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
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.
 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.