‘Cli-Fi’ a New Horizon for Climate Change Writers

December 19, 2018

The author, advertising his free weekly cli-fi advice services. Photo: @do_you_cli_fi_. Click to enlarge.

Freelance Files: ‘Cli-Fi’ a New Horizon for Climate Change Writers

By Dan Bloom

For many freelance science and environmental reporters, most story pitches to editors focus on hard science. They usually include charts and statistics, interviews and quotes from professors and scientists in their offices or labs. While some target more educated readers, most are aimed at the general reader.

But there is another kind of freelance science communication story that targets the general audience and has the power to engage them in new ways. That's an article that combines science and novel writing for a new literary genre that's been dubbed cli-fi or climate fiction. And it's increasingly being pitched to editors in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia.

Think science fiction, but change the story to novels and movies about climate change issues, such as Barbara Kingsolver's "Flight Behavior" and Kim Stanley Robinson's "New York 2140" or even Nathaniel Rich's cli-fi satire "Odds Against Tomorrow."

I've been pitching freelance cli-fi stories to newspaper and magazine editors for over ten years now.  The New York Times, The Guardian, The Atlantic magazine, and dozens of other English-language outlets worldwide are now open to freelance reporters with a science background and a literary bent.

What is cli-fi?

I coined the cli-fi term for ''climate change fiction'' novels, based on the same rhyming sounds as sci-fi, but pronounced "klai fai". On Twitter I use the hashtag #clifi.

My goal was to create a PR tool for climate communication writers and for novelists and literary critics. But it also works as a science communications tool for readers who might otherwise shy away from climate change news stories.

And it's a way to connect freelance science reporters to a host of publications now willing to consider cli-fi stories. In addition to the Times and the Guardian newspapers, they include the the BBC, Slate, Salon, Huffington Post, CNN, Sierra magazine, The New Republic, The Nation, High Country News, college alumni magazines and dozens of in-flight magazines which are always looking for unique kinds of articles.

Other magazines and websites that have accepted cli-fi news articles include Pacific Standard, Earth Island Journal and the Chicago Review of Books, where literary critic Amy Brady now writes a monthly literary column devoted to cli-fi trends.

It's a booming term now. If you Google cli-fi you will see hundreds of links for cli-fi news and novels. For more background see the cli-fi Wikipedia page I created in 2013 and the cli-fi website at www.cli-fi.net.

Cli-Fi success stories

Not every reader is attuned to hard science or breaking climate change news. Many readers, however, will be sucked into an article that highlights a fictional story that explores those issues in an accurate and scientific way.


My goal is to inspire and motivate more

science and environment writers to do stories

that explore the intersection of climate change issues

with literature and cinema, arts and culture.


My goal is to inspire and motivate more science and environment writers to do stories that explore the intersection of climate change issues with literature and cinema, arts and culture. What I want to do is help journalists like SEJ writers pitch their stories around this new term.

For example, I assisted J.K. Ullrich pitch a story (“Climate Fiction: Can Books Save the Planet?”) that was published on the Atlantic to global applause. I helped Rodge Glass in London get a cli-fi story published in The Guardian.

Also, James Sullivan placed an article about the background of cli-fi in Literary Hub, an online literary magazine. Lily Rothman did a big story in Time magazine about summer cli-fi movies. The New York Times did a widely-read “Room for Debate” forum with five literary and science experts about the rise and usefulness of cli-fi novels and movies, pro and con.

Where to pitch cli-fi stories

Since the genre is still very new, it's possible many editors have not thought about cli-fi articles for their publications. And there are always new slants to pitch about cli-fi novels and movies from a literary and environmental point of view.

For instance, Hannah Fairfield at the Climate Desk at The New York Times is always looking for innovative stories about climate novels and movies and how they intersect with climate science and current politics. Pamela Paul at The New York Times Book Review is also warming up to pitches from freelancers about the rise of this new literary genre of cli-fi.

One story that has yet to be written, or even pitched as far as I know (hint hint), is about how the book industry is taking to cli-fi. Interviews and quotes from publishers, literary agents, literary critics, public relations and marketing people at major and even small publishers would make a compelling article for someone to pitch and write and publish.

And what do bookstores think about cli-fi novels and do they make an effort to find a place in the store to display cli-fi novels as a separate category from science fiction?

Think about turning to cli-fi to pitch articles to novelists, film directors, Hollywood producers and actors you may know.

Finally, you might use the SEJ Twitter feed to pitch ideas globally to potential editors where cli-fi is beginning to catch on. Many publications overseas would love to see some freelance pitches for cli-fi articles in their regions of the world. Think India, Australia, France, Germany, Sweden, South Africa, New Zealand and Mexico.  

Dan Bloom graduated from Tufts University in 1971 with a degree in journalism and worked at newspapers in Alaska, Japan and Taiwan before retiring and founding The Cli-Fi Report in 2013. He has lived in Asia since 1991 and can be reached by email at danbloom@gmail.com.

* From the weekly news magazine SEJournal Online, Vol. 3, No. 46. Content from each new issue of SEJournal Online is available to the public via the SEJournal Online main page. Subscribe to the e-newsletter here. And see past issues of the SEJournal archived here.

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