I grew up in New England – Rhode Island, specifically. Rhode Island is green, with big, green, leafy trees and lots of green grass. There’s water everywhere – rivers, brooks, streams, lakes, oceans – and people water their yards and gardens daily. In 2009 I moved to Arizona and as my dad says, “everything here is really brown.” It’s dusty and dry. When it rains, I go outside as if it’s a special event. I don’t pour leftover water from making coffee or tea down the sink – I use it to water my plants. Next door, in California, I watch as the drought forces people to cut their water usage by 30% and a reservoir in Los Angeles is covered with 96 million shade balls to decrease evaporation. Nearly every day on NPR is another story about how water, or the lack of water, is affecting someone in Arizona or nearby. Just in the past weeks are stories about the impact of rivers being contaminated with over 3 million gallons of toxic waste from an abandoned gold mine and farms popping up in Northern Arizona in the midst of a drought by drilling wells into the aquifer. Just over the weekend at brunch, we were discussing proposals to cover the Central Arizona Project (CAP), which diverts 1.5 million acre feet of water from the Colorado River to Arizona each year. Water and drought are a central part of the conversation here is the Southwest.
This is why, when reading the Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi, I was struck how this story could be our future reality. The novel is set in a United States where water is scarce and senior water rights are viciously fought over. Texas no longer exists because it’s water is gone, and their people are treated worse than refugees in neighboring states – assuming they can get in. Vegas has been set up as a utopia with self-enclosed “archologies” that are protected from the dust storms, heat and lack of water by Catherine Case who ensures that Vegas gets its water. She does this by using her “water knife” whose job is to cut the water supplies from cities and towns who don’t have the water rights. Folks in these cities that have been cut off either move or die. It’s a stark book depicting a stark future. It’s not about biology or health so, in a way, it doesn’t even fit as a book club for my blog, but I can’t stop thinking about it (and since it’s my blog, I can do whatever I want). Water is an issue that needs to be addressed now, otherwise we may find ourselves on the other end of a water knife. Read this book. Think about it. And then let’s see if we can find ways to prevent this apocalyptic future from coming true.
As a follow up, I had the opportunity to meet with Paolo Bacigalupi at a lecture entitled “The Imagination Drought: Speculative Fiction as a Tool of Warning and Empowerment.” He described his process for writing these “cli-fi” thrillers and how he thinking about two different things: black swan events, which are things that happen that aren’t expected but change everything, and a narrative tunnel, which essentially assumes that because something happens yesterday, that’s what’s going to happen today. Using these two concepts, he sees how people don’t expect the massive changes that may be coming. But he presents these changes as an opportunity to see a dismal future before it happens so that we may take the chance to change it.