By Dan Bloom via San Diego Jewish World
CHIAYI CITY, Taiwan—It’s not every day that Time magazine recognizes what a lone word coiner in Taiwan has done by coming up with a new literary genre term dubbed “cli fi” by yours truly. Yes, the May 19 issue of the weekly magazine gave a quiet shout out and reporter Lily Rothman went even a step further in her summer movie preview headlined “Godzilla, ‘Into the Storm’ and More Summer ‘Cli-Fi’ Thrillers,” gently pushing the emerging genre directly to the titans of Hollywood.
Maybe you are wondering how an independent Jewish dreamer with his head in the clouds most of the time came to be devoted to "cli fi’,” the various steps of trying to popularize it along the way, and why reaching Time's national—and international audience—just might be important. Let me tell you how this all came to be.
To make a long story short, I did it my way. I have no office, no secretary, no funding and no sponsors. Over the last decade, I’ve taken a very strong interest — some might call it an obsession — in climate change issues and global warming. My wake up call was in 2007 when I read that years’s IPCC climate report from the United Nations, and when I learned that the future of the human species on this dear Earth could very well be in dire jeopardy unless we stop our wanton ways and burning fossil fuels like there was no tomorrow, well, I suddenly realized maybe there won’t be too many tomorrows for humankind.
But rather than sit around and kvetch, I decided to try my hand at using the Internet and the blogosphere to become a kind of PR climate activist and try to find ways to raise awareness of these issues.
First stop was an idea I called “polar cities” as safe refuges for climate refugees in the distant future, and in blogging about the polar cities concept, I found a novelist in Tulsa who was willing to try his hand at writing a novel about them. Jim Laughter—his real name, not a pen name—sat down and wrote “Polar City Red” for me, and all the credit and royalties go to him and not a cent to me. It’s his book. And to help promote it, I sent out a series of press releases and oped columns calling his novel “a cli fi thriller.” The word caught on, don’t ask me how, but here we are three years later and Time magazine has recognized the term.
As you know, Hollywood has long shown an interest in climate-themed movies, from Solyent Green to Darren Aronofsky’s recent Noah about a flood, yes, our flood. But as the world continues to warm up miniscule degree by miniscule degree and puts the very existence of the human species at a very grave risk. I began to feel that by setting up a literary and movie platform centered around the cli fi meme, novels and movies about climate issues, both entertaining and with serious messages just might help wake up the world. And our political leaders.
Time wrote: “Some say films like these [such as 'Godzilla'] are helping define a new subgenre:’cli-fi,’ or climate fiction. It’s a timely subject for the summer [of 2014], given that the National Climate Assessment released May 6 found that the U.S. is already seeing the effects of climate change. Though the havoc in each film is wreaked in its own way, all of them use environmental destruction to raise the stakes.”
I believe such current and future cli fi movies will succeed in helping audiences to confront environmental issues, much the way Nevil Shute’s 1957 novel ‘On the Beach'— and the subsequent movie directed by Stanley Kramer—dramatized the horrors of nuclear war and nuclear winter and helped raise global awareness of the issues involved.
For me, it’s a Jewish thing. “Without a vision, a people perish,” I recall reading in my youth in western Massachusetts where I attended Temple Beth El Hebrew School three days a week and battled with the rabbis about all sorts of existential and religious issues that captivated. I was always a bit of thinker, not a deep thinker, not a PhD thinker, not an academic thinker, but an often-obsessed Jewish kid with ideas. That was how I grew up.
So in my own informal and unsponsored crystal ball, as I told Time in a phone interview, I dream of a new Nevil Shute who is going to arise somewhere in the world and with his or her cli fi novel is going to wake people up with a powerful story which will later be turned into an even more powerful movie.
So I believe that it’s now time for Hollywood to go cli-fi, and I think some studio heads already know it’s happening.
David Brin, an occasional columnist for San Diego Jewish World and a well-known sci fi novelist, has been following my work with the cli fi genre, offering me advice and suggestions along the way to Time‘s story, and although he told me he considers cli fi to be a subgenre of sci fi, he also said he likes what cli fi might be able to do to help wake up the world in its own small way.
I’ve been doing this cli fi work for free, ever since 2008 when I first blogged about the term and began contacting media around the world to see if any reporters wanted to promote the term. Very few did at first. I got many rejections but I never took them personally. I soldiered on, undeterred, because I knew I was doing the right thing.
Not as a novelist or a movie director, since I am neither, but as PR maverick who works under the radar and never gives up. To have Time magazine recognize my work makes long wait worthwhile.
I’m dong this work for free. I don’t draw a salary, and I don’t mind.
I’m not a trust fund kid, but I did have a father who left me an inheritance more important than money: menschlekeit. And in pushing the cli fi meme forward, as a way of paying it forward in gratitude for a wonderful 65 years on this planet, this is also my way of saying thanks to my dad, the late Bernie Bloom of Avenue J in Brooklyn, born in 1915 and gone in 2005.
My dad was a plumber, and in his own kind of way, a scientist, too, and he passed on his compassion for the world to his five children. I have his vision and his soul behind me, pushing me forward every day, egging me on, telling me to “never give up, whatever the odds.”
Because who ever would have thought that my cockamamie idea of cli fi would catch on and end up in theNew York Times and now Time? Not in a million years. But it happened.
And all I can say is “thank you Bernie Bloom, plumber extraordinaire, who fixed pipes— and more. He taught me that it was important to also “repair the world.”
That is what my small contribution to the climate fight is all about: ”tikkun olam.”
Dan Bloom is Taiwan correspondent and a global Web surfer for the San Diego Jewish World. He may be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.