Move over sci-fi: 'Climate fiction' finds way into classrooms

Fri Apr 10, 2015 1:35pm EDT
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By Kyle Plantz

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Students at a Massachusetts college have just read "The Windup Girl", the tale of a dystopian future Bangkok where climate change has pushed up temperatures and sea levels, and viruses acquired from genetically modified food are killing people.

The book, by debut novelist Paolo Bacigalupi, is the product of a new class at Holyoke Community College on "climate fiction" or "cli-fi", a relatively new variant of science fiction.

Around the world, from the United States to Britain to India, cli-fi classes are creeping into timetables as academics try to bring a growing international concern into the classroom in a lively way that combines science and emotion.

"Cli-fi is capturing what is in the air now, the human impact on the environment, and I think literature is a great tool to raise awareness for this," said Elizabeth Trobaugh who teaches the class at Holyoke and earlier taught a class looking at real-life science in science fiction.

The class led by Trobaugh and fellow professor Steven Winters, called "Cli-Fi: Stories and Science of the Coming Climate Apocalypse", includes a two-hour science lab each week.

"We take some scientific topic introduced in the literature that can work as a lab and explore some of the themes discussed using an experiment," Winters said.

While reading "The Windup Girl", the class extracted DNA from strawberries to understand the genetic manipulation that occurs in the novel.

"They like learning science in the context of reading a story and it allows students to thrive in science and English," Winters said.   Continued...