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 book is slightly longer,  it does include graphs and references. Two climate skeptics meet at a climate science boot camp and share their insights on climate science, IPCC misbehavior, and Net Zero Policy consequences while falling in love. Meanwhile, a progressive family with relatives visiting from China compares notes and works together to stay alive and survive the ordeals. All struggle to get by without much transportation or backup power.  The book is less about refuting climate science than coming to terms with those controlling the narrative. 

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.


71 responses to “Cli-fi: the net zero sub-genre

  1. Aplanningengineer

    As problems continue to emerge, I keep looking for the turn back. But it almost seems like the problems cement the resolve to continue on this path.

  2. Peter Mathieson

    Prophetic… but the commitment of true believers is so strong that even when the catastrophic effects of current policies become impossible to deny, it will be as it was with Stalin, and Mao. Blame will be placed on underlings, not on the failings of the leaders themselves. You can almost here it now: real climate change has never been tried…

    • Yes, Peter, thanks to Judith for this.
      As a loyal fan of sci-fi from my youth, I’m pleased to see intellects at work equivalent to those of The Day. It is a bit discouraging though to note the necessity for fiction to aid the stemming of the tide of medieval groupthink. I wonder if we shouldn’t just stand on these statements, in my opinion unrefutable, and at this time certainly unrefuted:
      1.CO2 at this time at these levels is not in control of climate.
      2. We are not in control of CO2.

  3. It’s nice to see these developments in the culture war narrative. Standing in the Town Square and calling for pragmatism never quite cuts it. One needs to engage in creating works which last longer and become part of the cultural imagination at all levels, scientific, literary (fiction) and comedy. I look forward to many such efforts.

  4. We need look no further than the poorest places on earth to know the main cause is energy-deprivation which can only get worse with the Left’s demonization of energy-providers.

  5. Here’s a quick question. Should I include the cartoon on the cover of the book or not? Poorly Zeroed is intended to be a serious book, yet this cartoon sort of exactly describes the way many of us are in the crosshairs of Net Zero policy. The books are print on demand, so the covers can still be modified.

    Many thanks to Dr. Curry for all the wonderful things she does to bring sanity and balance to these discussions.

    • John … my vote is to keep the cartoon. It may have appeal to a much broader audience. The cartoon is disarming (pun intended) for those who come with preconceptions. Anyone who can make us laugh/smile always has a leg up. Great job and good luck!

    • Andrew J Roman

      The character in the cartoon looks like a well dressed member of the laptop class. Doesn’t evoke immediate empathy. How about showing a poorly dressed woman holding a poorly dressed child on her arm holding up her other arm. Or an elderly couple as in American Gothic?

      • Preferably a lesbian couple where one is a trans-woman of color with one leg and wearing a headscarf and the other is white, very short and stout, wearing a cross, and with lots of tats showing on her legs.
        Any oppressed groups I’ve missed?

    • The cartoon suggest that your book is not serious. A cartoon that elicits fear rather than amusement might be better.

      • The more recognizably serious image would be of a gun scope cross hairs on a young mom loading kids into a minivan with the overall background of a satellite image of a cyclone.

    • John,
      My vote is for less gun stuff. Make it bows and arrows target. Gun violence is more USA than global community. Your cartoon would put a distracting gun problem in readers’ minds when you want them to focus on climate problems. Geoff S

    • The design of the book is not too good, it looks home made. The best designs has an ambiguous message, make people wonder. The Winter Games book has a better cover design.

    • johnmcapeauthorofpoorlyzeroed

      I’ve modified the cover on all three versions and uploaded the changes into the Amazon system. If you have additional feedback on those new designs, please do not hesitate to share it with me. If you want to contact me directly, my email is on the copyright page.

      This book is my tribute to dedicated climate skeptics, and I deliberately feature some of our finest. You’ll find links and references to some of their work. Science is on our side, but the cultural forces are against us, and many of us are older. We don’t need activists, but we must focus more on getting the word out.

    • John
      As an author of a few ebooks, covers and summaries are a headache. You could go for tragi-comic with a red-nosed clown and a red and green apple balanced on his head & with cross hairs (gun of crossbow or nuke…) on the nose and not the apple.

  6. johnmcapeauthorofpoorlyzeroed

    Also, I’ve read Winter Games and it’s a powerful and well-written novel. Daniel Church is a talented writer.

