Cli-fi: the net zero sub-genre

by Judith Curry

Two exciting new books in climate fiction (Cli-fi), with net zero themes.

You may recall two early posts at CE on Cli-fi [link] [link]; these posts helped popularize the term.  Almost exactly 10 years since my initial post, Cli-fi has come a long way, with a full-blown Wikipedia page.  Some recent lists of prominent Cli-fi books:

Penguin-Random House

Book Riot


The trigger for this particular post is several weeks ago, the authors of two new books emailed me with copies of their books.  What struck me in particular is that these two books are each based on a theme of net zero emissions.  In effect, they define a new sub-genre of Cli-fi: net zero fiction that deals with how the rapid elimination of fossil fuels has become deeply problematic.  Both books feature skeptical scientists intent on making a difference against overwhelming odds.   The moral of these stories is that rapid transition to net zero emissions will do far more harm than CO2 emissions themselves.

This topic couldn’t be more timely.

Winter Games, by Daniel Church

Daniel Church is a nom de plume, I don’t know his real name, but it is obvious that he has spent a lot of time in academia and is knowledgeable about geology/geophysics. 

From the summary on

“Daniel Church’s thriller is firmly in the tradition of Michael Crichton. Winter Games introduces readers to a passionate band of scientists sacrificing themselves to save millions of helpless human beings whose lives are threatened by cold. As the story unfolds, it becomes apparent that one PR guru is behind many of the public’s misperceptions of climate and, thus, much suffering. The question is whether he is too powerful to be defeated.”

In terms of the plot and setting: It is 2027, and desperate climate scientists are videoing themselves dying in rooms kept at Earth’s average temperature—59 degrees Fahrenheit (with some wind generated by a fan)—in an effort to communicate some simple facts about science, and protect the vulnerable from the ravages of fuel poverty. The climactic scene, at NASA GISS in New York City (with a cameo appearance of Tom’s Restaurant of Seinfeld fame), is surprising and shocking.

I was invited to write a blurb for the book: “Provocative and timely, Winter Games gives life to the threats of fuel poverty and cold in thrilling fashion.” 

The book is superbly written, a literary albeit fast-paced thriller.  Church clearly knows what he is talking about in terms of the relevant science.  An exceptionally well-crafted book.  This is a fairly short read, I predict that you will read it in one sitting and not put it down until finished.

Note: this book currently available only in paperback; electronic version is forthcoming

Poorly Zeroed: A Net Zero Travesty, by John M. Cape

John Cape is a graduate of the Stanford Business School and the United States Military Academy at West Point, and a registered professional engineer and energy consultant.


“Seeking to decarbonize rapidly, the United States rushed to abandon fossil fuels with predictable consequences. It’s 2032, and some climate skeptics attempt to disclose that there was little justification for Net Zero Policies. The government doesn’t want its citizens to learn that their life-altering sacrifices were unwarranted. Inattentive to more menacing climate risks, wealthy elites shepherd what’s left of the country toward a primitive future where humanity will be ill-prepared to avoid extinction. Is there another way? Can our hero and his friends find it in time?”

Notes from the author:

“Rifle sights can generally be adjusted to enable them to hit what they are aimed at. When correctly set for a particular user, that weapon is zeroed. Something that is poorly zeroed and addressed properly will miss the target. Now, if the target is to make us poor. Then a well-adjusted weapon hitting what it’s aimed at could also be considered poorly zeroed.” 

“This book is grounded in hard science and speculates how far things could go if current trends continue.  Think of it as an energy version of A Modest Proposal. This novel is not masquerading as something indistinguishable from the real world. We don’t want the events described herein to ever happen, and the fact that they are already well underway should be a good wakeup that it’s gone far enough. If not, read this book and put yourself in the moccasins of these characters dealing with troubling changes.”

This is a longer book, over 300 pages.  It has more extensive character developments and interesting contrasts between the U.S. (and the west) versus China. About halfway through the book, the discussion of climate science picks up, with the appearance of a climate change skeptic who is regarded as a major threat.  Also, there is a lot of discussion of nuclear energy. The final chapter, General Comments, provides excerpts and links to writings by notable climate skeptics.

JC reflections

I find it exciting to see the emergence of the net zero genre in fiction.  A dystopian future in the near term associated with dismantling of our power infrastructure seems to be unfolding in Europe now; looking ahead 5-10 years and we could be in a really bad place that makes the impacts of increasing CO2 seem trivial.

Two excellent books to read during the winter solstice doldrums or while traveling over the holidays.  Not to mention a great last minute Xmas gift.

Screen Shot 2022-12-18 at 5.20.01 PM


via Climate Etc.

December 19, 2022 at 09:16AM

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