More often than not, water is at the heart of the suffering and the solution.
Whether it’s droughts or floods, mega storms or fires, sea level rise or dried-up riverbeds, the climate crisis is making itself known through water. Wherever you are in the country, and wherever your story takes place, water plays a significant role in helping people grasp the impact of the climate emergency.
Maybe we don’t need to say this to a bunch of writers based primarily in Los Angeles, but water is becoming more scarce, with many areas plunged into long drought or even beyond drought and into permanently changed, unlivably dry conditions—which is how the LA Times describes California. And with drought comes the likelihood of crop failures and food shortages.
Then there’s the other story: too much water. Mudslides are a particularly cruel manifestation of what happens when too much water follows not enough water: when intense heat and dryness stop rain from fully soaking into the ground, topsoil shears off and whole sides of mountains can collapse, destroying homes and habitats. Elsewhere, floods that used to happen once every century are now occurring almost annually, causing havoc everywhere from small towns to large coastal cities. Mega storms on the Gulf and along the Eastern Seaboard batter cities from New Orleans to New York through increasingly long and intense hurricane seasons.
In our oceans, we’re seeing the impact this warped water cycle is having on the seafood industry, one of the chief sources of food for a hungry planet. Fish are forced to find cooler waters, which impacts the entire food chain. What’s more, in the Mississippi River Basin (and many other watersheds), fertilizer runoff from farms sends nitrous oxide into the river, which is then released into the atmosphere as a potent greenhouse gas. The runoff also creates blooms of algae that deplete oxygen and leave massive "dead zones" where no fish and very little other aquatic life can survive, further harming the seafood industry.
More than 70 percent of the world’s fresh water is used for agriculture—and that water need is intensifying as the climate warms and water grows ever scarcer. Farmers are trying to balance their bottom lines with the need to produce more food, while also trying to grow crops sustainably. The good news is that many are embracing sustainable farming practices by, for instance, growing crops that need less water, and a lot of people are working hard to make urban infrastructure more resilient, through measures like installing meters that chart water usage and can pinpoint leaks. And with water becoming more scarce and energy-intensive to treat, families are shifting away from lawns to landscaping with native plants, a practice known as “xeriscaping.”
People are experiencing the climate crisis through water more and more. As the climate crisis progresses, water wars or corporations that hoard the world’s limited water supply might present plotlines ripe for illustrating the scary ways the climate emergency will impact our day-to-day lives. On the other side of the scale, water protectors who put their lives on the line to protect water from pipelines and their inevitable spills are some of the real-life superheroes of our day. Water is a tangible medium for showing injustice (and, on the flip side, what justice might look like), and it can show audiences how their own lives will be at risk—exactly the kind of motivation that propels people into action. Water is life.