When I began my PhD, one of my first tasks was to familiarise myself with the political and environmental context surrounding the development of an environmentally-focused body of speculative and science fiction. Being a visual person, I decided to create myself a timeline, which became a really useful way of seeing the patterns in the types of texts that were emerging in response to local and global events. It only goes up to 2016, but hopefully it will prove a useful tool for others too. Please let me know if you can see any obvious events or texts that I might have missed!


  • Environmental and Scientific Context
  • World events or milestones
  • Key works of Fiction



1824             French physicist Joseph Fourier describes the Earth’s natural “greenhouse effect”.

1861             Irish physicist John Tyndall shows that water vapour and certain other gases create the greenhouse effect.

1885             Richard Jefferies, After London; or, Wild England

1896             Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius concludes that industrial-age coal burning will enhance the natural greenhouse effect. He suggests this might be beneficial for future generations.

1900 – 1939

1908             Jack London, The Iron Heel

1914-18        World War One

1924             Yevgeny Zamyatin, We

1930             Estimated date that human population of the Earth reaches 2 billion

1932             Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

1940 – 1959

1945             The End of World War Two and the dropping of the nuclear bomb on Hiroshima

1945             DDT, the pesticide critiqued in Carson’s Silent Spring, becomes available for civilian use

1947             Ward Moore, Greener than you Think

1949             George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four

1950-60s       This period is marked by a revival of the catastrophe novel, responding to post-war fears. We begin to see environmental concerns (mainly overcrowding or pollution narratives) appear in this era, but they are often side-lined or used thematically to engage with other issues, such as nuclear warfare.

1951             John Wyndham, The Day of the Triffids

1952             Frederik Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth, The Space Merchants

1953             Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

1953             John Wyndham, The Kraken Wakes

1955             John Boland, White August

1955             John Wyndham, The Chrysalids

1956             John Christoper, The Death of Grass

1957             Nevil Shute, On The Beach

1958             Charles Eric Maine, The Tide Went Out

1958             Using equipment he had developed himself, Charles David (Dave) Keeling begins systematic measurements of atmospheric CO2 at Mauna Loa in Hawaii and in Antarctica. Within four years, the project – which continues today – provides the first unequivocal proof that CO2 concentrations are rising.

1960 – 1979

1960             Estimated date that human population of the Earth reaches 3 billion

1960s-70s     Baccolini and Moylan argue that we see a fading of the dystopian genre in this period. Indeed, it is possible to argue that catastrophe fiction and new wave science fiction were more prominent genres at this time.

1961             Brian Aldiss, Hothouse

1962             J.G. Ballard, The Drowned World

1962             Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange

1962             John Christopher, The World in Winter

1962             Cuban Missile Crisis; Peak of the Cold War.

1962             Rachael Carson, Silent Spring

1964             Brian Aldiss, Greybeard

1965             Brian Aldiss, Earthworks

1965             J.G. Ballard, The Drought

1965             John Christopher, A Wrinkle in the Skin

1965             Thomas M. Disch, The Genocides

1966             Barbara Ward publishes Spaceship Earth, which discusses the world community needed and created by rapid technological advances and environmental pressures.

1968             Paul Ehrlich, The Population Bomb

1968             John Mercer, a glaciologist at Ohio State University, suggests the possibility of a collapse of Antarctic ice sheets, which would raise sea levels catastrophically. However, it takes years before his concerns are recognised by the scientific community.

1968             John Brunner, Stand on Zanzibar

1968             Philip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

1969             Ursula Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness

1969             Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five

1970             First Earth Day

1970s            The emergence of the ‘critical utopia’ (Ursula K. Le Guin, Marge Piercy, Ernst Callenbach, etc.)

1972             First UN environment conference, in Stockholm. Although environmental issues such as chemical pollution, atomic bomb testing and whaling are discussed, climate change remains largely unmentioned.

1972             Droughts in Africa, Ukraine, India cause world food crisis

1972             John Brunner, The Sheep Look Up

1974             Ursula Le Guin, The Dispossessed

1975             The term ‘Global Warming’ coined by US scientist Wallace Broeker

1975             Estimated date that human population of the Earth reaches 4 billion

1976             Ursula Le Guin, The Word for World is Forest

1980 – 1999

1982             The suggestion that global warming could be a cause for rising sea levels is made, as increased temperatures cause the upper layers of water in the ocean to expand.

1984             The titular date of Orwell’s dystopia sparks a renewed interest in the creative potential of the dystopian form. A more prominent dystopian turn begins to emerge, including the emergence of ‘critical dystopia’, which develops in answer to the ‘critical utopia’.

