“It was getting hotter.”
Kim Stanley Robinson, the popular American writer of science fiction, opens his blockbuster climate-fiction novel The Ministry for the Future in India. One of his main protagonists, Frank May, is a white American working at an unidentified NGO. Through his eyes, we see one of the most devastating depictions of climate change ever written. In Robinson’s imagined future, India is one of the first countries ravaged by the bizarre weather conditions brought on by climate change. It is also the first country to truly rise to the occasion, becoming a global climate leader as it rejects carbon-based development and successfully adapts to the planet’s new reality.
Robinson’s novel is far from unique in depicting our shared climate future with reference to Southasia. Numerous other Western cli-fi writers engage with the region too. Stephen Markley’s 2023 cli-fi epic The Deluge pulls no punches when it comes to the worst-case scenarios of climate change, and references Bangladesh, Pakistan and India throughout. Unlike in Robinson’s work, here Southasia is subject to disaster with little hope in sight. In American War, by Omar El Akkad, Bangladesh is obliquely and ominously referred to as the “Bangladeshi isles,” alongside brief descriptions of “northward death marches” away from rising seas. Anthony Doerr’s Cloud Cuckoo Land describes a future Mumbai: “Boats are tethered to second-floor balconies; someone is frozen atop the roof of a submerged car, her arms raised for help, her scream blurred off her face.” In Blackfish City, Sam J Miller’s novel set in an artificial island nation designated a home for the world’s climate refugees, the Southasian diaspora has found fraternity in the wake of destruction: “[a] quarter of the city’s population hailing from the various South Asian nations, rent asunder by imperialism and Partition and the Water Wars but reunited by Qaanaaq’s xenophobia.”
Climate fiction has enjoyed an explosion of popularity in the past few years. The genre, dedicated to imagining the future of climate change, has taken over bestseller lists across the globe. Through these speculative works of fiction, it is now possible for a reader to explore the best- and worst-case possibilities of our shared environmental future. Reflecting our hopes, fears and biases, the genre also has much to teach us about how we see the world.
Why, of all regions, is Southasia so prominent in contemporary climate fiction?
With the exception of North America, where most popular cli-fi authors are based and where they continue to set much of their work, it seems that Southasia has captured the Western cli-fi imagination like no other region. In multiple cornerstones of the genre, Southasia is given more prominence than Africa, West Asia, East Asia, Europe and the rest of the Americas. There is much to be made of these exclusions. Somalia’s ongoing drought has killed tens of thousands of people, and shifting weather patterns are often considered an entangled factor in civil unrest and social devastation across Africa and West Asia. Latin America is home to some of the most biodiverse – and endangered – ecosystems on Earth. Pacific Island nations, Southeast Asia and archipelagic nations like Indonesia and Japan are all climate vulnerable. And yet, Southasia in particular stands taller than the rest in works of climate fiction, whether these present a simplistic, birds-eye view of devastation or the more balanced take of Robinson’s novel. Within the region, too, certain territories attract more attention than others. Bangladesh and India are the most frequently mentioned, with Pakistan an occasional contender and scarcer references to the Maldives, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka or Afghanistan.
These illustrations of Southasia in the Western literary imagination of climate change have something to tell us. Not only do they indicate a broad professional consensus on which regions are most climate vulnerable, but they also hint at the greatest concerns that echo through the international climate movement. They are influential, not just at the level of grand policy but also on an individual scale.
But why, of all regions, is Southasia so prominent in contemporary climate fiction? The answer lies in a close reading of significant examples, as well as an exploration of the history of the genre. Authors like Amitav Ghosh, Arif Anwar and Saad Z Hossain, either Southasians or members of the Southasian diaspora, have been pioneers of the literary movement to address climate change, with Ghosh’s work in particular standing as a major inspiration for the recent cli-fi wave. Western cli-fi authors have been topping the bestsellers’ lists of late, but the genre owes much of its existence to Southasian writers.