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  8. In the spirit of the climate ball Christmas past, present, and future, Troglodytes might also like:

    The MacCasland family struggles to survive when the dollar crashes and the United States is starved for oil. Gas prices soar, store shelves empty and jobs are almost nonexistent. When brutal gangs start looting, it becomes clear that anyone still living in the suburbs needs a Plan B.

    Oil Dusk. A Peak Oil Story. From the same author.

    • johnmcapeauthorofpoorlyzeroed

      Whether the rapid loss of oil comes from a physical shortage or government mandates, the results are similar. Once in motion, it’s difficult to tell them apart. Thanks for sharing this.

    • Instead of running out of oil “naturally” governments around the world are choking production. The book’s theme may come to pass after all.

    • Wait until you read the planned sequel, Jim –

      A new country called the United States of Asia invades and occupies America to free it from the woke threat. They take their oil companies and share them amongst their favorite conglomerate. And to show how liberating they are, they destroy their archeological sites, including the Golden Tablets.

      Chaos ensues.

      And then for the plot twist, a group of valiant researchers from the United States of Asia try to solve the problem. Their solution? Writing a book that calls for more military.

      I would suggest Reconstructing Eden as a working title.

      • Ah, you’ve discovered I’ve been involved in other non-fiction books. I was the editor and a contributor for this one. It was written just after the end of the second Gulf War and we had the former Secretary of the Army on our editorial team. It was about the developmental challenges facing Iraq. Developing their energy sector in a way that could fund their development was a core theme. Quantifying just how poor they were and how far they needed to go was also a central idea. Countrywatch was a start-up that did country reports on 190 countries and consolidated a number of international news wires. The largest consumers for their media were high schools and colleges.

      • John,

        I doubt colleges and high schools need commodities forecasts:

        So I would venture to suggest that your main market is more hawkish than that.


  9. Mocking the powerful has been a common entertainment of peasants and proles throughout history.

    As is pearl-clutching and mockery.

    It almost never has significant effects, because it allows people to vent their frustration without the burdensome and risky work of reform. That energy might otherwise get expressed as anger and action.

    “Anger is easy. Anger at the right person, at the right time, for the right reason, is difficult.”
    — Aristotle, in the Nicomachean Ethics, book IV, chapter 5 (lightly paraphrased).

    “Telemachus, now is the time to be angry.”
    — Odysseus, when the time came to deal with the Suitors. From the movie The Odyssey (1997).

  10. “Peak Oil” is just soooo Twentieth Century, willard!

      • The linked material to Hubbert is of historical interest and mainly correct for what was known at the time. Between Hubbert’s early take and now, many important factors have changed so much that without caveats, readers can be misled as to current reality. For example, the decade 1970-80 revealed huge increases in raw uranium resources that make Hubbert’s thesis obsolete as well as misleading. In short, without warnings, it is choice material for diversionary propaganda for dishonest use that is in high demand right now. Geoff S

      • johnmcapeauthorofpoorlyzeroed

        Sherro01 – Great point! I included Figure 30 of this link (along with my slight modification) in the General Comments of Poorly Zeroed. Not only were there huge increases in raw uranium resources, but today’s nuclear fission technology is perhaps fifty times more efficient than it was in the 1970s. Germany’s ongoing efforts to shut down its last 3 nuclear power plants (of the 28 nuclear power plants built in that country) is an example of the power of diversionary propaganda.

  11. Human beings are easily fooled by “experts” and once “experts” create a narrative, it can get out of control as others capture the movement. We see this over and over again in the modern world as mass communication allows these narratives to grow and spread very rapidly.

  12. This was written:
    makes the impacts of increasing CO2 seem trivial.

    Yes, the only honest known and proven impacts of increasing CO2 are that Green Plants Grow Better and Use Precious Water More Efficiently.

    If we don’t have the Fossil Fuels to plow and plant and harvest the more food that would grow, it is worse than trivial.
    If we don’t have the Fossil Fuels to transport goods, including food, it is worse than trivial.

    We still have some really hot days in summer and we still have some really cold days in winter, as has always been so and some really cold days are coming here soon. It is forecast that a freeze will extent to the Gulf Coast. It may even snow on or before Christmas. When the cold Arctic air slides under the moist gulf air, it lifts and cools it as squeezes some snow out.

  13. The moral of these stories is that rapid transition to net zero emissions will do far more harm than CO2 emissions themselves.

