« Preconference : Seminar

Climate Change Ecocriticisms

Janet Fiskio
Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies
Oberlin College

Michael Ziser
Associate Professor of English
University of California, Davis

1. Description and goals of the seminar:

Academic focus on the problem of global climate change (GCC) is widespread in the natural and social sciences. Within these disciplines, climate destabilization has energized a focus on practical problem-solving and on technological and policy solutions within existing institutional, economic, and political frameworks. By contrast, the humanities have been relatively slow in engaging the event of GCC. This workshop offers a corrective forum for the emergence of "climate change ecocriticisms," seeking a shared foundation for broadly humanistic approaches in literature, film, art, new media, ethics, and cultural studies. Through this workshop we hope not only to articulate ecocritical perspectives on GCC but also to expand the boundaries of the current discourse.


We have designed the seminar to be an interactive and participatory engagement in the creation of climate change ecocriticisms. To this end we ask that each participant consider the questions below and then engage in the following process:

In preparation

  1. Participants will suggest topics for short essays (2000-3000 words) approximately 8 weeks before the seminar. (Possibilities include but are not limited to: climate justice, eco-apocalypse, speculative fiction, composition and GCC, climate refugees, interdisciplinarity.)
  2. The facilitators will list these on a non-public blog and ask participants to sign up for a topic.
  3. Participants will write a short essay to be shared via email approximately 3 weeks before the seminar. We ask that each essay include an analysis of primary literature/film/visual text/case study/syllabus.
  4. All participants will read all the essays.

The seminar

  1. During the first part of the seminar, we will present and discuss the essays. This will include viewing of visual texts and excerpts from films and other media as is useful.
  2. In the second part of the seminar, we will identify the primary texts and scholarly bibliography to be posted to the blog as a research and pedagogical tool.
  3. In the final part of the seminar we will articulate a series of climate questions for ecocritical theory.

After the seminar

  1. Facilitators will post the list of topics, primary texts, bibliography, and questions to the blog and then make the blog public as a forum to continue the seminar conversation. Participants will be welcome to post their essays.

2. Questions

  • What are the benefits and limitations of modes and genres such as apocalypse, jeremiad, disaster fiction, speculative fiction, and utopian/dystopian literatures?
  • How are climate change diaspora, refugees, and internally displaced citizens currently imagined in popular and political rhetoric?
  • What impact can the arts and humanities have on public discourse and political will around GCC?
  • What would a genuinely interdisciplinary approach to questions of the GCC look like?

3. Possible readings and resources (please note, a final reading list will be sent to all registrants well in advance of the seminar):

  • The Anchorage Declaration: http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2009/smsn/ngo/168.pdf
  • Lisa Bloom, Gender on Ice.
  • Robert Bullard and Beverly Wright, Race, Place, and Environmental Justice After Hurricane Katrina.
  • Octavia Butler, Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents.
  • The Canary Project, http://canary-project.org
  • Dipesh Chakrabarty, "The Climate of History: Four Theses." Critical Inquiry 35 (Winter 2009).
  • Gardiner et al, eds. Climate Ethics: Essential Readings.
  • Garrett Hardin, "The Tragedy of the Commons" (Science 1968) and "Living on a Lifeboat" BioScience (1974).
  • Ursula Heise, "Some Like it Hot: Climate Change and Eco-Cosmopolitanism," Sense of Place and Sense of Planet.
  • Stephanie LeMenager, "Petro-Melancholia: The BP Blowout and the Arts of Grief." Qui Parle 19.2 (Spring/Summer 2011).
  • Bill McKibben, Eaarth.
  • Rob Nixon, "Scenes from the Seabed: The Future of Dissent," Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor.
  • Race, Gender, and Class 19 (Spring 2012), Part A: Climate Change.
  • Roelvink and Zokos, "Climate Change as Experience of Affect" Angelaki 16.4 (December 2011).
  • Sun Come Up http://www.suncomeup.com/film/Home.html
  • Trouble the Water http://www.troublethewaterfilm.com
  • Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth: http://pwccc.wordpress.com/programa/
  • Michael Ziser, "Home Again: Peak Oil, Climate Change, and the Aesthetics of Transition," Environmental Criticism for the Twenty-First Century.
  • Michael Ziser and Julie Sze, "Climate Change, Environmental Aesthetics, and Global Environmental Justice Cultural Studies." Discourse 29. 2-3 (Spring/Fall 2007).
  • Zizek, "Interlude: Apocalypse at the Gates," Living in the End Times.

4. Faciliators

Janet Fiskio is Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies at Oberlin College, where she researches and teaches interdisciplinary topics in the environmental humanities, including climate change, environmental justice, and agriculture. She has published essays in American Literature, Environmental Philosophy, and Race, Gender, and Class and is currently at work on a monograph examining climate change through literature, art, performance, and protest.

Michael Ziser is Associate Professor of English at the University of California, Davis, where he co-directs the Environments and Societies Research Initiative, a multidisciplinary forum for the environmental humanities and social sciences. The author of Environmental Practice and Early American Literature (Cambridge UP), he is currently working on a book-length study of fossil fuels in literature and the arts.