Depiction of the Global Anthropogenic Climate Change Issue in Sci-Fi Stories

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Human induced climate change, also known as anthropogenic climate change, is the increase in greenhouse gases produced by humans that have led to a long-term rise of the Earth’s climate system resulting to ‘direct impacts including increased air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice and rising global average sea level’ (SECCCA 2019, para. 1). According to Karl and Trenberth (2003), this current, prevailing issue is incredibly great and prominent enough to surpass the ‘bounds of natural variability’ and is growing rapidly and is expected to continue evolving throughout the next centuries.

In response to this emerging issue about global anthropogenic climate change, contemporary cinema takes advantage of this environmental anxiety that lies within us and gives it a narrative form. This essay will argue that fantasy or sci-fi texts are useful tools in reforming man-made climate change rather than an unhelpful exercise in escapism. This essay will analyse three fantasy or sci-fi films – Geostorm, The Maze Runner and The Hunger Games – as enthralling indications of the relationship between social reality and popular culture to exhibit the capability of these genres to act as an alarm bell to wake people up and encourage climate change action and resilience.

Sci-fi or fantasy literature or films will not stop global warming, worldwide protest and extensive policy changes will. However, this does not necessarily mean that their intended for the purpose of literary escapism or entertainment. They raise awareness and incite discussions surrounding scientific and ecological issues like climate change. This essay will be exploring three concepts regarding this topic. Firstly, climate fiction, cli-fi, films and literature play a significant, influential role in making people realise on an ‘emotional and moral level’ the urgent need to ‘alter our plush, gas-guzzling, C02 emitting, coal-burning, slash-burn-consume lifestyles’ while there is still time left (Holmes 2014, para. 20).

They can also disclose how limited our solutions would be or even nothing as climate change worsens and time runs out. Secondly, sci-fi or fantasy, dystopian films, use engrossing plots, dramatic graphics and visuals and characters to give audiences a sense of how our future could appear and how society would be like after being damaged by climate change. And lastly, these films have the potential to educate audiences more effectively in comparison with formal education methods. They also make the audience think of the social design in response to a climatic apocalypse such as who shall get what, how to deal with shelter and how will the resources be divided.

Through these concepts, audiences and readers are apprised that climate change and global warming are real and evident in real life and must be confronted immediately. Hence, they are capable in boosting discourse and debate, especially with those are not fully aware how urgent and critical the issue of environment devastation is on a global scale (Frigerio 2017, para. 9). And ultimately lead to improved perceptions and awareness and inspires the public to alter their daily lifestyles and take action to ameliorate human-induced climate change if they do not want a future world such as those in the dystopian films. Geostorm is a cli-fi film by Dean Devlin that addresses human-induced climate change directly. Cli-fi is a sub-genre of sci-fi that envisions the ‘past, present and future effects of climate change’ (Svoboda 2016, p. 46). The film is posited on the concept that humans have discovered a solution to regulate and modify the Earth’s climate using technologies. After a constant, unparalleled events of natural disasters and intense weather conditions such as tornados, tsunamis, explosions and snowstorms, a potent satellite-based technology is developed and implemented by leaders worldwide that ‘allows users to fine-tune the weather, overcoming the ravages of climate change’ (Flegal & Maynard 2017, para.).

Suddenly, the system of satellites breaks down and begins to attack Earth with extremely life-threatening weather conditions such as a ‘flash heat wave and a sudden ice storm in the desert’, as well as the risk of a worldwide Geostorm that will wipe out the entire world (Hope & Shepherd 2017, para. 9). This unveils the consequence of ‘a large-scale open-air experimentation’ – making the whole planet a lab, an effort to control climate change which exposes our incompetence to control the massive problem as it rapidly worsens in real life (Santos 2018, p. 122). Other than affecting viewers’ understanding and thinking of the significance of climate change solutions, it motivates them to undertake action to counteract this issue. In Geostorm, their only solution was to use technology to deliberately intercede the climate system which led to catastrophic costs (Kraus 2017, para. 5).

Hence, sci-fi films, such as Geostorm, urge viewers to start taking climate change about how to cooperatively and correctly ameliorate climate change. If not, they could expect to rely on technology as a solution which if it malfunctions like in the film, the outcome could be the end of the world. Innovative technologies can provide advanced, beneficial options or solutions to aid the well-being of our society today, although they also foster inevitable risks. Audience and readers are given an idea if climate change continues to worsen, we will be left with limited to zero solutions left if we keep delaying this resilience. Additionally, cli-fi also conveys an inspirational message – hope, that it will never be too late to fight human-caused climate change. For instance, the film The Day After Tomorrow by Roland Emmerich concludes with the perspective of Earth from an international space station offering an ‘extraordinary sense of hope – that Earth still prevails after the tremendous, devastating, and rapid superstorms’ (Salmose 2018, p. 1416).

