16 Pieces of Pop Culture About Climate Change, From Atwood to Spielberg to the Pixies

Let’s talk about cli-fi!

Have you ever heard of “cli-fi”? It’s a new trend emerging in pop culture—essentially, it’s fiction that features climate change as an integral plot device. It seems that as climate change becomes part of our reality here on Earth, it’s helpful to look at fiction to see what we might expect.

Today on the show, author Paolo Bacigalupi and University of Oregon professor Stephanie LeMenager will be giving us an inside look at this trend. But first, we asked our SciFri staff, as well as a few sci-fi experts—and you—for suggestions on the best cli-fi:



On Such a Full Sea, by Chang-Rae Lee
Annie Minoff, producer at Science Friday

“This is a novel set in a dystopian, near-future Baltimore. The causes of the city’s collapse aren’t exactly named, though the environment is clearly degraded. What I like about this book is that it shows how environmental collapse affects people unequally. In On Such a Full Sea, when things get bad, they get especially bad for those on the bottom of the economic totem pole.”

Available on Amazon.




“The Calorie Man” (From Pump Six and Other Stories), by Paolo Bacigalupi
Christian Skotte, director of program strategy at Science Friday

“Much of science fiction imagines a post-petroleum future. But in many cases, the fuel sources the future uses are better and more efficient than gasoline. In this story—like in much of Bacigalupi’s fiction—people have moved backwards to animal-power. Which means that crops become highly engineered to feed beasts big enough to power society.”

Available on Amazon.

Annihilation, by Jeff VanderMeer
Annalee Newitz, tech culture editor at Ars Technica

“Annihilation is a fantasy novel about an environmental scientist who’s studying what seems to be this rift in spacetime that’s developed in Florida. It’s very much a kind of psychological drama about what it feels like to be confronting existential threats. How do you say, ‘Ok, I’m a scientist with a notebook, I’m taking notes, I’m figuring out what’s happening to this ecosystem’ when at the same time, there’s this yawning chasm of fear—‘What’s going to happen to our planet? What’s going to happen to the people in it?’”

Available on Amazon.

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, directed by Hayao Miyazaki

Blu-ray available through Amazon.

IDP: 2043, edited by Denise Mina
Stephen Siperstein, Ph.D. candidate in English at the University of Oregon

“This graphic novel was published in Scotland and written by 10 different graphic artists who all contributed to the dystopian plot and illustrations. It’s an interesting collaborative form of cli-fi, in which people came together to co-imagine a climate changed future.”

Available on Amazon.


Oryx and Crake, by Margaret Atwood
Christie Taylor, radio producer for Science Friday

“Even though it’s a book in which the major crisis is about the role of runaway corporate influence in daily life and, eventually, a biological plague, it’s set against this background of a changing climate as well. I forget where exactly it’s set, but the implication is that it’s a city whose climate is dramatically hotter and wetter than in our time, and this colors the general bleakness of the entire story. (And her whole MadAddam trilogy exists in this world, but Oryx and Crake is really the classic.)”

Available on Amazon.



“Monkey Gone to Heaven,” by The Pixies
Christian Skotte, director of program strategy at Science Friday

“There aren’t too many pop songs about climate change. But this one manages to reference the hole in the ozone layer and global warming. Unfortunately, things don’t go too well for the primates Black Francis sings about.”

Seveneves, by Neal Stephenson

Available on Amazon.

The Great Immensity, written and directed by Steve Cosson, music and lyrics by Michael Friedman
Jen Kwok, bookkeeper at Science Friday

“I saw a really interesting play last year called The Great Immensity. It was produced by the theatre group The Civilians and ran at the Public Theater. This play really stood out to me because it explored the emotional issues surrounding climate change—abstract things that are usually difficult to put into words, like what will happen to “our children” (the plot revolves around a group of child activists) or the sadness of a species going extinct (there’s a memorable musical number about the passenger pigeon).”

Learn more about the play here.

