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News and culture through the lens of Southern California. Hosted by Alex Cohen & A Martínez

NASA's water expert: 'Mad Max' is a glimpse of our drought future

by Take Two

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"Mad Max: Fury Road" stars Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy, but also a dusty expanse that's endless. Jasin Boland/Warner Bros

"Mad Max: Fury Road" might star Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy, but it also showcases a landscape scarred by war, where deserts and dust storms erode at civilization.

Water – or more accurately, the lack of it – plays a key role in the story, too.

NASA's chief water expert Jay Famigletti went on a movie date with A Martinez, and said that there's so much "Mad Max" gets right about what California's future could look like if the drought worsens.

[Spoilers ahead]

"They hit you over the head with the water theme starting with the first quote, 'Don't get addicted to water because if you do, then you'll just resent its absence,'" Famigletti said.

There is such little water in the film that every glimpse of it, from puddles in a deadly marsh or it spewing from a hose, immediately draws your attention.

But most of the movie is set against a landscape completely devoid of water.

"There were a lot of locations that remind me of Death Valley," said Famigletti. "It was absolutely beautiful, but a lot of it was so real."

Climate models, he says, suggest that the deserts in the Southwest could expand as dry conditions persist.

The epic dust storms seen in the film may be an exaggeration, but he says dust storms in general could become commonplace. "It's scary," Famigletti said.

In the movie, water is controlled by the warlord Immortan Joe who demonstrates his command over the people by unleashing a waterfall on the crowds below for mere seconds, leaving them scrabbling over the few drops they're able to capture.

"It was kind of a crazy scene!" Famigletti said. "Those that have the money to pump up the water from deep below the earth, those are the people who have the power."

But he says that we're seeing a little of that play out today. For example, a water bottling plant has the resources and money to siphon a well dry, leaving a nearby farmer who relies on that same water to struggle.

That inequity may not so extreme that it creates warlords in California, but it will cause divisions and scheming.

"Maybe it's a bit more subtle, maybe it's more political, but the drought's creating the classes of the haves and have-nots."

 

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