Of the science fiction I have read, a lot of it takes place very or somewhat far into the future, but, even among quite recent stuff, a large majority of it makes no mention of what the Earth will be like after climate change's more major effects if we don't do anything, such as droughts, flooding, etc.

What is the first work of science fiction that mentions or takes place on an Earth in which the worst effects of unintentional human-caused (i.e. from greenhouse gases) climate change have either already happened or are happening? I'd prefer an answer that isn't about a work that's some crazy hypothetical, more something that's thinking about what will realistically happen (not like The Purchase of the North Pole, in which the Earth is tilted by humans and weird effects occur).

  • @user14111 I mean like icecaps melting from the greenhouse effect. – Stormblessed Aug 18 at 14:46
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    J.G. Ballard's The Drowned World (1962) comes to mind. – Spencer Aug 18 at 16:18
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    @user14111 - I find it hard to believe you're not familiar with the primary usage of the phrase "climate change" in English media. – Adamant Aug 18 at 16:31
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    Need to clarify something: Are we talking humans-wreck-the-Earth climate change or entropic climate change (where stuff will end on its own, i.e. the sun dies)? – Machavity Aug 18 at 17:27
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    @Adamant I think I see user14111's point. It might be possible to find a story from, say, the 1930s, which was set during a future Ice Age, and that might be blamed on the consequences of human activity. That would qualify as a cautionary tale along the lines of "if we aren't careful, the climate will change and the results will be catastrophic" -- even though these days it's more fashionable to worry about the "global warming" variety of "climate change." I think it's reasonable to ask Stormblessed about what type of "change in the climate" would qualify for his purposes. – Lorendiac Aug 18 at 21:53

1946: Hal Clement's novelette "Cold Front" (first published in Astounding Science Fiction, July 1946, available at the Internet Archive) is set some time after the (intentionally) human-caused greenhouse effect has warmed the earth considerably with significant melting of the polar ice caps. An Earthman wants to sell the denizens of a cold planet on a similar project:

"There is one fact that I think will help you greatly," he said. "This planet is in an ice age — we could tell that from space. In this hemisphere, where it is now two Earth years past midsummer, the ice cap extends more than thirty degrees from the pole. In the other, the large island and continental masses possess glacial sheets scores of feet in thickness to within forty degrees of the equator; and heavy snow fields reach to less than twenty degrees south latitude in spots. On smaller islands, whose temperatures should be fairly well stabilized by the ocean, there appears to be much snow at very low latitudes.

"I suppose, though that's outside my line, that these people developed their civilization as a result of the period of glaciation, just as the races of Earth, Thanno, and a lot of the other Federation planets seem to have. Now, however, they have the situation of a growing race cramped into the equatorial regions of a planet — admittedly a large one, but with most of its land area in the middle latitudes.

"On Earth we pushed the isotherms fifteen degrees further from the equator, and benefited greatly thereby. How about selling the same idea to the Heklans, if you really want a convincing example of what we can do for them?"

"Two questions, please," returned Vickers. "First, what's this about changing the Earth's weather? I don't recall ever having heard of such a thing. In the second place, I'm afraid we'll have to sell the Heklans a little more than possible advantages. Our working theory, remember, is that I inadvertently got them leery of the combative and competitive elements of Federation culture. How would curbing their ice age, if you can do it, help that? Also, and most important, how does it help us to get a corner on the metal trade here before a real Federation agent steps in and opens the place up? Once that happens, every company from Regulus to Vega will have trading ships on Hekla; and we want Belt Metals to be solidly established here by that time. How about that?"

"To answer your first point, we didn’t change Earth's weather, but it's climate. There'd be no point in trying to explain the difference to you, I guess. They stepped up the CO2 content of the atmosphere, producing an increased blanketing effect. At first the equatorial regions were uncomfortably hot as a result; but when the thing stabilized again a lot of the polar caps had melted, and a lot of formerly desert land in the torrid zones, which had been canalized for the purpose, had flooded in consequence. The net result was an increased evaporation surface and, through a lot of steps a little too technical for the present discussion, a shallower temperature drop toward the poles. The general public has forgotten it, I know, but I thought it was still taught in history. Surely you heard of it sometime during your formative years.”

  • I’d prefer something about unintentional climate change, but I forgot to specify — here’s an upvote. – Stormblessed Aug 20 at 1:51

1969: "We All Die Naked", a novelette by James Blish, first published in the anthology Three for Tomorrow. The following excerpt is copied from the 1973 anthology Alpha 4 edited by Robert Silverberg.

Masks were introduced, but of course nobody could stop breathing and emitting carbon dioxide. In 1980 there were 4,500 million human carbon dioxide emitters on the Earth—very few of other species—and so much of the world had been paved over, or turned into desert, that the green plants had long lost the battle to convert the gas into oxygen and water vapor. The burning of fossil fuels, begun in prehistory among the peat bogs, might have fallen off with the invention of nuclear power, but the discovery in 1968—when nuclear power was still expensive to exploit, and which produced wastes so long-lived and so poisonous that people had the rare good sense to be terrified of them while it was still early enough to cut down on their production—of the Alaskan oil field, the fourth largest in history, aborted the nuclear boom and produced a new spurt in burning. The breathers, in the meantime, continued to multiply; by 1989 nobody knew what the population of the world was—most of the statistics of the increase had been buried under the statistics for the increment of garbage.

Carbon dioxide is not a poisonous gas, but it is indefatigably heat-conservative, as are all the other heavy molecules that had been smoked into the air. In particular, all these gases and vapors conserved solar heat, like the roof of a greenhouse. In due course, the Arctic ice cap, which had been only a thin sheet over a small ocean, an ocean furthermore contained in a basin also heat-conservative, melted, followed by the Greenland cap. Now the much deeper Antarctic cap was dwindling, dumping great icebergs into the warming Antarctic Ocean. Great fog banks swept around the world, accelerating the process and chelating the heavier gas molecules as they moved, making them immune from attack by oxygen, ozone, or the activating effects of sunlight. The fogs stank richly of tars and arsenes, and were thicker and yellower than any London had seen in the worst years before the Clean Air Act had been passed.

And the ice continued to melt. Sea level in 1989 was twenty-one feet higher than it had been in 1938; every harbor in the world had been obliterated, every shoreline changed, and the brokers of lower Manhattan had been forced to learn to paddle. The world temperature rose; more bergs fell into the Ross Sea; the last Ice Age was over.

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