Waterworld, directed by Kevin Costner
Julie Leibach, managing editor of ScienceFriday.com

“This movie envisioned a future where the ice caps have melted and inundated most of the globe, and surviving humans vie for resources while hunting for dry land. Maybe that scenario doesn’t seem so crazy now.”

Available for streaming on Showtime.


Red Mars, by Kim Stanley Robinson

Available on Amazon.

The Dispossessed, by Ursula LeGuin

Available on Amazon.

A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, directed by Steven Spielberg
Brandon Echter, engagement manager for Science Friday

“When you think of this 2001 science fiction fairy tale, you probably think of the blue fairy, the robot fair, the weird alien things at the end… but I always think of the chilling opening narration: ‘Those were the years after the ice caps melted because of the greenhouse gases, and the oceans had risen to drown so many cities along all the shorelines of the world—Amsterdam, Vence, New York, forever lost.’ The narrator describes a world of climate change run amok, where resources have become scarce and robots, who only require resources when created, become necessary. Plus, who can forget that striking shot of a sunken Manhattan?”

Available for rental on Amazon.

The Matrix, directed by The Wachowskis

Available for rental on Amazon.

Ori and the Blind Forest, created by Moon Studios

Available on Steam.

Science in The Capital series, by Kim Stanley Robinson

Available on Amazon.

What did we miss? Let us know in the comments!

Meet the Writer

About Brandon Echter

Brandon Echter is Science Friday’s digital managing editor. He loves space, sloths, and cephalopods, and his aesthetic is “cultivated schlub.”

  • Colin

    I’m not sure I agree with the guest’s characterization of “Cli-fi” as a newer phenomenon. A few relevant mid-century sci fi novels: Frank Herbert’s Dune (1966), is about man-made climate change on the planet Arrakis. Also consider J.G. Ballard’s early trilogy of ecological fiction novels “The Drowned World,” “The Burning World” and “The Crystal World.”

  • Gail

    “The Age of Miracles” by Karen Thompson Walker.

  • James Jones

    Great new author has a chi-fi thriller that hits on a lot of important questions, but is very entertaining as well. T.L. Zalecki’s “Sirens” takes place in a post-climate change world where the race is on to develop aquatic capabilities in humans. The protaganists are both Marine biologists, and the real stars are aquatic humans who are being pursued by a major corporation. Great story, and science is very much at the center of this two book series. The first book is called “Rising Tide,” the second is “The Lost World.”

  • Jethro Bodine

    John Brunner’s “The Sheep Look Up”.

  • Sandy

    For young teens, the Seed Savers series. Climate change in background, more about overbearing government plus corporations and loss of control over the food system.

  • Auntie_C

    Who can save the last boy on earth? 14 year old Kingsley is too fat to wear swim trunks and too poor to play golf. But when colony collapse disorder finishes off the bees and moves on to anything with a Y-Chromosome, Kingsley has more to lose than video games and the attention of petroleum heiress Amanda. Kingsley’s mother believes millions of dollars in research can save her son, and she’ll lie, steal and worse to get it. But not everyone mourns the loss of the men, and Kingsley’s adversaries welcome the plague cleansing the earth for womankind. Can an unscrupulous mother and a spirited girl save the last boy on earth? Fans of dystopian fiction and eco-thrillers (The Hunger Games, The MaddAddam Trilogy) will love KINGSLEY. Available on Amazon.com in paperback, ebook, and audio at http://amzn.to/1SFlhqT

  • Tony Finan

    Kind of surprised that Bruce Sterling’s “Heavy Weather” wasn’t mentioned. It deals with the long term effects of climate change as well as the sociological effects on the the nation. One of my favorite novels of his.

  • danbloom

    Bruce Sterling’s “Master of the Aviary,” a cli fi short story set 1000 years in the past.

  • Jeff Price

    Harry Harrison’s “Make Room, Make Room”, later made into the film Soylent Green. The film Silent Running could have been triggered by climate change and I thought the proposed re-make was going to be.

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