Below, we share a list of short stories that you and your class can use to engage in reading, writing, and discussing climate fiction. These stories take a positive, visionary approach to the subject of climate change, focusing on fighting and adapting to climate change.
Through envisioning cultural tools and social strategies for transitioning to a post-carbon world, these stories offer inspiration and guidance for how we might address our very real problems—not just through magical new technology, but through cultural shifts that make use of the technology we already have.
These texts could be used for whole-class reading, and could enrich a larger unit on climate change or even lead to students researching and creating their own artistic explorations of futures altered by climate change. Questions for discussion follow each listing.
For more see:
- Introduction: Climate Change Fiction for Students & Teachers
- Short Stories
- Further Fiction about Climate Change for High Schoolers and Adults: Dystopias, Allegories, and Films
- Sarah Outterson-Murphy's post about her experiences using climate fiction in her high school English classes
- See the PDF version of the guide
Individual Short Stories
“Those They Left Behind” by Jules Hogan, is in Everything Change Volume III, edited by Angie Dell and Joey Eschrich (2021, published at Arizona State University's Center for Science and the Imagination). This story contrasts the privileged who depart a dying Earth with those who, by force or by choice, stay behind. Whether through art, agriculture, or science, those who stay find a purpose in working to remedy the damage created by their ancestors.
Discuss: Would you have left on the Ascents? Why or why not?
“Factory Air,” by Omar El-Akkad, is one of four climate fiction stories in the 2019 Climate Fiction issue of Guernica. Of those stories, it is the one most concerned with the problem of how to fight the large-scale economic structures causing climate change.
Discuss: Why does Cassie make the decision she makes at the end of the story? Would you make the same decision or not, and why?
“Sunshine State,” by Adam Flynn and Andrew Dana Hudson, in Everything Change Volume I, edited by Milkoreit, Martinez, and Eschrich (2016, published at Arizona State University's Climate Futures Initiative). This short story imagines a secret solarpunk collective in the Everglades, working to adapt humans and ecosystems to climate change as the next big storm hits Florida.
Discuss: What are the legal, social, and economic barriers to transitioning away from our current fossil-fuel system? What tools and strategies help overcome those barriers in this story?
Short Story Collections
Imagine 2200: Climate Fiction for Future Ancestors
The collection Imagine 2200: Climate Fiction for Future Ancestors (2022, published at Grist) includes twelve stories in which intersectionality shapes hopeful visions of a more sustainable world. These might be excellent stories to contrast with one or two other more dystopian futures: Ask students to argue for which versions of the future seem most likely to come true and why. Some of the most memorable are:
- “Benni and Shiya are Leaving,” by Jerri Jerreat, offers an everyday utopia through the eyes of a mother and her child, as the mother moves for a new job and the two renegotiate their relationship. Along the way, it introduces us to the solar trains, rewilding projects, and communes of their world.
Discuss: What are the challenges Benni and Shiya face in adapting to a new community? How has their world adapted to the challenges of climate change?
- “A Holdout in the Northern California Designated Wildcraft Zone,” by T.K. Rex, is a humorous story of the burgeoning friendship between a forest hippie and an ecological management drone assigned to remove her.
Discuss: Why is the drone supposed to remove the human from the wilderness? Does the drone make the right decision at the end of the story?
- “Seven Sisters,” by Susan Kaye Quinn, explores the everyday struggles of running a tea farm in an unstable climate– while caring for each other along the way.
Discuss: What are the positive and negative aspects of this story’s world? How do the “sisters” care for each other amidst the stress of their situation?
- “The Florida Project,” by Morayo Faleyimu, imagines how a post-flooding Florida could become a wilderness area, replanted with native vegetation by those whose history on the land gives them a special love for it.
Discuss: Why do Tray and Cora decide to go back to Florida? What makes family relationships similar to our relationship with a landscape?
Imagine 2200: Climate Fiction for Future Ancestors
The 2021 collection of Imagine 2200: Climate Fiction for Future Ancestors was published at Grist. Twelve different stories from different styles and genres, with illustrations, take divergent approaches to imagining a climate future that is at least somewhat hopeful. Here are four:
- “The Cloud Weaver’s Song,” by Saul Tanpepper, imagines a far-future city above the Horn of Africa, where the desert drought has forced the people to build towers in the clouds where they can harvest water.
Discuss: How do various people in the story respond to the idea of change? Which ways of responding to change are healthier, and which are less healthy?
- “Tidings,” by Rich Larson, strings together five vignettes to imagine how our descendants might use technology not to destroy the natural world but to renew and reconnect with it and with each other – through a plastic-eating biological robot, livestreams, virtual reality, animal translation, direct neural connection…
Discuss: In what ways has the world in this story become a more dangerous, damaged place? In what ways has it become more beautiful and connected?
- “A Worm to the Wise” by Marissa Lingen. In a decaying near-future world, a young journalist works to reclaim and nourish the soil in a demolished housing development. The way she reorients her goals and rethinks her future might model society’s process as well.
Discuss: Why does Augusta choose to work at the soil reclamation farm initially? What new reasons does she find for working there by the end of the story?