    The real moral is that almost no one is actually studying “Natural Causes of Climate Change”! Everyone studies some aspect of CO2 and pushes back only on the lies related to CO2. The general public are led to believe that the only factor that is important enough to even discuss is “how bad is CO2 going to make the climate?”. The game, and it is a game, is to keep everyone in the Alarmist Home Playing Field with their Own Hired Umpires. They win all the games and the world series because the Umpires invoke the “Precautionary Principles”, get rid of Emissions, just in case.

    Natural climate change has always had alternating warmer and colder time periods, we are just in a naturally warmer time, during which, warmer oceans will promote more evaporation and snowfall which will naturally increase ice accumulations on the tops of ice sheets and heads of glaciers, which, after a few hundred years of more ice accumulation, will advance and cause another little ice age.

    This is how it was in history and ice core records and how it will be in the future. Evaporation of polar oceans and snowfall cause more polar sequestered ice, not CO2. Ice depletion is caused when the ice is flowing but the Arctic is Frozen and not Evaporating and not allowing snowfall to maintain sequestered ice.

    These are well known factors that most everyone understands, but NOAA and NASA and other “so called” Climate Scientists are not even allowing discussion on.

    • Michael Cunningham aka Faustino aka Genghis Cunn

      Excellent points which rarely see the light of day due to activists, bandwagoners and media alarmists dominating the discussion.

  14. Climate-Control := Climate-Fiction.

    These must be books like John McPhee’s books; literature of facts.

  15. Even Dr Curry is an admitted “luke-warmer” she still plays in the Alarmist Home Field. Some Day, I hope she will question the CO2 alarmism to the point of she herself begins to promote the proper, honest study of other natural factors, internal natural self-correcting factors that make the climate too stable to allow climate get out of historic bounds. Even Major Warm Periods ended as climate shifted rapidly into Major Ice Ages. Of course there was less ice sequestered on Antarctica years ago so more water was available to allow the oceans to get deeper and warmer and form more ice to start the major ice ages, which cycled larger and larger until enough ice was sequestered on Antarctica and more ice was allowed to stay on Greenland and some other places. Now the ice and water available to change states as warm and cold period alternate is and has been less for ten thousand years and the new smaller warm and cold periods is the new normal. But the new smaller cycles are the “NEW NORMAL” and we cannot control them, we cannot stop them with removing one CO2 molecule from ten thousand molecules of atmosphere.

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  19. Around 2014/15 I had an idea for a story, it was a Fortunately/Unfortunately theme. Started out with a climate researcher in the arctic listening to President Clinton speak and being interrupted as a massive break in methane clathrate in the arctic releasing massive amounts of methane into the atmosphere. Putin claims responsibility for planting explosives to demonstrate low climate sensitivity. The methane in the atmosphere triggers and epigenetic response in methanotrophs, causing them to produce aerosolized offspring produce clouds, torrential down pours, and cooling, but also vindicating Putin’s expectations of low climate sensitivity to forcing. After the flooding subsides, the methanotoph enhance nitrogen production and renewed zeal for fossil fuels lead to golden age for agriculture as the future continues to unfold in unexpected ways.

    • johnmcapeauthorofpoorlyzeroed

      Could be a good time to write your novel! Thanks for sharing.

      • I’m not sure I have a talent and I don’t think my chronic pain will allow it.

        If anyone wants to steal the idea, that’s fine and I would be happy to help.

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  21. Marlow D Currie

    what if CC hits hard and we could have softened the impact with stronger preparations and reduction of CC contributors?

  22. Not enough credit in the Cli-fi realm goes to Maurice Strong…one of the originals :- )

  23. There are two, often competing, dystopian views about our future. The first has been around for over 40 years. It’s been a litany of doomsday scenarios followed up by failed predictions. Whether it’s runaway SLR with estimates of 12 feet of rising oceans by 2100, or the Great Lakes drying up, or the end of the Polar Bear, it’s been an endless stream of futures that haven’t materialized.

    If you do a deep dive into the literature, it becomes apparent why. Because what ever we have been experiencing now, we have been experiencing at least all during the entire Holocene. There have been MegaDroughts. There have been massive floods. There have been scorching heatwaves. There have been deadly cold breaks. Forest fires have been common. Hurricanes never stopped affecting civilizations.

    And yet we are told this time it is different, even though the scientific literature says otherwise.

    It makes you wonder how many more generations will come and go before there is something unprecedented that happens because of CO2.

    On the other side, with a different view, the dystopian world might materialize as early as the next prolonged cold spell.

