12 MIN READ
Eight young Nepali writers imagine the possible futures of climate change in a new collection featuring poetry and short fiction.
Climate change is here, and the future is less certain than ever. As heatwaves ravage India and Pakistan, as glaciers melt and unusual rainfall patterns impact the Himalaya, our anxieties about the changing climate have grown to new heights. Dire predictions of global catastrophe are filling the headlines, and it’s hard to imagine how we will survive – and thrive – in a climate-changed world.
But imagine we must. While scientific organizations and researchers are responsible for studying the impacts of climate change and the paths it may take, writers can potentially make their own contribution. Free from the constraints of the scientific method and attuned to cultural perspectives, writers can chart the different possible worlds of climate change, exploring not only how we will be affected by it, but how we may also rise to the occasion.
In the English-language literary world, climate fiction –otherwise known as cli-fi – is a significant and growing genre. Major authors like Margaret Atwood, Octavia Butler, and Kim Stanley Robinson have contributed to this field over the past few decades. In South Asia, Amitav Ghosh, Arif Anwar, Saad Z. Hossain, and others have explored the theme, especially in relation to the climate challenges of Bangladesh. Ghosh advocates for more work in the genre and points out the relative literary silence on the subject in his 2016 non-fiction book The Great Derangement.
South Asia also figures prominently in the work of Western authors. In Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2020 cli-fi epic The Ministry for the Future, the narrative begins with a massive heatwave in India that rewrites the rules of politics and international relations. Coastal Bangladesh is often mentioned as a climate catastrophe in other novels and short stories. However, there are few works that explore climate change in the Himalayan region. Nepal, despite being ranked as the fourth most climate-vulnerable country in the world, has yet to contribute a major piece to the genre. Further, most works of cli-fi prominent in the West remain centered on the apocalyptic degradations of wealthy, Western communities previously insulated from environmental disaster.
Given the unequal effects of climate change, coupled with the reality that the wealthiest countries have historically been responsible for the most emissions, a lack of space for voices from climate-vulnerable communities is not just a sad irony – it’s dangerous. Without representation in all forms of climate discourse, including literature, the realities of the worst-hit places may go unrecognized by the institutions that stand a chance of making a difference.
Methods of non-Western communities for managing water, agriculture, and ecosystems, as well as cultural attitudes toward those subjects, also have critical value for a world facing resource scarcity and shifting weather patterns. Literature is one way for those histories to be re-imagined as a dimension of a more positive future.
Over the past few months, I’ve facilitated a climate fiction and futurism workshop with a group of 12 young writers from Nepal. We began our workshop by reading notable works of climate fiction from around the world – The Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler, Bangkok Wakes to Rain by Pitchaya Sudbanthad, short stories like 'Bring your own spoon' by Saad Z. Hossain and 'Half Eaten Cities' by Vajra Chandrasekera. What these works all have in common is a hidden sense of optimism. In Butler’s novel, the main character begins a new religion and finds purpose in a drought-ravaged future America. In Saad Z. Hossain’s story, a group of wayward outcasts escapes a dystopian Dhaka hoping to begin a new life in the wilderness. In every case, characters in impossibly challenging circumstances seek ways of living within and in spite of the uncertain world.
While reading these works and engaging in discussions about climate change, we wrote short stories focused on the subject. Each week, we wrote about what Nepal would be like further into the future–in 10, 25, 50, and of course, 100 years. Then, we wrote stories that centered non-human narratives of climate change, followed by a prompt to imagine how Nepal could look if it successfully and positively adapted to the crisis.
The result of this work is an anthology, In 100 Years, which explores the future of Nepal and the planet as a whole. The stories range from the fantastic to the practical. In 'Badal ko sahar' by Shrijan Pandey, the wealthy have built cities above the clouds and descend to the impoverished Earth to haggle with artisans over pool floats – not only a surreally imagined future but a reflection on contemporary inequalities both within Nepal and between the West and the Global South. In Anupa Khanal’s 'Duty', a female traffic officer in Kathmandu navigates the bewildering implications of artificial intelligence alongside surviving the worsening pollution in the city. '11,797 kg of poop' by Deepali Shrestha explores generational guilt over climate change, our individual impact on the Earth, and anxieties of motherhood on an increasingly uncertain planet.
The eight authors who contributed poems and short stories to the final anthology drew from their own fears as well as their direct experiences of a changing environment. The end result is a body of work that offers new and exciting directions for imagining the future in light of climate change in Nepal. In 100 Years will be launched as an ebook, available for free online, in order to heighten its accessibility and impact.
Climate change is a global issue, with little regard for borders. That doesn’t mean it affects everyone equally, or that we all bear equal responsibility – but it does mean that our efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change have to mirror its transboundary, cross-community nature. As a foreigner from the West, facilitating the space meant opening a dialogue between two very different sets of experiences. However, as a 25-year-old with little more writing history than the participants, I found more commonalities than differences in our shared fears of the future. As members of the same generation, we are likely to live through some of the worst predicted crises of climate change – widespread drought, heatwaves, fires, and extinctions. But our burdens will not be equal nor will our access to the resources necessary for living in a climate-changed world.
Bringing these stories back home and sharing them with those working on climate change became a major goal of mine in publishing the project, especially as a digital, open-access book. With a little luck, these stories of the future can become part of the broader global narrative of how the world will change during our lifetimes, and perhaps draw more attention to the unique challenges of Nepal.
Whether you’re anxious about climate change, curious to hear the perspectives of a young generation on the future of Nepal and the world as a whole, or new to the subject of climate, In 100 Years offers a collection of insightful and beautiful stories. While they’re not all positive, each work shows us how our planet and civilization may change in light of the climate crisis – and, most importantly, how we might begin to find hope.
