Even In the 19th Century, Science Fiction Addressed Climate Change

Jules Verne and Mark Twain were among the writers exploring it

Jules Verne
Jules Verne, 1875.
Apic/Getty Images

In an era of unprecedented climate change, it’s not surprising to see science fiction writers looking to zero in on how climate might affect future societies. It’s led to an entire subgenre, in fact — climate fiction, or “cli-fi.” A host of writers have made forays into the aforementioned subgenre, and a lot has been written about it as a movement as well. If you’re looking for a fine example of it, Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Water Knife is a good place to start.

Writers have been dealing with climate change in works of science fiction for much longer than that, however. A new article by Sierra Garcia at JSTOR Daily explores the way the likes of Jules Verne and Mark Twain addressed a very contemporary concern more than a century ago.

Among the works cited in Garcia’s article are Jules Verne’s The Earth Turned Upside Down and Mark Twain’s The American Claimant. Garcia points to the work of scholar Steve Asselin, who’s taken a particularly in-depth look at how the science fiction of yesterday anticipates the climate conditions of tomorrow.

The plot summaries Garcia provides echo with concepts that are all too familiar in 2021, including corporations heating the globe for profit and climate change magnifying existing divisions within society. Science fiction anticipating the future isn’t strange in and of itself, but these examples are chilling nonetheless.

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