The moment I finished my master’s thesis and graduated in November, I dove into a pile of novels that were long on my reading list. Given the pandemic lockdown and my current state of unemployment, on most days you’ll still find me there, deep in my latest story. Many of those books could be classified as climate fiction. Climate fiction, or cli-fi, the way I see it, are stories set in a changing climate. That does not mean that cli-fi books are always set in dystopian distant futures. Our climate is already in crisis, and many writers have told heart-wrenching stories about that.
Climate change is a slow, complex, and wicked problem, but the solutions need to be swift, just, and continuously improved. Cli-fi doesn’t generally offer solutions, but it does provide meaning and maybe even motivation. In reading narratives written from a girl’s perspective in the days before Hurricane Katrina, or a boy running for his life in what remains of Canada’s forests, you can viscerally feel the catastrophe of climate change. The data in the IPCC reports on global warming are crucial but emotionless and distant from our everyday, lived experience as human beings. Diving deep into a story fills me with a sense of urgency and resolve like no chart or report can. That’s why, as an environmental scientist, I like to read climate fiction.
The following are four of my favorite climate fiction novels, as well as a recipe for peanut butter cookies you can snack on while you read. You’ll need something to fuel you as these books are impossible to put down.
Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler (1993)
Parable of the Sower takes place in a world ravaged by climate change, inequality, and violence. What drew me initially to this story is that the main character has “hyperempathy,” the unique ability to feel other people’s emotions. In Butler’s dystopian world that generates much more pain than pleasure for our heroine. Throughout her struggles, the main character works to understand her reason for being, her truth, and she finds it in a line that will forever stay with me: “God is change.”
Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward (2011)
Salvage the Bones tells the fictional story of how a pregnant teenage girl and her family prepare in the days before Hurricane Katrina destroys their Mississippi home. Ward’s prose cuts deep. During her National Book Award acceptance speech for this novel, Ward said, “I understood that I wanted to write about the experiences of the poor, and the black and the rural people of the South so that the culture that marginalized us for so long would see that our stories were as universal, our lives as fraught and lovely and important, as theirs.”
The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline (2017)
The Marrow Thieves’ setting is a dystopian North America where unmitigated pollution has contaminated nearly all freshwater reserves, and rising seawaters have flooded the coastlines. More troubling than that, a mysterious pandemic is sweeping the land. The only people who are immune to the disease, Indigenous North Americans, are being ruthlessly persecuted. I cried countless times in this beautifully written story of love and loss.
South Pole Station by Ashley Shelby (2017)
South Pole Station is Ashley Shelby’s first novel. The narrator is an artist selected for a fellowship at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in Antarctica. At this southernmost research station, climate scientists work (in real life) to track historic atmospheric carbon levels from excavated ice cores. The arrival of a Republican-funded climate skeptic who befriends the artist jeopardizes their research plans and unhinges the base’s peculiar social order.
Peanut Butter Cookies
Recipe adapted from Vegan for Everybody
Makes about 24 cookies
- 1 ½ cups (212 grams) flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 ¼ cups (300 grams) creamy peanut butter
- 1 cup (220 grams) brown sugar
- ½ cup (120 ml) maple syrup or agave syrup
- ¼ cup (60 ml) coconut oil or vegan butter, melted
- 3 tablespoon water
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- In a large bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl, mix the peanut butter, brown sugar, syrup, oil, water, and vanilla. Carefully pour the liquid mixture into the flour mixture and combine.
- At this point, the dough needs to be refrigerated. Either refrigerate the dough for a couple of hours or store it in the fridge overnight.
- Preheat oven to 170°C (350°F). Divide the dough in two, then in two again. Those four mounds should make about 6 cookies each. Roll dough into small balls and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. With the back of a glass, press down on the balls to flatten them. If you know you can’t eat or give away 24 cookies within a few days, I recommend storing half of the flattened cookies in the freezer to bake another day.
- Bake one sheet at a time for 12 to 15 minutes until the cookies’ edges begin to darken. Remove from the oven and let cool completely on the baking sheet before touching. If you are impatient, like me, and grab a cookie while it’s still warm, it will crumble between your fingers.
- You can add chocolate chips or thinly sliced chocolate to this dough; just add up to ¾ cup to the mix as you combine the wet and dry ingredients in step 1.
- As you can tell from the main photo, these cookies make excellent ice cream sandwiches!