Introduction: Resisting Acclimation

You are reading the HTML version of Everything Change Volume III. Visit the book’s home page to download it for free in other formats, including .epub and .mobi (for Kindle devices).

Table of Contents

Introduction: Resisting Acclimation

By Joey Eschrich and Angie Dell

The tragedies of 2020 and 2021 have shown us how quickly humans can transform the unspeakable into the unremarkable. In the U.S., where we edited this book, as of March 2021, we are seeing an average of about one thousand officially reported COVID-19 deaths per day, and simultaneously, a flurry of activity to lift public-health restrictions and reopen workplaces, schools, stores, and restaurants. We are being tasked to carry on with our lives, jobs, and responsibilities in ways that defy the realities of our grief and pain—to continue to function in the midst of horrifying acts of racial hatred and state violence, the subversion of our democracies, the degradation of our biosphere. We’ve wandered into a macabre definition of normalcy, a daily devastation that has scaled from cataclysmic in early 2020 to mundane just a year later.

It’s precisely this tendency to find an even keel—to somehow carry on amidst the maelstrom of an unfolding calamity—that makes the climate crisis such a formidable threat to the long-term survival of our societies and our species. It’s a form of slow violence,1 to use Rob Nixon’s term, or a catastrophe in slow motion,2 in the words of R. T. Pierrehumbert. The consequences of climate chaos can be mistaken for regular weather patterns: a flood here, a hurricane there, a cyclical drought. Even extraordinary hurricanes and wildfires, and unprecedented increases in sea levels, are not immediately and unambiguously connected to the climate crisis. The effects of global warming are correlational, incremental, cumulative. They intensify and distort existing patterns and historical averages, slowly pushing the familiar inconveniences of living on this planet into the strange and traumatic—a state of climate extremes that Hunter Lovins calls global weirding.3 This distortion is further fueled by titans of industry, finance, and politics, who benefit from denying the reality of the crisis and from making assertive climate action seem extreme. In the 2020 U.S. election, according to a survey administered by the Pew Research Center, climate change didn’t even crack the top ten issues for voters.4

Which is all to say that the climate crisis is a story, and one whose contours and meaning are hotly contested by activists, scientists, journalists, industrialists, policymakers, and many others. Confronting the crisis in time to head off its worst consequences requires those of us concerned about the future of life on this planet to construct and share compelling stories, ones that capture dramatic, scientific truths through the perspectives and daily lived realities of people and communities struggling with climate chaos on the ground. It also requires stories about the future. Some of these will be stories of warning—about broken systems and things gone irretrievably wrong, and an environment depleted by decades of reckless thriving. Others will be stories of hope—about communities muddling through hardship and adapting to a rapidly changing world, about communities mourning what’s been lost, taking succor from what’s left, and redefining what it means to be human.

Our belief in the necessity of telling stories about the crisis we’re living through together, and what might come based on the choices we make now and in the near future, is what motivates our work with the Everything Change climate fiction contest and anthologies. We hope that these stories serve to inspire fresh thinking and further storytelling about how it feels to live through the climate crisis. We hope they fuel conversations about how communities all over the globe, in unthinkably diverse circumstances, might respond and adapt in efforts to stave off catastrophe or to rebuild our societies on more sustainable foundations.

For our third contest, we focused our call for submissions on planetary boundaries, a concept proposed by a group of scientists in 2009, led by researchers at the Stockholm Resilience Centre and the Australian National University.5 The boundaries range from atmospheric factors like the ozone layer and aerosols, to water issues like ocean acidification and the freshwater cycle, to climate change in terms of CO2 levels, chemical pollution, and more. Together, they provide a framework to support necessary global shifts in governance and environmental policy, establishing a “safe space” in which sustainable economic and social development can occur. All of the boundaries are intertwined, emphasizing the entanglement of natural systems in the air, in the water, and on land, irrespective of political and historical boundaries of nation, state, and sphere of influence. Currently, we’re living far beyond these boundaries, especially in the Global North and in advanced industrial economies, and among the world’s wealthiest everywhere, with carbon emissions and consumption vastly exceeding sustainable levels.

Our short fiction contest challenged writers to explore visions of the future where humans are living within the boundaries—at the individual level, yes, but more importantly at the level of organizations, communities and societies, and global human civilization. We followed this challenge with a raft of questions: How might politics, culture, relationships, and identities—all of the messiness of human lives—change in a world where we’re grappling seriously with the climate crisis, and perhaps even trying to repair some of the damage we’ve already done to the planet and its ecosystems? How would we organize our homes, communities, cities, and nations? How would we live with and relate to each other at the global level? What kinds of obstacles, conflicts, and transformations might arise during these humongous shifts? How can we ensure that a sustainable future is also a just and equitable one?

As with past Everything Change contests, we received a tremendous international response to our provocation: more than 580 submissions from 77 different countries came in between February and April of 2020, just as the COVID-19 pandemic spread beyond borders and upended our lives, disrupting travel and trade, school and work, and connections to our families, friends, and communities. This collection of the ten finalists from the contest features stories by authors based in Australia, Nigeria, the Philippines, and the United States. It also features stunning illustrations for each story by João Queiroz, a digital artist based in Brazil.

Our judging process spanned five rounds, including more than 30 people representing expertise in oceanography, environmental history, civil and environmental engineering, sustainability science, ecology, creative writing, and literary theory. Experts were drawn from Arizona State University’s Global Institute of Sustainability and Innovation, School of Earth and Space Exploration, School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, School of Historical, Philosophical, and Religious Studies, Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing, and Center for Science and the Imagination. The final round was judged by Claire Vaye Watkins, author of the acclaimed climate fiction novel Gold Fame Citrus and Battleborn, a short story collection that reimagines the mythology of the American West, and a former Guggenheim Fellow and winner of the Story Prize and the New York Public Library Young Lions Fiction Award.

