The Day After Tomorrow - The Best Illustration of Global Warming

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Some scholars believe that dystopias could be counterproductive. For example, obviously exaggerated doom scenarios could lead people to completely dismiss the urgency of the environment as a political topic. It could backfire. The Day After Tomorrow is a good illustration of this. This film provided climate change deniers with ammunition to discard the topic

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The Sustainable Development Goals can be seen as utopian, in that they are overly ambitious, but necessary to achieve to avoid the extreme disruption of our environmental and social systems. However, meeting them will not be easy.

In 2014, the then United Nations Secretary-General, Mr. Ban Ki-moon proclaimed that ‘Climate change is the defining issue of our times single greatest threat to a sustainable future’. The sustainable development goals were released the following year to further address sustainability and follow on from the millennium development goals. These goals which are 17 in number are broad in focus and cover economic, social and also environmental issues. Goal 13 is focused on climate action and urges all signatories to take radical steps in order to avert climate disaster. Ironically the four years since the inception of the sdgs have been the warmest on record and CO2 levels continue to rise. Such data paints a bleak picture of the future and yet people are still not treating climate change with the upmost importance. Even after consensus by scientist, a large number of people are sceptical of climate change with only 63 percent of Americans acknowledging that it is real. This discrepancy shows that just scientific information and attention on climate change is not enough to make people believe or act.

The need for new ways to communicate climate change and its impacts to the general public has given rise to a new sub-genre in science fiction dubbed Climate fiction or Cli-fi as its popularly referred to . The history of climate change fiction starts in 1977 with Arthur Herzog’s Heat, which was the first novel to focus on anthropogenic global warming. However, the sub-genre was a niche for many years until recently when it exploded on to the mainstream scene as climate change gained more attention.

This essay will explore how science fiction, or more precisely climate fiction, can help us understand climate change and influence our current behaviour. The essay begins by inspecting the need for climate fiction followed by an analysis of its effectiveness in the pursuit of a sustainable future. The author concludes by

Challenges in Communicating Climate Change

One of the main challenges facing climate change, is communication. Due to its complexity, climate change can be difficult for a layman to comprehend the scientific data. Reports such as the The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 1.5 report are alarming and provide useful scientific information however it is not a piece of work that will be casually read by the common person due to its perceived complexity. There is an evident imbalance between the considerable amount of information aimed at scientists and politicians compared to communication aimed at the general public.

Scientists have for decades published undeniable data which points at an environmental disaster if current trends are not radically changed yet climate change scepticism shows no sign of weakening. This rhetoric is undoubtedly strengthened by support from some politicians. One such example is President of the United States, Donald Trump, who is a vocal climate change denier. He has tweeted climate change scepticism 115 times and in one particular tweet he went as far as saying climate change is a concept created by the Chinese government. The divide over climate change has now become a partisan issue in the USA due to politicians such as Trump but this raises two important questions: Presented with clear cut evidence, why are some people sceptical whereas others are wholeheartedly convinced? Why is there a scientific consensus but not a social consensus? Suggest that this is because “Individuals’ opinions on climate change are often based on emotion rather than on scientific evidence.” With the view that scientific evidence is not enough make people concerned about the looming climate problem, Other modes of communication must be explored and utilised hand in hand with scientific data. This is where the representation of climate change in Science fiction plays a critical role. Fiction is uniquely positioned to explore human emotions and in turn to elicit emotional as well as intellectual responses. According to French philosopher Riceour ‘the first way human beings attempt to understand and to master the “manifold” of the practical field is to give themselves a fictive representation of it.’ As humans, it is hard to imagine our modern world collapsing or our children living in a world more primitive than our own as forecast by the IPCC. However, the speculative nature of Cli-fi can immerse a person in world such as these in ways scientific data cannot.

As stated above, climate change denial is

Most Cli fi narratives are usually characterised by environmental disasters set in the future. A post- apocalyptic and dystopian future seems like an overused science fiction plot narrative but in this instance the science supports these doomsday scenarios. Such narratives can be useful for painting vivid and distressing pictures in a person’s mind that forces them to confront the possible future. This creates a sense of alarm whilst also triggering conversation. As well as making climate change relevant to the general public. Climate fiction has already been shown to trigger concern as “80.6 percent of Americans who had read a work of climate fiction were concerned [about climate change] a great deal or a fair amount”. Even individuals who were already concerned with climate change admitted that cli fi has opened their eyes to the potential future world whereas climate change was fairly theoretical to them beforehand. Nonetheless, these dystopian narratives have faced criticism for being counterproductive. Critics argue that “climate fiction might lead some people to associate climate change with intensely negative emotions”. As a result of these negative emotions, people can become disillusioned or feel hopeless instead of working towards a better tomorrow. This leads to psychological effect called ‘ecological grief’ which is a “mental health response to climate change-related loss”. Therefore, regardless of its previous success it is imperative that climate fiction writers start to diversify away from dystopian narratives and provide other possible scenarios in order breed hope. More utopian narratives are desperately needed in this sub-genre as positive climate change imagery has been found to be more “motivating and appealing than images of disaster”. A combination of hope and a sense of urgency should be used in a unison to improve more constructively engage individuals. We need novels and films which push the narrative that climate change and its impacts are real, but don’t worry this is how we will meet it.