    I know where I’m placing my money. And I know which one scares the hell out of me.

    • “the dystopian world might materialize as early as the next prolonged cold spell.” Well, at least that might put a damper on the idiotic rush to shut down fossil fuel power plants and the move to overburden the fragile electric power grid.

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  25. If CO2 doesn’t cause global warming then we’ll have to assume global cooling has arrived and now we are only waiting for the AMO to go negative.

    • If CO2 doesn’t cause global warming then we’ll have to assume that something else is causing warming. Perhaps some concatenation of the other 8 major forcings.?

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  27. Some recent Heartland & WUWT offerings compell us to believe that Cli Fi has conquered the globe

  28. Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah, to one and all!

    In keeping with this thread, or time of year, I’ll post this short video of Sabine Hossenfelder on free will.

    Well, on the one hand, I can see how we can characterize, certainly some of the human (living) brain/mind as having/being an optimization program. Homeostasis is a very good example, not to mention our acquisitive natures. 

    For me, it’s a big jump to extend that characterization to the whole of our minds, and life itself. She says free will isn’t what we think it is, as our choices are ultimately shaped by either the particles we posses, or the particular affect on them according to the environments we’ve been exposed to. So, essentially we are about the same as asteroids wandering around the universe except that we have a program that can take our ‘orbits’ in different directions. She then dispenses with the ‘moral argument’ by using utility to circle back to optimization, and to ‘not worry’ as we can keep thinking we have free will if it makes us feel better, thus optimizing our lives. 

    In less than 15 minutes she disposes of the difference between living and non-living states. Quite the feat! 

    Now I’m not a ‘true believer’. My opinion on a deity, or higher power, is agnostic. Yet, the difference between living and non-living matter gives me pause. Is life just another stage of matter? Pick up a rock and look at it. There are similarities, as many times I’m nothing but a block head, but the difference is quite apparent. When looking at a single celled organism under a microscope, why if we introduce it to a glucose gradient does it exert effort to move up through it? Is the answer just optimization? It’s found food? Are asteroids looking for the best, most optimum, solar systems to hang out in? 

    What is the mechanism(?) (or process) that establishes(creates?) the state of life vs non-life? Sabine says she knows what the mechanism is that moves life. Fine. I can agree on her view as an answer for part of the living state. I wouldn’t use that view to obscure or ignore or categorize the rest(totality) of the state of life. Or, more importantly, how that state comes into being. 

    Enjoy the day. Your thoughts?

    • If there is no free will, there is no justification for having laws, since there is no basis for culpability. Free will is the sine qua non of civilized life.

      • I agree. However, Sabine says it’s ‘optimizing’ to think (fool ourselves) that we have free will and a moral hierarchy. The sad part is that Sabine is an accepted science philosopher. The physicists seem to love her, at least among the ideologically progressive. I wonder how the biologists feel?

  29. Thank you, Judith!
    As a loyal sci-fi fan from my youth I’m delighted to find the same kind of intellects at work as in The Day. The fact that fiction is necessary to bring attention to the medieval tidal currents of thought now pervasive is a bit discouraging, though. We really should be standing firm on two statements, in my opinion unrefutable, and certainly at this time unrefuted:
    1. CO2 at this time at these levels is not in control of climate (global temperature).
    2. We are not in control of CO2.

  30. Should I repost my comment, or is it awaiting moderation?

  31. Maybe… glude myself to my TV?

  32. Evidence of the politicization of AGW science since the ’70s is based on the fact that “global warming” was renamed “climate change” in the ’90s. This is a battle between those who are willing to place their faith in scientists and environmentalists whose speculations the Left finds politically useful and the rest of us who can tell the difference between fact and fiction.

  33. Somebody help me out with understanding how we can get to Net Zero from this TES starting point.

    It is interesting that this chart references 2019 but shows updated in October of this year. The IEA has made this data much more difficult to find on their site recently. It seems they don’t have the decency to even label “Wind and Solar” any longer. The pronoun is “Other”. (Other includes geothermal, solar, wind, tide/wave/ocean, heat and other sources.)

    Is there a trend?

  34. A core reason for this headlong plunge into the cold and dark is the inability to add. The mind simply boggles at the quantity of batteries, solar panels, and windmills that would be required to power civilization, which includes all the new mining, manufacturing, and construction of the new infrastructure, AND the CO2 removal technologies we will supposedly need.

  35. Indeed, the impacts of increasing CO2 are in fact trivial.