'In 100 Years' is being launched this Saturday, June 18, at Base Camp in Jhamsikhel, between 3pm and 5pm. The authors will share their work with the public and discuss the anthology.
Sajeet M. Rajbhandari
You don’t often see the sunrise these days. The rising sun is usually hidden by a thick brown wall of clouds. Not remotely as pretty as the polaroids my brother shows me. He’d taken the pictures years ago — back when we were still allowed cameras and such — from the nearby Shivapuri hill. Unlike in my brother’s pictures, the sunrise and sunsets are little more than a pale haze now. Nowadays, you can barely make out the sun until it’s high noon.
You can still feel its heat on your skin though. Heat is all you can really feel these days.
Baba constantly tells my Mamu how nice it would be if they could go get some kulfis to beat the heat, just like they used to when they were my age. I’ve never had a Kulfi but I imagine it must taste like a cool breeze; at least that’s what Baba always tells me it tasted like.
It feels cooler today than it has been for the past month. It was still pretty hot, but at least I didn't wake up already drenched in sweat.
Sometimes even the water is too hot to drink. With no way for us to refrigerate or cool our food or ourselves, we just have to make do with whatever temperature the day has decided on.
Frankly, the only way we’d be able to cool off better was if we could get one of those fancy air conditioning units that the houses in Kathmandu have. But I’ve been told that those things cost an arm and a leg. That’s two appendages more than what our household runs on every month. Us folks living in the city outskirts don’t have the luxury to afford such things for our homes.
by Prajjwal Dhungana
Water is god. A decade has passed without a single drop from heaven. Or hell, I do not know. For the sky is never blue or white or bright like it had been when I was a kid. It was a different epoch then, the time before World War III. Tranquil mornings hopping in the warble of birds, silent breeze whistling across the leaves of gigantic trees, and bees leaping from one flower to another. Yellow Van Gogh sunflowers under the cerulean blanket of life. If you were lucky enough, you would witness a rainbow- a symphony of seven different colors from violet to red in the canvas of nature coming together in a bow, so hypnotic that you would lose yourself in eternity.
Today, all we have is sand. We live in sand and perish in it. Cactus, a thorny, fleshy plant is what has kept us alive. Once you remove all the spines and cut through it, you have abundant food to keep you well and hydrated for a day or two. Yet the Bourgeois have started buying them with all their treasures and hoarding for the future. Cactuses are no longer an accessible commodity for people like us.
A year ago, Lama dai–one of my neighbors–started eating sand itself, for he could not afford any food and neither could conquer his hunger. He was okay for a fortnight until bizarre symptoms started appearing. Gastric pain and bleeding, constipation followed by hardening of the stomach, which slowly extended to the other parts of the body. Within days he grew dry, rough, and slack. His limbs started giving up, trickling slowly back to the sand like snowflakes from the mountains. The last time I met him, only his head had remained. The sight was gloomy and terrifying at the same time, I fled the place in a few seconds. I decided to choose death instead of swallowing sand when I run out of food.
11,757 kg of poop
by Deepali Shrestha
She had always been an environmentally-conscious person. At the age of 14, when she made a boyfriend for the first time, she learned about a Swedish activist named Greta Thunberg who was only a few years older than her and had been going on school strikes, sitting outside the Swedish parliament urging the leaders for stronger action against climate change. Her boyfriend, who was the smartest guy in his class and a year older than her, once told her that her passion and drive for the environment reminded him of Greta Thunberg. When she came home she googled her name, and eventually she became her role model. It was as if Greta was ventilation, letting out her angst and letting in thoughts that gave value to her feelings; she was living vicariously through her. She was equally impressed by her boyfriend’s capacity to know things, and as if being obliged to thank him for the gift of Greta Thunberg, she let him kiss her one hot summer day when they both were alone in his room.
The years went by, and she and Greta Thunberg grew up, but to be different. When she came to Kathmandu for her University, life struck a different chord. Although she did follow her creative path, her environmental passion faded into the background. Over the years, her art increasingly became the only thing that could capture the remorse she was filled with.
Greta Thunberg continued to be a ray of hope as the world became more and more susceptible to climate change. Many Greta Thunbergs emerged. She kept on living vicariously through them but didn’t want to do just that; she was tormented by the desire to do so much more.
After 25 years, Grishma felt like a captive in the concrete jungle that was Kathmandu. She felt guilty whenever she turned on the air purifier inside her apartment and could sleep in the air-conditioned, cool air when underprivileged people were breathing toxic air and sleeping naked on their terraces or the streets, their bodies covered with mosquitoes.
But, more than that, she hated eye contact from young people. The progress in combating climate change was extremely bleak. The social media platforms like “Pla-net-working” and “Greengram ” created by youths from climate change-affected communities were filled with angry Gen Alphas bashing Gen Z, Millennials, and Gen X for the shit happening in the world.
She could avoid eye contact in other places except for the university where she worked. She even developed a trick where she focused directly on the space between the eyebrows of her students, so she didn’t look as if she was avoiding them whenever they came close to talk. But that didn’t really work out.
She made a handful of boyfriends, making sure that they were her age or older. Making boyfriends from a particular age group didn’t ensure that she would have a healthy relationship with them. Some were scared of her anxiety about the climate and also the fact that she wasn’t doing anything significant with her life, and some pretended they understood but couldn’t hold that for long. A few of them loved her, but she left them without giving any reason that seemed plausible to them.
“It’s not you, it’s me,” Grishma would say and break the hearts of her lovers.
“To be honest, it’s the climate and me!” she would add.
Evan Tims Evan Tims is a climate fiction writer and researcher exploring climate change and society.
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