Our grand prize–winning story, “Invasive Species” by Amanda Baldeneaux, explores our quixotic attempts at preserving ecosystems and knowledge lost in the climate crisis. Starting with a striking scene set amid unfinished wildlife dioramas at a natural history museum, it follows Viviana, a young woman in a moment of transition, struggling with economic hardship and personal tragedy against the backdrop of environmental austerity policies that literally hamper her movement and make daily life a stressful grind. Viviana, like many of the lead characters in this anthology, navigates a complicated landscape shaped by environmental collapse with sharp wits, an observant eye, and a stubborn sense of hope. The story joins nine other finalists, representing a range of literary styles, from action-thriller narratives and poetic, elegiac dirges to unsettling weird-fiction tales, and even an eco-fable about a far-future society. At the end of the book, you’ll also find the names and titles of 15 more stories that reached our semifinal round. We received so many fabulous submissions, and we hope and expect to see some of them published in other venues, adding to the ever-growing and ever-diversifying climate fiction movement.

This year’s stories share a number of common threads, reflecting particular points of anxiety and framings for how the effects of the climate crisis become visible and embodied.

Continuing a tendency from our first two Everything Change anthologies in 2016 and 2018, several of the stories in this volume focus on the hope, or terror, or ethical quagmire of childbirth and childrearing in the midst of a creeping environmental disaster. With an overwhelming majority of the stories featuring women in leading roles, this volume extends the series’ years-long deliberation about how the climate crisis widens deeply entrenched gender inequalities, disproportionately affecting the lives and well-being of women and people who do not conform to the gender binary. Pregnancy is a particular site of concern, an arena where macro-level forces—a brutal social order or environmental contamination—threaten to invade our bodies, rendering them toxic or stripping us of our autonomy and sense of self. This year, several stories raise the specter of death in the process of childbirth, a trope that means different things in each context, but overall suggests a planet growing increasingly inhospitable to life.

Another striking commonality is the incredible influx of stories set in, under, or around the oceans, and often featuring marine life in jarring tableaus that dramatize the destructive effects of ocean plastics. Indeed, the world’s oceans reached their highest recorded temperatures in 2020,6 and the shocking intrusion of plastic waste into the oceans, at the level of about ten metric tons per year, seems to be an increasingly intractable calamity.7 Collectively, our authors’ emphasis on oceans reminds us just how profoundly human activity has reworked our planetary system, even in areas that we haven’t yet mapped, observed, or explored.8 It also mirrors their focus on pregnancy, with the mysterious realms we most associate with birth and creation now rendered defective and unsafe.

A related tendency, and one that is less familiar to us from the first two volumes of Everything Change, is the natural world presented as unsurvivable. Whether it’s pervasive microplastic pollution, lung-clogging dust, or deadly combinations of heat and humidity, Earth emerges time and again as an alien planet: no longer a Garden of Eden in which we might thrive, but a potential death trap requiring technological protections to traverse. And in what may be a nod to the signature garment of the COVID-19 era, several stories feature characters donning face masks to mitigate their exposure to air pollution, rather than to protect against airborne pathogens.

We’re also intrigued by the prevalence of Everything Change stories that present a world “mid-crash”—not a utopian or dystopian future, or a troubled present with storm clouds looming, but a world in the throes of transformation. Sometimes these mid-crash narratives end with a glint of hope, like a new educational opportunity, a promising friendship or romantic relationship, or a chance for acceptance and self-comprehension. But these moments of catharsis and discovery are set against an uncertain backdrop, and they’re rarely accompanied by resolutions at the level of governance, social organization, or environmental remediation. It is important to note that these concluding gestures exist outside of commodity culture, overheated economic markets, and empty techno-fetishism; they are about connecting with different registers of meaning that are decidedly organic and low-tech.

In these mid-crash stories, we’re left to sift through human experience in order to find meaning and solace, or to process grief and keep on living. They suggest new sensibilities, revamped structures of feeling,9 and ways of inhabiting this Earth together, even if they hesitate or are so far unable to imagine the technologies and structures that will enable us to adapt to a tumultuous period of climate chaos, and perhaps even to emerge one day from the other side.

1Rob Nixon, Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor, Harvard University Press, 2013.

2R. T. Pierrehumbert, “Climate Change: A Catastrophe in Slow Motion,” Chicago Journal of International Law 6, no. 2 (2006),

3See John Waldman, “With Temperatures Rising, Here Comes ‘Global Weirding,’” Yale Environment 360, Yale School of the Environment, March 19, 2009,

4“Important Issues in the 2020 Election,” Pew Research Center, August 13, 2020,

6Lijing Cheng et al., “Upper Ocean Temperatures Hit Record High in 2020,” Advances in Atmospheric Sciences (2021),

7Winnie W. Y. Lau et al., “Evaluating Scenarios Toward Zero Plastic Pollution,” Science 369, no. 6510 (2020): 1455-1461,

8According to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), more than 80 percent of the world’s oceans remain unmapped, unobserved, and unexplored. See

9For a compelling and accessible definition and use of the concept of “structures of feeling,” see Kim Stanley Robinson, “The Coronavirus is Rewriting Our Imaginations,” The New Yorker, May 1, 2020, The term was originally coined by cultural theorist Raymond Williams (1921-1988), and developed throughout his career across a variety of publications. To learn more about Williams and his work, visit The Raymond Williams Society at

Back to top