Speculative Fictions: the Narratives of Energy Futures

  • Date: –15:00
  • Location: Geocentrum Hambergsalen
  • Lecturer: Dr Bradon Smith
  • Organiser: Professor Keri Facer, the Climate Change Leadership Node
  • Contact person: Laila Mendy
  • Föreläsning

The mobilization of alternatives to our current petroleum-based energy system that the threat of climate change demands, is perhaps the fundamental political and social challenge contemporary society faces. But this mobilization is only possible through an imaginative act – that of imagining a future alternative energy system.

Even though the climate/energy nexus is inextricably future oriented, we have – until recently – not tried sufficiently to understand the future of energy culturally. This is despite the fact that, as Mike Hulme has argued following Arjun Appadurai, the future of climate is a ‘cultural fact’; by which Appadurai means that ‘it is in culture that ideas of the future, as much as of those about the past, are embedded and nurtured’ (Hulme 2016; Appadurai 2013).

I will examine the representation of energy systems in the imagined futures of a range of works of speculative fiction. I will argue that speculative fiction has an important role in imagining alternatives to our current petro-modernity, and in reminding us that in energy systems, change is constant. Since speculative fictions turn our present into the “determinate past of something yet to come” (Jameson 2007) I will also look at these futures’ ideas of the past.

This talk will draw on examples of speculative fictions from novels and plays, from television shows and films, from video games and on/off-line games. But I will also draw comparisons with other tools for envisioning the future of climate change and the energy system – such as climate models, scenario planning in the petroleum industry, and policy planning tools – arguing that these too are forms of speculative fiction, telling stories about possible futures.

I will show how these diverse narratives imagine the future of energy, but also how the past of fossil-fuel dominance continues to have a presence, preserved in language and cultural memory in these futures. I will suggest that some speculative fictions allow us to return to see our present anew, and to see our petro-modernity as more malleable and more changeable than it can sometimes appear.

Along the way, I will put forward a more general argument for the role of the emerging field of the Energy Humanities, and in particular the importance of narrative in understanding the challenge of our energy future.



Dr Bradon Smith is a Senior Research Associate at the University of Bristol with research interests in the Environmental and Energy Humanities and Futures studies, particularly the representation of climate change and energy generation and consumption in contemporary literature and culture. He was a Research Associate at the Open University on the AHRC-funded project Stories of Change: Exploring energy and community in the past, present and future (2014-2017), and at the University of Bath on Building capacity for energy resilience in deprived areas. He is co-editor of a special issue of the journal Resilience entitled Stories of Energy: Narrative in the Energy Humanities (forthcoming, 2019) and is working on a monograph, The Energy of Imagined Futures.