Nothing but Catastrophes? Climate Change as a Challenge to the Utopian Tradition


  • Emanuel Herold Universität Hamburg



Cli-Fi, climate change, utopia, catastrophism, Fridays for Future


      Current political debates on climate are permeated by apocalyptical thinking. Movements like Fridays for Future and Exitinction Rebellion, too, are shaped by this tradition—positive visions, on the other hand, utopian images of a sustainable society remain abstract and rarely are at the forefront of public debates. I want to argue that the actualization and continuation of utopian literature offers potentials for alternative constructions of the future. I want to pursue the question how and whether literary utopias can provide moments of a better life in a future changed climate. I will (1) look at recent academic discussions of the so-called “Cli-Fi“-boom. Particularly its temporal dimensions prove to be a significant barrier for its literary depiction. However, I will show (2), the versatility of literary utopia is caused precisely by its capacity to model time. Against this backdrop, I will (3) analyze Kim Stanley Robinson’s New York 2140. A text which continues the utopian tradition against the backdrop of the current debate on climate change and the Anthropocene. I aim to follow which strategies the novel uses in order to connect individual, social and climatic levels of time. Finally, (4) I will discuss the significance of a critical reflection of the dominance of apocalyptic thinking in current political debates about climate: The fixation on potential destruction and abstract goals of reduction holds the danger of frustration and a shift to cynicism.


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Author Biography

Emanuel Herold, Universität Hamburg

Emanuel Herold holds degrees in philosophy, English studies, and social theory. He completed his Ph.D. in sociology at the University of Hamburg. His thesis Utopien in utopienfernen Zeiten will be published in autumn 2020. He is now working for the Green Party in Bremen, Germany, on European affairs and economic policy.





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