Ghosh’s The Great Derangement, published in 2016, is a critique of the absence of climate change in contemporary fiction at the time. Back then, there were few notable examples of climate fiction and hardly any authors willing to explore the issue. Ghosh explores why the modern novel as a form is ill-equipped to investigate the slippery nature of climate change, critiquing the novel’s reliance on character and place in comparison to the all-encompassing and uncanny reality of the global environment. It also functions as a call to arms, of sorts, for literary fiction authors to attend to the most urgent crisis of our times.
When I first read the book as a college student in the United States, as well as Ghosh’s 2004 novel The Hungry Tide, it inspired me to refocus my writing on climate and to turn to Southasia. It also opened my eyes to the core disjunctures between our engagement with narrative and the realities of the shifting world around us. I was far from the only person inspired by Ghosh’s work. As an academic friend of mine said recently, “It’s almost impossible to attend an academic conference right now without hearing about the Ministry for the Future and The Great Derangement.” Ghosh’s novels, including The Hungry Tide, are some of the first and most critical examples of literary fiction engaging with climate change.
Like climate change itself, the genre is also inextricable from imperialism, reflecting the tragedy of our collective history and ongoing inequality.
In the wake of The Great Derangement, authors also rapidly expanded the novelistic structures through which climate change can be approached. Ghosh’s critique of the challenges in engaging the borderless nature of climate change has, in part, been answered by the Russian-doll novel structure of most major fiction works on the topic. The Ministry for the Future, The Deluge and Richard Powers’ The Overstory all utilise this approach. Having numerous, nested plotlines, as opposed to just a singular narrative, allows authors to meet the challenge of reflecting the global nature of climate change. Dancing between locations and lives, climate change can emerge as a multi-sited yet interconnected issue. Writers have also experimented with non-human perspectives – writing from the viewpoint of the climate itself, or the economy. Robinson, for one, does this in occasional mini-chapters throughout his book.
Part of the reason why Southasia figures so prominently in the climate fiction movement is the relationship between the region and some of cli-fi’s most significant voices. However, with closer reading of Western writers, it also becomes clear that there are numerous other forces at play. As many authors from the West make clear in their language, settings and descriptions, Southasia reflects some of the most crucial ideas of the modern climate movement. The region’s colonial history and environmental vulnerability illustrate the need to take stock of historical and modern injustices in our efforts to address the climate crisis.
Frank, our stand-in for the Western viewpoint in The Ministry for the Future, watches as children, the elderly and, eventually, almost everyone else around him perishes in the biggest heatwave in fictional-Indian history. The moment is utterly apocalyptic: “Wails of dismay cut the air, coming from the rooftop across the street. Cries of distress, a pair of young women leaning over the wall calling down to the street. Someone on that roof was not waking up.”
As death steals the vulnerable, Frank attempts to gather surviving locals and save them from the scorching temperatures. He still focuses on his ultimate goal – surviving so he can return home: “Focus on getting through today. One day at a time. Then home to Jacksonville, comically cool after this. He would have stories to tell. But the poor people on the rooftop across the way.” The death and destruction around him appear almost voyeuristic in this passage, part of the “stories” he can share from his time in India. Despite his efforts to save those around him, he keeps one thing a secret – jugs of cool drinking water that he has hidden away. It may well be this secret that keeps him alive while everyone else perishes. The allegory here is clear – the West hoarding resources from those who need them the most. Echoing histories of imperialism’s artificially induced famines, Frank’s experience is a broad reflection of the relationship between the West and Southasia.
Later, Frank suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, wracked with survivor’s guilt and completely unable to live a normal and healthy life. To stretch the comparison, if Frank represents the microcosmic scale of the imperial landscape, is there a world in which colonisers suffer moral consequences? Will those of us in carbon-spewing nations feel guilt as the world succumbs to a climate disaster that is in large part of our creation? This unlikely possibility seems embodied by Frank’s PTSD, by his constant remembrance of the disaster. In Robinson’s best-case climate fiction scenario, where the world manages to come together to resolve climate change, the moral culpability of high-emissions countries is a constant theme, and Southasia is perhaps the clearest theatre for it.
