THE BLOG

Can Science Fiction Drive Social Change?

23/09/2014 12:30 BST | Updated 23/11/2014 10:59 GMT

Since my last post almost 18 months ago, I'm excited to say that I've finally launched my debut young adult novel, Moral Order: The Rise of Luca C. Mariner.

My hope is that this book - and the sequels set to follow - will spark the next generation's interest in conservation, oceanography and, more broadly, climate change.

As it stands, there are entrenched difficulties involved in trying to actively engage the general public with climate change and conservation. Science fiction can help.

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I hope that as we build a global audience with this book and future follow-ups (and, with any luck, films, videogames, merchandise and more), Moral Order can grow a generation of fans who are tuned into the messages of the brand.

In a recent commentary in the Guardian, Adam Corner, research director for the Climate Outreach & Information Network (COIN), laid out his suggestions for how to build support for tackling the problems associated with climate change. He highlights the need for a greater public discourse, writing:

"Creating the space for a social consensus to be built - through physical or virtual communities of conviction - seems a better aim than trying to 'nudge' individuals into more environmentally virtuous behaviour."

What better way to do this than by creating a mass media entertainment franchise?

Science fiction for education, education, education

A lot has been said in the past regarding the benefits of science fiction for society. Various reports and research suggest that sci-fi has the power to inspire both scientists, technologists and a general readership to innovate, change their behaviour and drive a keener interest in the future.

It's also essential that the next generation of scientists and engineers be equipped to engage with a changing planet.

Feedback from scientists consulted as part of the Sigma Xi Society's 2010 report, "Did Science Fiction Influence You?" suggests that such stories could also help encourage young people to enter careers related to science, technology, English and maths (STEM) subjects.

Feedback from individual respondents included:

"Science fiction, and its many tendrils, tests the imagination and makes you ask "why not?" ... It calls on the mind to picture things out of the ordinary, and by doing so, breaks us of our bounds to the daily rigors of earth. Science fiction takes us to the bottom of the ocean, to the center of the earth and beyond the stars, while our feet are still on the ground. What a great ride!"

I've partnered with education experts to create a free teaching resource, which links oceanography concepts to the National Curriculum, focusing on STEM subjects. This is just one way in which we can bring issues of conservation, marine science, and a love for our planet into the classroom, and hopefully stretch beyond it.

Powering change with science fiction

NESTA published a working paper back in March 2013, entitled "Imagining Technology". Tasked with exploring whether sci-fi might drive technological innovation, the report seems to answer 'yes', featuring some real-life examples.

Producers of Minority Report enlisted the help of consultants keen to develop the type of gestural, translucent computer interface depicted in the film. The success of the film and the visual appeal of the on-screen product turned it into a "new kind of self-fulfilling prophecy", helping sell the concept to investors.

The European Science Foundation has also looked at existing science fiction to see if there were any ideas worth considering for future space projects.

Ring the alarm?

There is a concern that being too alarmist about possible future scenarios can actually push people away from engaging in climate change and conservation. Remaining optimistic, on the other hand, results in stagnation.

Outlining the importance of striking a balance between scaremongering and 'bright siding' in his article for the Guardian, Corner writes:

"The challenge is to find a balance that minimises the hand wringing but acknowledges the enormous, unprecedented challenges that climate change poses... We can't be scared into caring, but we also can't be soothed into accepting our fate."

I think he's got it right, and I think we've struck that balance. Moral Order is set in a firmly dystopian future, as caused by a human-induced, runaway greenhouse effect, but it is also full of hope.

I think science fiction can drive social change.

I hope that my books - and whatever forms the stories may go on to take - will capture the imagination of their readers, create a vehicle for discussing environmental issues, and encourage young people to tackle global challenges by becoming the scientists and engineers of tomorrow.