There are thousands of books and scientific papers concerning climate change and its impact on the environment, but there are far fewer novels and films concerning the biggest danger facing humankind, particularly when compared to say terrorism or crime.
This is perhaps because climate change is a slow moving gradual process which has and will continue to impact people across the world but its slow moving nature make it difficult to portray in fiction. But that is changing as writers in particular are exploring a future which is transformed by climate breakdown and reality of living in it.
Stories are a far more powerful medium than scientific books or academic papers and are key to the public gaining an understanding of the consequences of climate breakdown and mobilising action to halt it.
Below I list four of the most striking films and books that deal with climate change.
This film does not mention climate change, but it does concern those trying to escape the effects of an earth bound environmental crisis, with an all-star cast including Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine, Jessica Chastain, and John Lithgow and directed by Christopher Nolan it was a major box office hit in 2014.
In the movie crop failure and dust storms threaten humankind’s ability to grow enough food (a danger posed by climate breakdown) which leads to a risky outer space expedition to find new planets to colonise. Interstellar is a visually stunning and thoughtful sci-fi epic which invites the viewer to consider humankind’s place both on earth and the wider universe.
New York 2140
This book by science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson describes in intricate detail a Venetian style New York partially submerged in water by rising levels over 100 years from now. Told through the eyes of various city dwellers the book is funny, warm but arguably lacking a strong plot, instead relying on strong characterisations to maintain the reader’s interest. The book a good entertaining starting point for those wishing to explore a world afflicted by rising seas and how people might adapt to their new conditions.
The Day After Tomorrow
This now decade old film is a summer blockbuster style movie, in which we are invited to identify with that classic Hollywood character, a misunderstood scientist who foresees disaster but is ignored until it is too late. Pretty soon climate based disaster strikes as almost overnight a new ice age arrives on the Eastern Sea board of the United States and the scientist has to make a treacherous journey to be reunited with his family.
From a scientific point of view the story is bunk and from a creative and narrative standpoint it’s fairly middle of the road pedestrian fare, entertaining, but not particularly memorable. None the less the film drives home the critical point via a narrative that climate change is a life or death issue which cannot be ignored.
Although it’s not clear what has caused the apocalypse in Cormac McCarthy’s depressing and harrowing tale of a father and man travelling through America after an extinction level event, trying to dodge marauders and cannibals in an effort to avoid a heavy winter by travelling south.
Although powerful and moving, I found the bleak tone unbearable and ultimately couldn’t finish the book, of course it’s debatable whether the book is actually dealing with climate breakdown as it’s not made explicit. But none the less it provides an effective imagined dystopia resulting from a planetary sized disaster, which of course climate change could lead too.