It is no longer possible to negotiate over the impacts of climate change on a global scale without contending with the historical inequalities between the planet’s communities. In the past few years, questions of “loss and damage” – essentially, what high-emissions-heavy countries owe to climate-vulnerable ones – has come to the fore of climate discussions, including at recent editions of the United Nations Climate Change Conferences, better known as the COPs. And the international dialogue on responsibility doesn’t even begin to touch upon the challenges of inequalities within countries, despite the fact that some groups and industries in every region pollute far more than the majority of the middle and bottom classes.
The question goes beyond just who owes what. Should a country in need of rapid industrial growth forego the cheapest, tried-and-true method of fossil-fuel-dependent development? Southasia, home to a full quarter of the world’s population and a number of rapidly growing economies, occupies centre stage in this debate. It’s no surprise that cli-fi makes ample use of the region in exploring the questions of blame and responsibility that define the contemporary climate movement. When desperate locals steal the generator from Frank’s clinic, one of them states the obvious: “The man … pointed the gun at Frank one last time. ‘You did this,’ he said, and then they slammed the door on him and were gone.”
How Southasia will act on climate will determine much of our collective planetary future. Robinson’s India becomes an environmentalist nation in the wake of the heatwave, ousting carbon-based development in favour of a community-led agrarian model. It also rejects international attempts to control its decisions. The government gambles on a risky form of geoengineering in the form of stratospheric aerosol injection, a speculated method for blocking some sunlight from reaching the earth by spreading reflective particles in the upper atmosphere. Its efforts work, and the rest of the world is, for once, at India’s mercy. India is transformed over the course of the novel, going from climate catastrophe to a brash climate utopia.
As with much of The Ministry for the Future, this reads as a best-case scenario, almost to the point of fantasy. In Robinson’s telling, not only does India not need a massive transfer of wealth from the West to deal with climate change, it also becomes a model of ecological governance. The idea of fault and responsibility is woven throughout. Just as the man stealing his clinic’s generator points at Frank and tells him, “This is your fault,” so does India as a whole blame the West for engineering the catastrophe that takes twenty million lives. But India doesn’t wait for the United Nations, the World Bank or the United States to provide funds for adaptation and assistance. It reorganises its own resources to attack climate change, and succeeds by the resilience and commitment of its population.
A far darker story unspools in Stephen Markley’s The Deluge. Around the year 2036, Bangladesh is swallowed by a cyclone of historic proportions, prompting a humanitarian catastrophe. Markley’s descriptions are worth reading in their entirety for their devastating depiction of worst-case climate calamity in Southasia:
A high tide brought a storm surge of twenty-five feet, and whole villages were swept away. In the Sundarbans, the islands connected like muscle sinew by mangrove forests, clay dikes toppled and shrimp farms were eradicated. The soil, water, and yellowed mud of these coastal flats is home to over nineteen million people who now have little possibility of return or renewal. Khulna, one of Bangladesh’s key ports, was effectively wiped off the map. To say there’s nothing left is incorrect because there are splinters left. There is twisted metal and plastic piping and brick rubble and collapsed concrete and drowned wildlife. There are bodies. Thousands of them.
Where the death toll of India’s heatwave in The Ministry for the Future spurs global concern, here Bangladesh’s crisis becomes a global rallying cry for just the opposite – racism, xenophobia and complete escape from moral responsibility. The prime minister of Norway takes pleasure in the disaster, calling it “fun,” and the idea of allowing developing countries to succumb to catastrophe as a kind of “natural selection” gains popularity in right-wing movements. This is a clear echo of some of the worst political rhetoric and beliefs in the West of late, such as the genocidal calls in Europe to leave refugees trying to reach the continent by boat to die at sea. It’s not a stretch to imagine this attitude applying to a climate-changed future, and Bangladesh’s plight here represents the maddening unfairness of that possibility.
