As Mark Twain once said, “Whiskey is for drinking, water is for fighting.” In post-apocalyptic science fiction, there have been many reasons mooted for the fall of the world, and I’m going to add one more—the Hydrocalypse. While much of the 20th century could be characterized as a fight over oil, the 21st century might end up being a fight over water. This is one of the central themes for conflict in my post-apocalyptic novel The Atopia Chronicles.
As Jarrod Diamond illustrated so effectively in his book Collapse, complex societies in the past have almost all imploded as a result of the natural environment surrounding them being used up. This was easiest to document in isolated South Pacific islands, such as Easter Island, but examples abound such as the dichotomy between poor-and-struggling Haiti (which destroyed its natural environment) and green-and-prosperous Dominican (which didn’t) that occupy the two halves of Hispaniola Island.
Water equals food and industry. As temperatures rise and water tables drop, water will become an increasingly scarce and more expensive commodity in much of the world. In many municipalities across the US, water prices have more than doubled in the past decade.
The big fight because there are very few—if any—international treaties governing “upstream” water. Six of the greatest rivers in the world flow out of the Himalayas—there are over three-thousand cubic miles of freshwater stored in the glaciers (third only to Antarctica and Greenland in terms of stored fresh water) and these collectively provide fresh water to over 3 billion people, half of the world’s population. Two of these rivers (Yangtze and Yellow) flow into China, while the other four (Indus, Ganges, Brahmaputra and Mekong) flow into India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and the Indochina peninsula (Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia). This will make for a complicated struggle in the 21st century, and that’s the backdrop to the Weather Wars starting in the world of my Atopia novels.
In the end, almost all of human conflict has been a story about resources. As natural resources become scarce, humans tend to fight for what’s left. But it’s not just a question of subsistence-level food or water. It’s a question of living standards. As we coast toward a maximum population of nine to ten billion humans in the middle of the 21st century, the biggest problem is that everyone wants to become middle-class—with cars and washing machines and big houses.
The solution? Virtual reality.
It’s been demonstrated that humans are as satisfied owning objects in virtual spaces as they are owning real, material objects—just as long as you can make the simulation good enough. The Atopia Chronicles is a story about Dr. Patricia Killiam in her quest to perfect the ultimate in synthetic reality, and then selling this into the world as a way of solving the resource crisis and stopping global conflict. But the hidden danger she unleashes in the process might be even worse.