The concept of dystopia refers to ‘non-existent society intended to be viewed by its author as considerably worse than the contemporary world’ (Sargent 1994, p. 9). Through fantasy or sci-fi, dystopian films, audiences are able to perceive a futuristic world destroyed by the very things that affects the environment currently. The Maze Runner by Wes Ball is a Hollywood sci-fi blockbuster film that presents a world impacted but by nature’s irrepressible potencies. Massive environmental disasters such as solar flares and tsunamis devastated the planet which resulted to the barren lands called The Scorch. This disastrous event distressed human civilisation and caused binding fluctuations to the Earth’s climate and environment for a very long-time span. Several countries were entirely annihilated and majority of communication methods were hindered. The Post-Flares Coalition (PFC) was created to discover answers to the numerous problems in the world triggered by the Sun Flares such as inadequate quantities of food, clean water and shelters to essentially help the last 1.4 billion survivors left on Earth.

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Hence, a deadly virus, the Flare, was released via airborne distribution in order to resolve the problem of the distribution of scarce resources within the population too great. These conditions are evident in the sequel of the film – ‘Scorch Trials’. It resembles the world after the prodigious impact of global warming – a contemporary environmental anxiety of climate obliteration attributable to natural phenomena. ‘Dystopia places us directly in a dark and depressing reality, conjuring up a terrifying future if we do not recognize and treat its symptoms in the here and now’ (Gordin, Tilley and Prakash 2010, p. 2). Audiences can envision their potential future due to the persistent environmental demolition and the effect they may have on the existence of civilisation and humanity. Sci-fi or fantasy can also be methods of activism to reassess ‘human ecology and conserving the environmental in the contemporary age of the Anthropocene’ (Hurley 2017, p. 4).

Through ‘compelling storylines, dramatic visuals and characters’, fantasy and sci-fi influences people to think about and personally relate with climate change (Perkins-Kirkpatrick 2017, para. 6). According to Oliveira, Martins and Chambel (2013), this is one of the utmost powers of fantasy or sci-fi films – their strength to produce emotions and renewed mind-sets. They are able to stimulate provocative conversations about modern worldwide challenges, particularly climate change, by exposing how those environmental ‘worst-case scenarios could be closer to current reality than expected’ (Frigerio 2017).

Most of us learn about climate change in school, we see it broadcasted on the news and environmental or nature programs. Conversely, a lot of us do not care or listen, particularly the young millennials – ‘the internet, smart phone, computer generation’ (Quibell 2015, para. 2). A dystopian film exceeds school in educating people about existing, global events surrounding the environment and politics. They are attractive and ‘non-textbook ways’ of letting people aware of subjects that may be appallingly resilient to narrativisation (Telotte 2014, para. 6).

Everybody can be affected and influenced from the mistakes made in the films or books, especially dystopias. The cause of the dystopian society in The Hunger Games, one of the highest-grossing film franchises of all time, is a rigid immense environmental catastrophe. Their success highlights the strength of sci-fi and fantasy, dystopias, they make climate change interesting enough to read, watch and learn. The film series by Gary Ross divulge in to a world of ‘totalitarian hell and political repression’ initiated by human-generated climate change (O’Konski 2012, para. 7). A climate disaster resulted to the penurious Panem surrounded by thirteen districts where the extremely prosperous capitol city takes advantage of its outlying districts by coercing tributes to partake in the Hunger Games, a last-man-standing death match on live television (Murnane 2018, p. 291). Additionally, there is a teenage fad for dystopian fiction.

For example, in The Hunger Games, pop-culture riffs are evident through a love triangle and a heroine who develops throughout the films, fights against injustice and eventually succeeds (Romm 2012, para. 15). Dystopia for teenagers to young adults has achieved greatness in public awareness and cognizance. Sci-fi or fantasy films such as The Hunger Games not only depicts environmental catastrophe as a cause for a dystopic future or authoritarian regimes, but also confronts the social consequences of climate change. Like the film, the social result of a climate apocalypse may be life controlled by an authoritarian regime that decides who obtains what resources and also reigns one’s views, beliefs and actions, and the right to be in love (Bosch 2012, para. 10).

There would be dangerous consequences and results such as bloodshed over scarce resources. This reveals the consequential scenarios of intensifying global warming – what would be the social design as a result of a future technological reaction to environmental devastation (Andersen & Nielsen 2018, p. 615). According to Morgan (2010), it provokes them to start acting and ignite renewed perceptions and conversations with other people which surpasses the ways of formal education approaches and mainstream science. Such literature or films’ storylines highlight the calamitous forewarnings we encounter every day. If climate change and other environmental provocations are not faced seriously, the contemporary society we are familiar with would collapse.

n conclusion, in an age of human-induced climate change and high-risks of global environmental catastrophe, Anthropocene, these themes are portrayed in a number of fantasy or sci-fi films which help audiences understand how urgent and vital climate change is. These genres may offer escapism, but in fact it is a circuitous approach of engaging with crucial, genuine problems like climate change. They have the power to be edifying and morally transformative for many. They can make a difference by making people think and act. Dystopic films present the social and physical realities of worlds devasted by climate change and the mistakes the characters have made so audiences would feel the need to stop and change it.

Compared to formal education approaches, they are also more effective in eliciting certain discourses and produces a range of understandings and attitudes with regard to climate change. Literature and films are a great way of grab public attention through a popular medium to generate worldwide influence. Through captivating storylines, extravagant visuals and characters, there is an improved public interest in the contemporary issue of climate change and better understanding, awareness and stimulate debates that contribute to real action.

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