Expanding Climate Science: Using Science Fiction’s Worldbuilding to Imagine a Climate Changed Southwestern U.S.

Dylan M. Harris


Drawing from cutting-edge climate science, popular representations of climate change convey a grim future in which life appears difficult if not impossible. While it is important to communicate the direness of future climate change, these representations depict the future as a forgone conclusion, which profoundly impacts the way climate change is perceived in the present. Rather than envisioning the future planet as a dead end, this article uses the worldbuilding inherent in science fiction to think more expansively and creatively about the possibilities of climate futures otherwise. Also drawing from cutting-edge research, science fiction builds worlds around facts, allowing readers to cognitively inhabit the future, to emotionally connect with characters that live there, and to consider the political and social implications of a climate changed planet. This paper first outlines the ways in which science fiction has already engaged with climate science. Then, this paper turns to the ways in which science fiction can work alongside climate science to better produce and communicate knowledge about climate change. By way of example, this paper will focus on a climate-changed Southwestern United States, using two novels–Claire Vaye Watkins’s Gold Fame Citrus and Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Water Knife–to illustrate how climate science can be augmented by the worldbuilding efforts of science fiction. Finally, this paper makes the case for expanding methods of producing and communicating knowledge about future climate change.


science fiction; climate communication; climate change; STS; speculative political ecology; environmental humanities

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