13 “Back to the Future”: Imagining Climate Change Futures in US American Literature

In: Cultural Dynamics of Climate Change and the Environment in Northern America


Our very understanding and experience of climate change has been shaped by an all-encompassing scientific interpretation of the weather. However, the statistical graphs of emission scenarios and other data diagrams have not only enforced a division between the scientific and the human realm—increased levels of data and abstraction coupled with the lack of a representational means of seeing ourselves as actors within these data—but has for a long time suppressed other perceptions of this unprecedented phenomenon. In order to understand global warming we need to consider it within a broader context of discourses and narratives, which implies an awareness of social and cultural spheres through which climatic changes are brought to the fore. Literature and the imaginary realm are thus of importance to the project of communicating the complexity of climate change, evoking feelings about it and of raising questions about the ethical and socio-political ramifications of climate change. This article aims to make a contribution to the only recently emerging discourse on climate change fiction. After a general discussion and contextualisation of literature and climate change, this article analyses two climate change fictions, T.C. Boyle’s novel A Friend of the Earth and Kim Stanley Robinson’s Science in the Capital Trilogy, in order to discuss how literature deals with the representational challenges of climate change, focusing on the issue of time and the communication of risks and uncertainties.