To gain deeper insight into Southasia’s climate future, one has to read the climate literature of Southasia by Southasians, of which there is a sizable and growing tide.
Markley draws back to real-world science to explain why Bangladesh, of all places, is the site of his fictionalised climate disaster: “For forty years, experts warned that Bangladesh was an unprecedented calamity waiting to happen.” Markley points out the legitimate predictions that have brought Bangladesh into international focus. The majority of the nation lies lower than fifteen feet above sea level, and is at acute risk from rising sea levels. The Sundarban, the world’s largest mangrove ecosystem, is littered with failed flood-control projects that have worsened the livelihoods of the millions who live there. Many millions more live in the highly flood-prone Ganga delta. Even with positive climate outcomes, countless homes will be inundated. If scenarios trend toward the worst case, there could be a completely unprecedented refugee crisis, with tens of millions of people moving away from an encroaching sea. Added to this, as Markley also points out, are societal aspects that may make the country even more disaster-prone – densely populated cities and a weak social safety net.
However, there is a strong critique to be made of this kind of viewpoint. India’s massive 2022 heatwave, which drew numerous comparisons in the media to The Ministry for the Future’s opening chapter, resulted in relatively few casualties, let alone a political revolution. Like dire predictions that failed to materialise of the effects of the Covid-19 catastrophe in much of Africa and Southasia, the realities of disaster in the Global South seem to frequently confound expert assumptions. The reasons for this are myriad. Do experts and institutions paint developing societies as intrinsically vulnerable and somehow identical, lacking any kind of indigenous knowledge of how to navigate turbulent times? Do they possess some built-in resilience – socially, culturally or at some nexus of the environment and community – that is able to evade the worst outcomes of pandemics and heatwaves and maybe even sea-level rises? Perhaps. Global literature, both fiction and nonfiction, too often flattens the developing world, presenting simple narratives of victimhood in the face of crisis.
It is also worth considering why certain communities and countries in Southasia often appear in Western cli-fi while others do not. India and Bangladesh are often referenced, but Pakistan, Nepal, the Maldives, Afghanistan and other vulnerable places rarely are. Especially given Pakistan’s long history of colonial geoengineering, with the British Empire’s interference with its natural waterway systems – which likely contributed to the massive flooding in Pakistan during last year’s monsoon – it ought to be prominent in climate literature. But Markley’s novel contains the only significant reference to Pakistan that I’ve seen. The Maldives, with its low-lying islands, is likely to quite literally vanish if sea levels rise beyond a certain point. Nepal is often cited as the fourth most climate-vulnerable country on Earth, and its rapidly melting glaciers provide water to over a billion people across the Subcontinent. In Afghanistan, a severe drought, the collapse of the US-supported government, the Taliban’s return and numerous other crises provide a clear example of the intertwined nature of climate and society. But, through the lens of Western climate fiction, these countries may as well not exist.
It’s no surprise that cli-fi makes ample use of the region in exploring the questions of blame and responsibility that define the contemporary climate movement.
Markley sets the stage for his fictionalised account of Pakistan’s future by describing its vulnerability to drought and prior environmental disasters through the 2010s. “The agricultural economy has dried up as the Himalayan glaciers have shrunk. Eroded by a shift from snow to rain, Pakistan’s main water source has slowed to a desperate trickle, even as its enemy India has continued to siphon off more and more of the failing glacial runoff. In 2034, famine in the northern region killed an estimated four hundred thousand.” Then, a flood with echoes of 2022’s real-life devastation sends the country into a tailspin of unrest. Armed militants take over the government, and the United States sends in troops to secure and destroy Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal before it can fall into the hands of extremists. Echoing the inequality in the literary references of the whole genre, Markley also pays far more attention to the climate crisis in Bangladesh than in Pakistan – at least until extremists take over. Even then, Pakistan is largely described in relation to US intervention.
