview of journalist Dan Bloom (2014) to find more support for climate fiction: “‘Cli-Fi’: Could a Literary Genre Help Save the Planet?” The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/cli-fi-could-a-literary-genre-help-save-the-planet-23478.