In his first novel, a Fordham graduate imagines our climate future in five different ways
Business leaders, economists, policy consultants and military planners often use scenario thinking to prepare for what lies ahead and test possible courses of action – or inaction. For Andrew Dana Hudson, FCLC ’09, it’s a practice tailor-made for speculative fiction, the kind that influenced his first novel, Our Shared Stormwhich was published by Fordham University Press in April.
Our Shared Storm tells the overlapping stories of four characters as they unfold in five different future scenarios. Each of the five parts of the book takes place in 2054 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, during the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, better known as the COP, nearing a great storm. The roles, motivations, and actions of the characters differ, however, due to how their worlds have dealt or failed to deal with the effects of climate change.
There is Diya, whose job is different in each story, but who is still a powerful player in the world of climate negotiations. There’s Luis, a Buenos Aires resident who exists on the periphery of the conference, going from driver in one story to kidnapper in another. There’s Saga, a climate activist (and in one story, a pop star) whose level of pessimism — and comfort — about government delegates swings from side to side. And then there’s Noah, whom Hudson described as his “personal identity,” a mid-level American delegate (or, in the same story as the pop star Saga, an exploitative entrepreneur) who has limited control over the commitments of his country but who does what he can grease the diplomatic wheels.
“I got this idea from these four characters and figured out how to remix them every time,” Hudson said. “It’s really fun to do [that], to take your characters and rethink who they are in all these different ways. One thing you can do then is try to find those moments of opportunity and figure out where your characters are drifting off, and then figure out what that says about the different worlds.
In a presentation text for Our Shared Stormfamed science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson wrote that Hudson managed to find creative ways to explore these deviations and the worlds that led up to them.
“Hudson has found a way,” Robinson wrote, “to combine the different facets of our climate future, sparking stories that are by turns resourceful, energetic, provocative, and moving.”
Negotiate the future
Book Futures is based on a set of climate modeling scenarios called the Shared Socio-Economic Pathways, or SSPs, which were developed by climate experts in the 2010s and used in the Panel’s Sixth Assessment Report. intergovernmental experts on climate change in 2021. Scenarios range from ‘sustainability’, in which aggressive climate goals are achieved and a more utopian future takes shape, to ‘Middle of the Road’, a continuation from current trends in inequality and consumption, to three more dire possibilities: “Regional Rivalry,” “Inequality,” and “Fossil Fuel Fueled Development,” each bringing its own variety of high-level threats.
Hudson came across the SSP Framework after starting the Masters in Sustainability program at Arizona State University’s Global Institute for Sustainability and Innovation in 2017 and realized it presented scenarios for the future in the same way that so many speculative fictions do, and in this case, with the explicit support of scientific research.
“As soon as I read about [the SSPs]I thought, “Oh, these are science fiction stories,” he recalls.
After visiting the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Vienna, which houses the SSP database, and meeting with academics to talk more about their research, Hudson realized that while writing five futures defined at the same time and in the same place with the same characters, he could eliminate variables and make it a kind of experiment.
“Originally,” he said, “a lot of the way I phrased it as a master’s thesis was, ‘I’m going to do practice-based research to analyze my own experience in writing these stories and understanding how difficult or easy it is to create literature based on scientific models and rigorous ideas about climate.
Then, in December 2018, a member of his thesis committee at ASU, Sonja Klinsky, arranged for him to be part of the university’s observer delegation to COP24 in Katowice, Poland. Attending the conference and thinking about storytelling possibilities of a hypothetical climatic event affecting this type of event helped him flesh out the structure of the book.
“When I spoke with IIASA, we thought, ‘How does each scenario handle a climate shock?'” Hudson said. What could show how, [if] a super storm hits, each scenario handles it differently based on the investments they have made? »
In the book, the storm is very strong and wreaks havoc in every scenario, but the ability of local and global communities to deal with that havoc – and the levels of suffering and violence that come with it – vary widely.
An intellectual journey and a speculative movement
Hudson grew up in St. Louis and moved to New York to attend Fordham College at Lincoln Center, where he majored in political science with a minor in creative writing. He was also an opinion writer for the The Observerthe award-winning student newspaper on the Lincoln Center campus.