Climate change is currently the focus of world-wide attention, movements such as Extinction Rebellion are making sure the issue is heard and heard loudly yet as stated previously, climate change denial is a major issue that must be addressed in order to most effectively battle climate change. It is common across the all nations even especially the most developed as they are not the countries currently bearing the brunt of the climate crisis they created. This allows individuals to dissociate themselves with climate change as its not directly affecting them. This phenomenon must be urgently minimised if not removed entirely. As this is a cultural phenomenon, cli fi via popular culture can be used to change climate change beliefs. Science fiction especially in films has been proven to significantly effect beliefs and attitudes. This is a skill that is not widely available to scientist therefore cli fi should fill this role. Members of the scientific community have already echoed this view. One scientist stated that while ‘scientists and other people are trying to get their message across about various aspects of the climate change issue… fiction is an untapped way of doing this—a way of smuggling some serious topics into the consciousness of readers’.

The Hollywood film, The Day After Tomorrow, a mainstream cli fi movie, attempted to do this. In the poster of the film The statue of liberty is covered in ice after a climate disaster. Such vivid imagery, that is present throughout the film and in its posters, brings the consequences of climate change to an area of the world where it is not usually associated with. Due to human nature, most people do not place importance on an issue if it does not affect them directly. Schneider-Mayerson states that “if people are worried that the environmental changes will impact upon them either physically, financially, socially, or emotionally, then they may be more likely to develop their climate change awareness’. Films like this can bring climate change effects directly to the viewer and consequently bring about climate change awareness where scientific data has not been able to. However, critics argued that this film played into to the hands of climate change deniers due to its over exaggeration and inaccurate representation of climate change. This is a common criticism of cli fi as it is can be difficult to discern where accepted science ends and fiction begins. Nonetheless in a study of viewers of the movie, found viewers attitudes were effected with “some viewers of the film expressed strong motivation to act on climate change; more so than prior to seeing the film. In fact, only a very small percentage  of our sample believed that there was no point in taking action”. This critical finding clearly illustrates the power of Cli fi in positively affecting behaviours despite arguments about its portrayal of climate change.

Climate change is highly complex issue which requires all humans to tackle it however due to its inherent complexity and latency this is proving difficult. The UN, Governments, the scientific community and others have all been aiming to spread climate awareness especially in recent years, yet greenhouse emissions continue to rise, and societal trends are still moving towards an unsustainable future as presented in the introduction. This essay sought to analyse how climate fiction, a sub-genre of science fiction, can be used to effectively communicate climate change and its consequences.

Climate fiction has been found to be effective at raising climate awareness by compelling individuals to imagine potential future scenarios. However, these scenarios are usually dystopian narratives that some people associate with negative emotions such as hopelessness which can lead to ecological grief. Therefore, it is critical that more utopian narratives are available in cli fi in order to create a balance and hope as positive imagery is more “motivating and appealing than images of disaster”.

The Hollywood blockbuster, The Day After Tomorrow, was briefly discussed as it is a mainstream cli fi movie. The movie depicts a future world that is suffering from climate catastrophes. The film has faced scrutiny over its exaggerated portrayal of climate change with critics arguing that it provides ammunition to sceptics however such critique is limited to a fairly small percentage of viewers as found by Lowe et al. Who investigated the film’s effect on viewers and concluded viewers’ attitudes on climate change changed after watching the film

To conclude the use of climate change in science fiction, allows the issue to enter our cultural discourse. It is imperative that the general public is in constant dialogue with the issue instead of it being restricted it to governmental bodies and the scientific community. As shown throughout this essay, climate fiction has the power to drive climate awareness and action especially in individuals who previously could not imagine climate change or saw it as just merely theoretical. Consequently, this leads to greater numbers of people being actively engaged with the environment in order to bring about a better and more sustainable tomorrow.

29 April 2022

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