Ink-Stained Cassandras: when news steals your sci-fi

New climate analysis, published today in the inaugural issue of Science Advances, indicates the drying of the US will be much more extreme than expected, bringing the worst droughts in a millennium. And our current water strategies may not be sufficient to manage the change.

Severe drought a thousand years ago is probably what drove ancient Americans to abandon their pueblo cities, such as Mesa Verde. Models suggest future conditions will be even worse, thanks to a combination of decreased rainfall and greater soil evaporation from heightened temperatures. The Southwest and Great Plains are already dealing with serious droughts, affecting not just water availability but food and energy production. If we don’t address these issues proactively, researchers say, it will be even harder to mitigate the impact.

Red, yellow, and orange = bad

Red, yellow, and orange = bad

There’s nothing like internationally reported scientific findings to advertise your novel. Just kidding! But seriously, reading these articles was like reviewing my early notes for Blue Karma. The droughts, the subsequent food shortages, the failure of existing legislation to cope with demand…all of these aspects appear in the story. Only this isn’t an imagined environmental dystopia: it’s our planet.

Science fiction writers—at least those who deal in near-future exploration, like I do—are always working against the clock. You’ve got to race your own idea to the headlines, publishing your prophecy before it comes true like an ink-stained Cassandra. When the story seeds of Blue Karma first took root in my brain almost a decade ago, the only thing I remember reading about severe droughts was a National Geographic feature on water-strapped farms in Australia’s outback. Now des looms in my country, in my lifetime. Elements I dreamed up for my story are now borne out in statistical models by NASA scientists.

This is not to suggest that I’m some kind of science fiction visionary. Quite the opposite, in fact. If these possibilities are obvious to an imaginative, well-intentioned hack like me, how is it that so many people still remain stubbornly blind when the evidence comes out? How can our leaders be so slow to address problems, even with plenty of warning? Is science fiction just self-absolution, allowing me to shake my head and say “I told you so” as the earth literally crumbles around me?

Cheerful stuff, isn’t it? At any rate, I hope this new study will motivate me to overcome my own editorial “drought” and get Blue Karma finished while it’s still fiction.

Read the full study from Science Advances or a good summary from Scientific American.

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