“The Observer, doing the opinions page, writing a column — all of those things were definitely steps in my intellectual journey…to be really passionate about stories about arguments,” Hudson said. “And I think finding out that I liked talking to people about their writing was a big discovery that happened there.”
After graduating in 2009, he spent a year working as a journalist in India, where he had studied abroad as a Fordham undergraduate, and upon his return to the United States, he became a journalist at the St. Louis edition of Patch. From there, he moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, where he did freelance writing and political and nonprofit consulting.
In 2015, Hudson wrote an essay titled “On the Political Dimensions of Solarpunk”, which laid out the practical implications of an aesthetic movement that depicts a utopian future in which solar energy is creatively harnessed to build beautiful cities and sustainable communities. Like the dystopian cyberpunk genre before it, solarpunk is more than just an art movement – it was meant to portray real possibilities for how the world might look in the future.
Trying to define the term in the essay, Hudson wrote, “Let’s tentatively call it a speculative movement: a collaborative effort to imagine and design a world of prosperity, peace, sustainability and beauty, achievable with what we have from where we are.
Hudson met, around this time, another futurist writer and thinker, Adam Flynn, who in 2014 had written an essay on solarpunk. The two co-wrote a short story, “Sunshine State,” which won the first Everything changes Climate fiction competition sponsored by ASU’s Imagination and Climate Futures initiative. Seeing the work going on there, Hudson applied to the university’s master’s program in sustainability, from which he graduated in 2020. In addition to his work as a fiction writer, Hudson remained a fellow at the Center for Science and the Imagination’s Imaginary College, which partners with individuals and groups [the] mission of a new, creative and ambitious reflection on the future. The college counts Robinson among its resident philosophers, along with other notable writers like Margaret Atwood, Neal Stephenson, and Bruce Sterling.
And while Our Shared Storm started as his master’s thesis, with its publication by Fordham University Press, Hudson hopes it can help a wider audience see that we still have options for what our climate future will look like.
Science fiction as an impulse to action
While Hudson believes speculative fiction can help people imagine a better future, he said stories alone cannot save the world.
“I think they are a necessary, if not sufficient, part of the process, [and] we need a huge tidal wave of mobilization that includes a huge amount of cultural creation. We’re going to need art. We’re going to need music. We’re going to need TV shows that do for solar panels what TV and movies did for cars in the 50s and 60s, [making] cool car culture. We’re going to have to do that for these sustainability technologies.
But without massive political organizing and action, Hudson believes, “we could find a way to communicate this to the public in a really effective way and still lose.”
Our Shared Storm touches on the conflicts that often arise when people and communities want to effect change – is it easier to achieve goals through established political systems or through grassroots work that does not rely on human action? ‘State ?
Hudson has described solarpunk as a countercultural movement. “It shouldn’t be about people in power,” he said recently. “It should be about people who are not in power, who are in some way challenging these systems.” But after witnessing firsthand – and writing about – the geopolitical mechanisms that dominate spaces such as the annual COP meetings, he has come to appreciate the need to work within traditional political and diplomatic systems.
“I think learning how the institutions work – the national, local and state governments trying to implement the treaties – and then inserting yourself into those processes can be very powerful,” he said. “Stories are there to help people understand those dynamics and institutions, and to help them become a little bit smarter about politics, to become a little bit more strategic about where they put their efforts, [so they’re] not going to get taken for a ride.
In Our Shared StormAccording to Hudson’s most optimistic story, a strong labor movement is essential for influencing government policy, and while he recognizes that there is no simple solution, Hudson believes the working class is uniting – and pushing for things like a Green New Deal through general strikes – has the potential to positively shape the way forward.
So with the scenarios presented and with some ideas about the actions needed to avoid the worst cases, what kind of climate future Is Does Hudson see us going towards? This kind of prognosis, he insisted, is not part of his project.
“What interested me was how we are shaped by opportunity and material conditions,” Hudson said, reflecting on the changing circumstances and changing fates of his characters.
“All those things that I think end up shaping our lives – those were kind of the pivot points that I wanted [to show readers]. The fact is that the climate and the investments we make to address it are going to be a big factor in shaping these pivot points for billions of people. »