- “El, the Plastotrophs, and Me,” by Tehnuka Ilanko, is set in a communal household living in Aotearoa (New Zealand), practicing “devolution.” They use indigenous practices to lead the transition from an industrial world to a more sustainable future. Conflicts between heritage and belonging and between ideals and the necessity for compromise animate this story. Maori vocabulary might challenge students.
Discuss: What does it mean to belong to a community whose heritage you do not share? To what extent can we live with imperfection in our quest for balance and sustainability?
The Weight of Light
The Weight of Light, edited by Joey Eschrich and Clark A. Miller (2018, published at Arizona State University's Center for Science and the Imagination). The short stories in this collection envision the social possibilities and challenges of different kinds of solar power.
- “For The Snake of Power,” by Brenda Cooper, explores the conflict between one young woman’s work at a public solar plant and her origins in the low-income community her company serves.
Discuss: How might climate change affect the gap between the rich and the poor? What does fair energy distribution look like? What can individuals and communities do to make sure energy is fairly distributed?
- “Under the Grid,” by Andrew Dana Hudson, is set in a decaying city under an emergency government, where solar infrastructure is funded by foreign investors, and local collectives manage people’s compliance with the new energy laws.
Discuss: As we make the collective transition to green energy, is there still room for individual freedom and choice? What are the advantages and disadvantages of individually owned solar in the story? How does the story represent the U.S. economy compared to China, and why?
- “Big Rural,” by Cat Rambo, explores the challenges for a rural community as coal mining jobs disappear and a new solar plant arrives, bringing few new jobs and altering the landscape.
Discuss: What special cultural and economic challenges do rural communities face in transitioning away from fossil fuels? Who should make major energy decisions such as whether to build a huge solar facility in a particular area: corporations, the federal government, local communities, or some combination of the three? What are the pros and cons of each?
- “Divided Light,” by Corey Pressman, is a story about two competing communities in a desert after the end of fossil fuels. A city has built a giant corporate sunshade over itself, while nearby lives an artistic techno-utopia oasis in the desert, embedding biopowered solar panels into every self-sustaining machine, organism, and building.
Discuss: What might be the artistic, cultural, and practical merits of these two different communities’ approaches to powering our lives?
Drowned Worlds: Tales from the Anthropocene and Beyond
Drowned Worlds: Tales from the Anthropocene and Beyond, edited by Jonathan Strahan (2016), includes fifteen stories set in a post-climate change future.
- “Elves of Antarctica” by Paul McAuley is set within the next century, after much of the Antarctic ice sheet has melted and drowned many coastal and island cities. A worker for “one of the transnational ecological remediation companies” explores the new life emerging as the ice retreats.
Discuss: Is there a conflict between using technology to try to slow climate change, vs. accepting the beauty of the natural world even amidst its changes?
- “Venice Drowned” by Kim Stanley Robinson depicts how people might stay and live on the rooftops and towers of Venice even after a devastating rise in ocean level, which has transformed it into a destination for extractive tourist divers.
Discuss: what are the differences in how Carlo feels about Venice, his home, vs. how the tourists feel about it? What allows him to let go of his pain and anger by the end of the story?
Loosed Upon the World: The Saga Anthology of Climate Fiction
Loosed Upon the World: The Saga Anthology of Climate Fiction, edited by John Joseph Adams (2015) includes two dozen stories, of which several stand out for their explorations of the social causes of climate change and efforts to stop it.
- “Truth and Consequences,” by Kim Stanley Robinson (2015), excerpted from The Green Earth a.k.a. the Science in the Capital trilogy, depicts scientists and politicians working to fight climate change with massive terraforming projects after natural disasters strike the world.
Discuss: What would it take for our governments and industries to make similar changes today? Do these fictional visions give us energy to make them reality, or just allow us to relax and do nothing?
- “Entanglement,” by Vandana Singh (2014), is a hopeful novella telling five interconnected stories of people in the near future fighting climate change in different ways, from the Arctic to India to America.
Discuss: Can small actions have large effects in the world? How is this novella like an ecosystem itself?
- “The Precedent” by Sean McMullen (2010) is an extremely disturbing dystopian story about how the post-tipping-point generation takes revenge on those responsible. (Be aware: depicts torture and execution.)
Discuss: How should we balance individual and collective responsibility for climate change? Who is responsible for the suffering of future generations, and should that suffering be punished?
- “The Day It All Ended,” by Charlie Jane Anders (2014), is a hilarious satire of consumer culture in which a hip tech company has a secret plan to save the world without anyone noticing.
Discuss: Is it accurate that people would be more likely to spend money on frivolous gadgets than carbon-capture technology? How or why might that happen?
- “The Tamarisk Hunter,” by Paolo Bacigalupi (2006), is also at High Country News. The story is about rural life in a water-starved American Southwest of the near future.
Discuss: How do Lolo’s individual motivations and actions conflict with the collective goals of those paying him? Is that conflict inevitable? How are conflicts over water rights already shaping people’s lives today?
- “Time Capsule Found on the Dead Planet,” by Margaret Atwood (2009), is also at The Guardian. This 2-page letter from an extinct human race offers no explicit strategies for averting climate change, but its compactness makes it useful as a quick in-class read.
Discuss: why is it important in the story that the gods had horns, beaks, or feathers? How did money become a god? Why did humans create deserts? What economic, cultural, or spiritual changes would need to occur for us to prevent the outcome in this story?