Sherryl Vint is a Professor of Science Fiction Media Studies at University of California and her book Science Fiction looks at how sci-fi has helped us comprehend the technological advancements of the modern age. The MIT Press Reader published an adapted article from the book to accompany it, focusing on sci-fi and environmental issues before climate change became a “thing”:
If we think about science fiction (sf) in terms of the genre’s connections to pressing issues in 21st-century culture, no topic is more urgent than climate change and the ways it promises to transform all aspects of human life, from where we live to how we cultivate our food to what energy sources will fuel our industries.
The issue is so pressing that some have started to use the term “cli-fi” for climate fiction — but this faddish coinage obscures a longer history of sf’s engagement with the environment and leaves unexamined the question of why sf has proven such a valuable genre for thinking about environmental futures. Even before the idea of climate change took hold, the genre embraced the geological and evolutionary timescales of 19th-century science and began to think of the planet as something that preceded our species and could conceivably continue without us. Such conceptualizations of the planet as a changeable environment turned the tradition of apocalyptic fiction toward mundane visions of environmental catastrophe instead of divine judgment.