A yellow Tesla rockets across the dusty tarmac, bisecting a sunbaked wasteland. Angel Velasquez stares out from behind tinted sunglasses, surveying the landscape, approaching a hollowed-out, crime-ridden city that is on the verge of its last breath. Phoenix, Arizona is just another victim of climate change.
Dallas. Houston. San Antonio. All have fallen to "Big Daddy Drought" - an unrelenting disaster that has rendered the Southwestern United States a nightmarish desert. Refugees pour across the terrain in search of a better life, only to find their path blocked by State-backed militias and closed borders. America is broken--a house divided. The Southwest exists as a land where Cadillac Desert is the new bible, and the holder of senior water rights reigns supreme.
Amongst this chaos, Las Vegas remains strong. It has money. It has power. And most importantly, it has men like Angel Velasquez who keep it that way. A Vegas water knife for the Southern Nevada Water Authority, Velasquez runs black-ops missions throughout the Southwest to guarantee Vegas maintains its hold on the currency of the future: water. And this time Phoenix is in his crosshairs.
In Paolo Bacigalupi's latest novel, The Water Knife, climate change and drought have changed the southwestern United States into a dystopian nightmare. The novel is a peek through the looking glass into a corrupted version of our future. An outlandish tale of climate change run amok, Bacigalupi offers a frightening account of our collective failure to understand the long-term consequences of our actions.
According to a recent report by the World Economic Forum (WEF), the failure to mitigate and adapt to climate change is the most impactful risk that the global community will face. Water crises, extreme weather events, and profound social instability are some of the most serious global problems that must be addressed in the coming decade -- all of which will be exacerbated by climate change. Already we are beginning to see these events occur.
Specific to the Southwestern United States, the spectre of devastating drought is all too real. The region is becoming drier. According to a recent report, Running dry: The U.S. Southwest's drift into a drier climate state, climate model simulations predict significant drying trends in the U.S. Southwest. Climate change is a significant driver of this trend. If current greenhouse gas emissions continue, there is 50-50 chance that the Southwest will be consumed by mega-drought lasting 35 years or more. In some portions of the Southwest, the likelihood of a drought as severe as the Dustbowl of the 1930s rises to 90 percent.
While the Water Knife is a highly fictional tale of a climate-ravaged America, it provides a mechanism by which we can identify with events that seem remote. Good fiction allows us to be perceptive, to more clearly see the problems we face in our own lives. In this context, The Water Knife allows us to gain a better understanding of what unmitigated climate change portends - social instability and environmental degradation. Unfortunately, as noted by the WEF report, a future scenario where the world is ravaged by these effects of unmitigated climate change is not a remote possibility, but highly likely to occur.