1984             William Gibson, Neuromancer

1985             Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale

1985             US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) decides that GM plants are patentable. GM crop field trials begin.

1986             SCOPE 29 – a report of the Greenhouse Effect and Climate Change, drawn from the UNEP/WMO/ICSU International Conference in 1985[1]

1986             Chernobyl – catastrophic nuclear accident

1987             George Turner, The Sea and the Summer

1988             Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) formed to collate and assess evidence on climate change.

1989             Carbon emissions from fossil fuel burning and industry reach six billion tonnes per year.

1990             IPCC produces First Assessment Report.

1990s            The emergence of Ecocriticism

1990             David Brin, Earth

1992             P.D. James, The Children of Men

1992             At the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, governments agree the United Framework Convention on Climate Change.

1993             Octavia E. Butler, The Parable of the Sower

1993             Lois Lowry, The Giver

1994             J.G. Ballard, Rushing to Paradise

1995             IPCC Second Assessment Report concludes that the balance of evidence suggests “a discernible human influence” on the Earth’s climate.

1996             First commercial plantings of Monsanto’s herbicide-tolerant GM soy in USA, engineered to be resistant to its own-brand herbicide RoundUp. Flavr Savr GM tomato paste is sold, and then withdrawn, in the UK. Monsanto’s Roundup Ready Soya is given import authorization in the EU and the first shipments begin to arrive, where they are mixed, unlabelled with non-GM soy used in processed foods.

1997             Kyoto Protocol agreed. Developed nations pledge to reduce emissions by an average of 5% by the period 2008-12, with wide variations on targets for individual countries.

1997             Kim Stanley Robinson, Antartica

1998             Maggie Gee, The Ice People

1999             Human population reaches 6 billion

2000 – 2019

2000             Herbicide-resistant superweeds begin to be a problem for US farmers growing herbicide-tolerant GM crops.

2001             IPCC Third Assessment Report

2003             Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake

2004             Michael Crichton, State of Fear

2004             Maggie Gee, The Flood

2004             Kim Stanley Robinson, Forty Signs of Rain

2005             Kim Stanley Robinson, Fifty Degrees Below

2006             Carbon emissions from fossil fuel burning and industry reach eight billion tonnes per year.

2006             Ben Elton, This Other Eden

2006             Cormac McCarthy, The Road

2006             Will Self, The Book of Dave

2006             Al Gore’s documentary ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ released

2007             The IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report concludes it is more than 90% likely that humanity’s emissions of greenhouse gases are responsible for modern-day climate change.

2007             The term ‘cli-fi’ coined by Dan Bloom

2007             Jim Crace, The Pesthouse

2007             James Howard Kunstler, World Made by Hand

2007             Kim Stanley Robinson, Sixty Days & Counting

2007             Jeanette Winterson, The Stone Gods

2008             Half a century after beginning observations at Mauna Loa, the Keeling project shows that CO2 concentrations have risen from 315 parts per million in 1958 to 380 parts per million in 2008.

2009             Margaret Atwood, The Year of the Flood

2009             Paolo Bacigalupi, The Windup Girl

2009             Liz Jenson, The Rapture

2009             Marcel Theroux, Far North

2010             Ian McEwan, Solar

2010             The Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico – the largest marine oil spill in history.  

2011             Human population of the Earth reaches 7 billion

2011             Hugh Howey, Wool

2012             Hurricane Sandy

2012             Arctic sea ice reaches a minimum extent of 3.41 million sq km (1.32 million sq mi), a record for the lowest summer cover since satellite measurements began in 1979.

2013             The Mauna Loa Observatory on Hawaii reports that the daily mean concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has surpassed 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time since measurements began in 1958

2012             Kim Stanley Robinson, 2312

2013             Margaret Atwood, MaddAddam

2013             Nathaniel Rich, Odds Against Tomorrow

2013             Alexis Wright, The Swan Book

2014             Emily St. John Mandel, Station 11

2014             Edan Lepucki, California

2015             The Hague orders the Dutch government to cut its carbon emissions by 25% within the next five years. This decision, the first of its kind, comes after 886 Dutch citizens decide to sue their government for failing to take sufficient action to reduce emissions.

2015             COP21: Representatives from nearly 200 countries sign a legal agreement to reach net zero emissions in the second half of the century

2015             Claire Fuller, Our Endless Numbered Days

2015             Claire Vaye Watkins, Gold, Fame, Citrus

2016             Hottest year on record, making 2016 the third year in a row to set a new record.



[1] World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) (1986) Report of the International Conference on the assessment of the role of carbon dioxide and of other greenhouse gases in climate variations and associated impacts, Villach, Austria, 9-15 October 1985, WMO No.661.