The beating drum of the climate crisis — from calamitous bushfires in Australia to disappearing sea ice in the Arctic — is a constant reminder our planet is a closed, limited system, and that we’re currently living far beyond its boundaries.
But what would our world look like if we actually respected and lived within our planetary boundaries? How would we organize our homes, communities, cities, and nations? How would we live with and relate to each other at the global level? How might politics, culture, relationships and identities — all of the messiness of human lives — change in a world where we’re grappling seriously with climate change?
To help us answer these questions, the Imagination and Climate Futures Initiative at Arizona State University has announced its third Everything Change Climate Fiction contest, looking for short stories that explore visions of the future where humans are living within Earth’s planetary boundaries — at the individual level, but more importantly at the level of organizations, communities and societies, and at the level of a global human civilization.
The first-place winner will receive a $1,000 prize, and nine finalists will each receive prizes of $100. Submissions must be 5,000 words or shorter. The winner and finalists will be published in a free digital anthology, "Everything Change: An Anthology of Climate Fiction, Volume III," which follows two successful collections published in 2016 and 2019. The deadline for submissions is April 15.
The contest’s lead judge will be Claire Vaye Watkins, a former Guggenheim Fellow, winner of the Story Prize and the New York Public Library Young Lions Fiction Award, and author of "Gold Fame Citrus," a climate fiction novel that was named a best book of 2015 by the Washington Post, the Atlantic and NPR. Watkins will join an interdisciplinary group of judges with expertise in climate science, sustainability, creative writing and environmental literature.
The contest builds on two earlier global efforts by the Imagination and Climate Futures Initiative, each of which drew hundreds of submissions from more than 65 different countries around the world, with finalists hailing from Sri Lanka, Australia, Malta, Canada, Germany and the United Kingdom, as well as the United States.
“To capture both the enormity and variability of climate change, we need a diverse, global range of voices,” said Joey Eschrich of the Center for Science and the Imagination, one of the contest organizers. “Climate change affects us no matter where we are, but it looks quite different depending on what part of the world you’re in, and its effects are cross-cut by social structures, cultural norms, power and inequality, and a host of other factors. The only way we can hope to get our heads around this crisis and imagine a way forward is to build a better global conversation — so we can see that we’re all in this together, and that we need to work our way out of it together. We believe that compelling stories are an important part of that effort.”
All genres of fiction are welcome in the contest. Growing initially out of speculative fiction, climate fiction has become a wildly diverse field of literary expression, encompassing realistic and literary approaches, science fiction, comedies, fantasy, graphic novels and much more.
“We don’t see a one-size-fits-all approach to the competition. As there is not just one solution to global climate change, there is not one story, or type of story, that exemplifies the issue. Instead there are different opinions and levels of understanding, and a variety of literary styles in which writers are trying to carry on that conversation,” said Malik Toms of the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing, another of the contest’s organizers.
The concept of “planetary boundaries,” which is central to the contest’s call for submissions, was proposed by an international group of scientists in 2009, led by researchers at the Stockholm Resilience Centre and the Australian National University. The boundaries range from atmospheric factors like the ozone layer and aerosols to biodiversity, water issues like ocean acidification and the freshwater cycle, climate change in terms of CO2 levels, chemical pollution and more. Together, they provide a framework to support necessary global shifts in governance and environmental policy — establishing a “safe space” in which sustainable economic and social development can occur. All of the boundaries are intertwined, emphasizing the inextricable entanglement of natural systems in the air, in the water and on land, irrespective of political and historical boundaries of nation, state and sphere of influence.
To learn more about the Everything Change Climate Fiction Contest, read full terms and guidelines and submit a story, visit everythingchange.submittable.com.
Support for the 2020 Everything Change Climate Fiction Contest is provided by Ingka Group, the largest retailer and a strategic partner in the IKEA franchise system, operating nearly 380 IKEA stores in 30 countries. Learn more about Ingka Group and its commitment to sustainability at ingka.com/about-us/sustainability. Ingka Group and its representatives will not be involved in the judging process, the decision-making around the winners of the contest or the editorial process for the Everything Change book.