Climate gadfly coins literary term to save the planet – 'Cli-Fi'

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Independent Australia meets climate gadfly, the irrepressible American, Dan Bloom, (more like Sinatra's old immovable object meets the irresistible force), to talk about "cli-fi".

AN ECCENTRIC American ''climate missionary'' who is moving closer and closer to Australia, having settled first in Japan in the 1991 and then further south to Taiwan five years later, runs a one-man office, editing The Cli-Fi Report – www.cli-fi.net – and spreading the gospel of what has calls ''cli-fi'' – a term he coined as a PR tool to raise awareness of the climate crisis we face worldwide. 

Meet Dan Bloom, close to 70, and not a penny to his name:

"I'm a cli-fi missionary, and I'm hoping to make it eventually to Australia and end my days there. A cousin of mine from St. Louis, Mark Epstein one of nine children in his large family, immigrated there in the 1970s. I hope to follow in his footsteps." 

So what's '' cli-fi ''? It's a subgenre of sci-fi, according to some observers, and a separate standalone genre of its own, according to others. Bloom says he feels that cli-fi novels can cut through the bitter divide among rightwing denialists and leftwing liberals worldwide over the global warming debate.

A small Massachusetts philanthropy has been funding Bloom's solo work on the cli-fi PR, he said, adding that he's grateful for the annual sponsorship.

"We are a world now divided bitterly over climate change issues," he says. "Novels and movies can serve to wake people up in ways that politics and ideology cannot."

Bloom calls himself a radical centrist and says he has been in touch with several Australian climate thinkers over the past few years, among them Tim Flannery and Clive Hamilton. 

Bloom explains:

"I believe if the world does not wake up soon about the pressing climate change issues we face now, future generations of humans will be 'doomed, doomed' — within 500 years. I can see that far ahead. Will 'cli-fi' save the planet? No way. But at least it might help prepare us for what's coming in future centuries. I like to think long term."

The climate activist, who is nearing 70, calls himself an optimist but with reservations.

"I'm not worried about the next 100 or 200 years. It's the kids born 30 generations from now that I'm worried about. I have a deep wellspring of empathy for  future generations. I care about the world then. Today, no problem, life is wonderful. We'll be okay. It's people living in the year 2500 A.D. that I am thinking about. That's what cli-fi means for me."

His "cli-fi" term has gone viral C and global — via social media with its own #clifi hashtag, too. News articles about cli-fi have appeared worldwide since 2013 in over 500 newspapers and media outlets since an American radio show started the ball rolling then. After that came reports – and headlines – in the New York Times, the BBC and the Sydney Morning Herald.

Will the popularity of cli-fi novels and movies make any difference? Bloom says he wouldn't be doing this work 24/7 as an independent literary gadfly if he didn't think what he was doing would make some kind of difference in the world.

Says Bloom:

I never set out to make money. I only wanted to make a difference. Now as I reach 70, I am seeing a little success along those lines.

I'm still as poor as a churchmouse, and I don't own a house or car or anything. I ride a bicycle to get around. I rent everything, my home, my computer, my telephone. I'm not interested in fame or fortune and I am not making a single penny from this cli-fi work. I living on borrowed time, as I coast toward the end of my life on planet Earth, as I've got a stent in my heart-attacked heart keeping the blood flowing through my placque-caked arteries.

I wake up every morning full of optimisim and hope. It's my DNA. I go to sleep at night depressed and blue. That's also my DNA. We are living in very troubled – and troubling – times. But I am at peace with life. Life is good. Except for this climate change problem.

When asked how the cli-fi term first came to him, he replied:

The "cli-fi" name came to me as I was thinking of ways to raise awareness of novels and movies about climate change issues. I toyed with using such terms as "climafic" or "climfic" or "clific," for the longer term of "climate fiction." But I wanted an even shorter term that could fit easily into newspaper and magazine headlines. So using the rhyming sounds of ''sci-fi,'' I decided to go with the short, simple to say and simple to write "cli-fi".

And the short term caught on worldwide, beginning on April 20, 2013 when an American radio show did a five-minute radio segment about "cli-fi." That was the beginning of its global outreach and popularity among academics, literary critics, journalists and headline writers.

A native of Massachusetts, Bloom says that when he went to college in the fall of 1967 in Boston, the Bee Gees song "Massachusetts" was playing on the radio for the first time as it was released that September, and he still remembers the sound and the lyrics of the song.

"I always thought the Bee Gees had been to Massachusetts and wrote the song as a kind of love song for my native state," Bloom says. "Later I learned they had at that point never stepped foot in Massachusetts and wrote the entire song in a New York City hotel room. If I ever get to Australia, I hope to pay my respects to the Gibb brothers."

Editor's note: Dan was the first to use the term “cli-fi” in 2008. In 2013, it received an honorable mention by the Macquarie Dictionary as an important new word. Dan Bloom is a freelance journalist from America. He blogs at "The Cli-Fi Report" at www.Cli-Fi.Net. You can follow Dan on Twitter @do_you_cli_fi_.

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