Besides depictions of Southasian countries in Western cli-fi, there are also consistent, and highly stereotypical, Southasian characters of importance throughout the genre. In The Deluge, one of the key architects of environmental planning is an autistic Indian man, Ash. Not only a policy expert, he also designs algorithms that come to influence most aspects of the global economy, from advertising to sports betting. Brilliant with numbers yet completely lacking in social skills and, at times, even basic empathy, his characterisation fits numerous racist caricatures of Southasians in American culture. And Markley is not the only author guilty of this. In Powers’ The Overstory, an Indian man named Neelay is yet another mathematically brilliant Southasian who changes the future by designing a tech product, this time a video game system. Neelay is also an outcast. Disabled by an accident as a young boy – which occurs while climbing through a school window to get his notebook full of equations, taken by a misunderstanding teacher – he is a socially isolated and largely loveless man.
These depictions tie into the frequent problem of Southasian representation in Western cli fi. While the genre seems almost addicted to the region for exploring some of its greatest concerns, it also falls prey to stereotypes and uninformed perspectives. To gain deeper insight into Southasia’s climate future, one has to read the climate literature of Southasia by Southasians, of which there is a sizable and growing tide.
The Bangladeshi-Canadian author Arif Anwar’s The Storm is a cornerstone of the genre. Anwar charts the fluid relationship between humanity and the environment through a historical and contemporary lens. Ranging from World War II to the 1970 Bhola cyclone and, later, the present day, Anwar uses the multi-plot narrative to full effect. Jamir and Honufa, two of the novel’s main characters, both live in the coastal region of Bangladesh. Both are lost when the Bhola cyclone wreaks its devastation, but not before they are able to save their son’s life. Anwar’s writing centres the unique Bangladeshi perspective and experience of weather, imperialism and immigration. Unlike some more emotionally distant cli-fi novels that use characters merely as vehicle for exploring climate effects, Anwar focuses on human beings – our relationships, our secrets, our lies – against the backdrop of a shifting environment.
Anwar’s writing offers what The Ministry for the Future and The Deluge cannot: a viewpoint on Southasia grounded in lived experience and first-hand detail. Bangladesh has been beset by storms and seasonal flooding for countless centuries. While climate change will rewrite the laws of weather and upend the stable environment, sited knowledge is desperately needed for a balanced and just approach to negotiating a new climate reality. The Sundarban, situated where the Ganga, Meghna and Brahmaputra empty into the Bay of Bengal, holds a key example to this effect.
The “polder” system of dams and levees was built in the world’s largest mangrove forest to transform the area into an agricultural hotspot and protect people from catastrophic cyclones. This system was of foreign design, with little input from local perspectives. When I visited the Sunderban in 2022 and met people whose villages had ostensibly been protected by this system, they were suffering deleterious health effects from increasing salinity of their groundwater and floods that overran water-control efforts. With dams preventing the natural process of silt deposition that otherwise slowly fertilises the land and raises its level, the inhabitants were more vulnerable than ever.
The world of international development has no shortage of such stories. Outside organisations and bodies often have good intentions in attempting to restructure the relationship between communities and the environment. However, a lack of input from locally-knowledgeable people has caused countless crises like that of the Sundarban. With climate fiction’s increasing popularity, there is an ever-growing danger that superficial comprehensions and depictions of any region may have real, material impacts as faraway policymakers read the genre and draw their knowledge from it.
As we look to climate fiction for insight and reflection on our shared future, Southasian writers must be given due credit, not only for their contributions to the genre but also for their potential to reshape the global understanding of climate change.
