Let’s talk about WATERWORLD: KEVIN COSTNER WAS RIGHT, PEOPLE–because rising seas due to climate change isn’t really a dystopian fantasy.
Climate change is happening. The world’s getting hotter, which means extreme weather, drought, melting ice caps and yes, Kevin Costner having gills and a sweet sailboat doesn’t seem so silly anymore.
So whether you’re writing dystopian fiction or prepping for the worst, a WATERWORLD scenario is worth talking about.
1) Head for the Great White North
If you live in the northern hemisphere, as most of the world does, a WATERWORLD dystopia means heading north.
Even if your home doesn’t disappear under the waves, like a big chunk of low states like Florida could, changing weather and failed crops will mean a big shift in the population to the north.
Places like Canada and Siberia will go from frigid vistas full of moose and whatnot into much warmer and hospitable places with fertile farmland and long growing seasons.
If you’re in South America or Africa, you’d head south.
Australians? Sorry, I don’t know. Hard to figure.
2) Yes, hoard those seeds
We may think it’s cute that plants and seeds are the MacGuffins in so many dystopian movies, from WATERWORLD to WALL-E to MAD MAX: FURY ROAD.
In this case, collecting seeds makes total sense. Give me a choice between teaming up with a farmer with a seed collection and a platoon of Army Rangers equipped and ready for war, I’m picking the farmer. Because the soldiers will run out of gas and you can’t eat bullets.
Seeds will be priceless. Rising seas, droughts and a hotter planet will mean massive crop failures and starvation unless adjustments are made. Whether you want to be near other people or hiding out in a small group, you’ll want seeds for crops.
Why? Because (a) it’s incredibly hard to transport herds of cows, goats or other animals thousands of miles in good times and impossible when desperate people will happily kill them (and maybe you) to eat those animals, (b) seeds are small, light and easy to transport and (c) anybody who’s studied history knows humans were hunter-gatherers who had to live as nomads until they domesticated the right plants and animals.
Plants are easiest and first. Try for animals second.
3) Figure out the where before the what and the how
Where you want to end up determines what you should gather and how you should plan.
Settling with a bigger population with advantages, like the possibility of specialists you’ll want, like doctors, carpenters, dentists, nurses and other things that can save time and lives.
Since we’re talking about the collapse of civilization, any sort of city will probably have a rough form of government. The biggest, baddest people will probably be in charge and it won’t be pretty, with power struggles if not civil war. Think Bartertown.
And any real city will be a tempting target for raiders.
Hiding out in the mountains and such protects you from living in a snowy version of Bartertown and from roving bands of cutthroats. But you won’t have access to the gear, food and medicines of bigger settlements, and that’s a huge problem when a simple infection can lead to gangrene and death.
A medium approach could work: a village instead of a big city, tucked away far off the beaten path.
4) How will you get there?
This is the toughest bit. A global disaster like this means 7 billion-plus people fighting over the same resources and having the same idea: head to places like Canada, Siberia or Sweden.
It could be a disaster in slow motion, getting worse by the decade. Or the glaciers on Greenland could hit a tipping point and melt quickly.
Seems like there are two obvious options: (a) head north before everybody else even thinks about it or (b) if you wait and are competing with everybody else, travel in a completely different manner.
If it’s a sudden crisis, roads and highways will be clogged and impassable. Traveling thousands of miles on foot, mountain bike or horse isn’t really practical.
Flying could work, if you had enough fuel for a one-way trip. Tough to pull off, and difficult to have a safe landing spot. Say you’re in charge of a little airport in the Yukon and suddenly all these rich people want to land their Lear jeats packed with gold, guns and canned food. This is your chance. Block the runway unless they pay your fee, which you can make onerous. Tell them you want half of all they own. Or take all of it right when they land. People who run airports and marinas could be running things for miles.
Marinas lead to the second option: travel by boat.
Sailboats are incredibly smart for just about every apocalyptic scenario you can dream up. No need for fuel, which will run out quickly.
Hungry? Use a net or fishing pole.
Feeling unsafe? Pull up anchor and sail off.
You could sail up the west coast to Alaska, hanging out in the safety seas of the Inside Passage and towns like Juneau.
The trouble with staying in saltwater is you can’t drink it. There are methods to make saltwater palatable. I think my favorite strategy is sailing along the coast, then heading into a river to find safe harbor. There are plenty of rivers, and you’ll be able to fish for salmon and get fresh water.
5) What would you want to bring?
Aside from the standard considerations on gear covered in previous posts, a WATERWORLD scenario brings some different angles and needs.
Going to places like Canada, Siberia or Sweden mean trees. Big evergreens. That’s what you’d build things with, which means you want hand tools to work with wood. Axes and saws, hammers and chisels, hand drills and nails.
I’d also want tools for digging and farming. Shovels, rakes, hoes.
Because these tools will break, or need repair, it’d be smart to learn basic smithing and collect bellows, an anvil and tongs. Scrap metal will be easy to find in any sort of dystopian scenario, so it’s not like you need to mine your own iron.
Warm clothing will be essential during the winters, which will still be cold. You won’t be growing cotton. It’s far more likely that you’ll tan hides and use fur, so you’d want a book or cheat sheet on tanning hides along with big, strong needles and thread.
6) Is this dystopia preventable?
I have to end with this. There are all sorts of apocalyptic movies, books and possibilities, most of which are either improbable or difficult to stop. If a giant space rock really wants to hit Earth, or aliens with advanced tech decide to invade, well, Bruce Willis only saves us in the movies.
Nuclear war and rising seas / climate change are two dystopian scenarios that can be completely avoided. We might want to think about that. And I think that’s part of the message of every good apocalyptic story, which isn’t just about how that kind of desperate scenario would test and change normal people into heroes and villains. Dystopia stories are really telling us, “Come over here and listen, because this is how terrible things can really get if we act like complete idiots.”