The Bangladeshi author Saad Z Hossain often writes about a climate-changed future through a fantastical lens. His Kundo Wakes Up, featuring a waterlogged future Chittagong, is a genre-bending kaleidoscope of advanced technology and ancient myth. The city is ruled by an AI system called Karma, while its citizens wear nanobot-expelling implants that create a breathable atmosphere and wire them into an endless stream of information. Chittagong is slowly dying, but it is a protracted and complex death, full of human impulses and strange technology. People begin to flee into the mythical city of Gangaridai – the name is borrowed from Greco-Latin sources describing an ancient state on the site of present-day Bangladesh, with a long-lost capital city – led by a Djinn named Horus. He describes Gangaridai as a place with no death, where all people can live to their utmost potential. It is also located far outside of our reality, according to Horus:
Millennia ago, in the age of djinn and man, before the elders withdrew, there was the first city, made by djinn and human hybrids, called the Nephilim. There were other ancient places, but Gangaridai was the best and most glorious, the perfect jewel. When the High King looked into the future, he saw his precious city falling, and misliking the vagaries of time he chose the insane path of removing the city from this realm altogether. What he did, exactly, no one knows, but this place on the other side of the door is more fundamental, more real than our own universe, and there is no time and no decay, and all things exist in their perfect form.
Kundo Wakes Up is in many ways a heart-warming story, full of hope and moments where lost and lonely characters find connection with one another. It also shows us a Southasia living with climate change, a complex reality peppered with historical valence and a spectrum of societies surviving and even thriving. Kathmandu is also mentioned here and expanded upon as a utopian ideal, a city of advanced technology, in Hossain’s novella The Gurkha and the Lord of Tuesday. Hossain’s many works include other novellas and stories set in this future Southasia, a place where fantastical technology and the uncanny environment have merged with myth.
Vauhini Vara, a Canadian-American writer with Indian roots, brought another Southasian community into focus in her 2022 novel The Immortal King Rao. The cli-fi book is centered on a Dalit man who leaves the coconut plantation his family owns in India for the United States, founding a tech company and eventually reshaping the world into a corporatocratic technocracy where politics and the social fabric is rewritten in the image of a Silicon Valley fever dream. Vara’s own Dalit heritage is a major influence on the work, and the New York Times reporter Alisha Haridasani Gupta’s profile of Vara suggests she may be one of the first Dalit authors published by a major house in the United States. The Immortal King Rao was highly acclaimed in the country, quickly garnering positive reviews and intertwining itself with the tidal wave of other recent cli-fi titles. Vara’s take on climate change is a fatalistic “hothouse earth” scenario, in which global warming runs completely out of control. While the extinction of humanity does not occur within its pages, Vara’s novel portrays the inexorable and devastating march of technology and climate change. These forces alienate us from our world, our history and each other.
Charting the differences between geographic and cultural imaginaries is slippery work. What makes literature Western or Southasian? The identity of the writer, their experiences, their citizenship? Any one of these definitions can be challenged by the fluidity of language across barriers, the nature of diasporic identity, and the continued entanglement of imperialism within cultural and linguistic currents. It is worth noting here that positioning authors as part of a distinctly Western or Southasian current is a complicated matter.
How could we be so reluctant to chart the possible futures of a climate-changed world, even when the news grew more dire every day? Were we simply unable to contend with a problem of such magnitude?
With that said, the problem of categorisation calls attention to one of the key ideas present in climate literature: the relationship between place and perspective. It might be argued that climate fiction is what happens when authors give attention to the landscape that human stories take place in, a landscape that in our present moment is subject to enormous change. Identity has always been irrevocably connected to place, whether as a point of origin, historical lineage, or one’s physical location. In a world where both place and identity are entangled with the risks of climate change, and where a growing tide of displacement is reshaping countless communities, these questions are more critical than ever.
The genre of climate fiction has emerged out of the encounter between Western and Southasian perspectives, however you might define them. Like climate change itself, the genre is also inextricable from imperialism, reflecting the tragedy of our collective history and ongoing inequality. Despite my broad critique of the Western lens on Southasia, I do hope Western writers keep writing about the region, hopefully with sensitivity and attention to our unequal history. But I hope even more that global audiences begin to read more of the vast and growing body of work from Southasian authors on climate change. The rise of non-English climate fiction, like the Tamil writer “Ayesha” Era Natarasan’s cli-fi novel Kaalanilai Agadhigal – “Climate Refugees” – also points to an exciting new landscape.
In 2022, while living in Nepal, I started a climate fiction and futurism workshop with the help of a local bookshop, Quixote’s Cove. Around a dozen young Nepali writers, over a period of several months, answered prompts about Nepal’s climate future while reading and discussing examples of climate fiction. Their stories, which I ultimately edited and published in a digital format, are a remarkable addition to the collection of Southasian voices in climate fiction.
“Badal ko Sahar” by Shrijan Pandey explores a world where the wealthy have built floating cities that absorb rain before it reaches the ground. Those living below are forced to serve the upper classes, who occasionally descend to barter for handmade trinkets and exploit cheap labour. Pandey’s story is an incisive depiction of the inequality between Southasia and the West, as well as the vastly uneven division of resources between different groups within the region. Aastha Ghimire’s “7866 km” depicts mountain communities devastated by glacial-lake outbursts, a climate issue of particular concern for Nepal. One of her main characters, a member of the Nepali diaspora in the United States, contemplates his identity and the realities of his country after its defining features – including Mount Everest – are rendered unrecognisable in the wake of climate change. In “Duty” by Anupa Khanal, Kathmandu’s traffic police live through gender discrimination and an increasingly toxic atmosphere, until they are replaced by artificial intelligence.
Given the genre’s focus on the region, and the entirely nonfictional vulnerability of Southasian countries, it is more crucial than ever that Southasian writers are listened to, popularised and read by a global audience.
In all nine of the wide-ranging pieces that made it into the final anthology, the specific realities of Nepal are intertwined with the broader, global predictions of the climate crisis. This combination allows for a deep understanding of Southasia’s circumstances, as well as the particulars of Nepal’s unique social and natural environment. This pattern has held true throughout my other climate fiction projects in Southasia. Recently, I’ve been working with a group of students in Bangladesh, most of whom are young women from Afghanistan. Their work is also rich in detail and cultural specificity, which is particularly striking when it concerns a country and heritage that has rarely been referenced in Western climate fiction.
As with the work of other authors of Southasian origin, their depictions of Southasia deepen and complicate the worldwide narrative of what climate change looks like, and for whom it poses the greatest risks. Unlike the depictions of mass death and simple tragedy by Western authors, their work shows people in the region living with climate change, even in the context of catastrophe. As we look to climate fiction for insight and reflection on our shared future, Southasian writers must be given due credit, not only for their contributions to the genre but also for their potential to reshape the global understanding of climate change.
When I first encountered Ghosh’s work, in 2017, there was far less climate fiction to read. As a young person anxious about what seemed a deeply uncertain future, I was hungry to explore what my life might look like in ten, twenty or even fifty years. Literature seemed like a natural realm in which to investigate these questions, but the yawning absence of relevant work struck me as concerning, even dangerous. How could we be so reluctant to chart the possible futures of a climate-changed world, even when the news grew more dire every day? Were we simply unable to contend with a problem of such magnitude? What did that say about our odds of solving the problem?
Now, a wealth of climate literature from around the world has begun to offer new and exciting narratives of how we might survive, and even thrive, in the context of environmental change – which is, of course, no reason for us not to do everything we can to stop it. This body of work has had a major impact, bringing the message of climate change to a mass audience while exploring possible political, social and technological responses to the crisis. Given the genre’s focus on the region, and the entirely nonfictional vulnerability of Southasian countries, it is more crucial than ever that Southasian writers are listened to, popularised and read by a global audience. This belief has driven me to teach climate-fiction workshops throughout the region, and to edit and publish the results with the hope of creating a platform for young Southasian authors. As climate change wreaks havoc on our shared environment, we should look to these writers for an understanding of how we can live on a changing planet.