Local author tries fiction to make climate change real
Some skeptics think climate change is nothing but fiction. But a Baltimore author has penned a novel about rising temperatures, coastal flooding and social upheaval in hopes of making the harsh consequences of global warming more real to people.
Dana M. Stein says he wrote Fire in the Wind to “dramatize the way climate change will affect daily life,” though he confesses, “It was a big leap for me to do it.”
That’s because it’s a first novel for Stein. He’s executive director of Civic Works, a Baltimore nonprofit that runs what it calls an “urban service corps,” enlisting young adults and teens in community service, greening and education projects. He also happens to be a lawyer and a member of the House of Delegates representing northwest Baltimore County.
“This is the first time I’ve written anything except an op-ed for a local paper,” he says. But he was moved to write, he says, because as he spoke with young people about climate change, he found many of them had a hard time caring about the issue, in part because they just couldn’t imagine how it might affect them personally.
"When I"ve discussed climate change at schools," he told me in an email, "some student say that its impact is too far off for them to visualize what might happen."
The result is a slim, 154-page nightmarish tale set 25 years from now, with drought, wildfires, rising sea level and civil unrest plaguing the nation. The story focuses on three main characters: an uprooted Midwestern farmer, a New York scientist with ties to radical environmental groups, and a White House aide whose father was a Maryland waterman, put out of work by a catastrophic hurricane.
Stein says he did “a fair amount of research” on which to base his depiction of how climate change is expected to alter weather patterns, agriculture and the like. He says he relied on everything from Scientific American to news stories for insights into what scientists expect or project.
He initially set the story in 2052, he says, because early studies had projected climate change wouldn’t be felt in a big way until the latter half of the century. But with more recent research finding that shifts in climate are accelerating, he says he decided to move the date up to 2036, just about a generation from now.
For some details, Stein admits, he extrapolated, or went out on a limb. Oil prices hit $500 per barrel in the story, for instance, which might seem high enough to destroy the economy and society as we know it. But Stein says petroleum had climbed past $100 a barrel when he started writing the book, so he didn’t think it implausible it could keep going up.
On one point, though, Stein acknowledges he just plain made it up. He has one of his characters fondly recalling how the hapless Chicago Cubs finally won another World Series -- in 2015.
“If I’m writing fiction set in the future, I can project – even if it’s a stretch,” Stein says.
There’s a scene set in Baltimore, but I won’t give it away. Nor will I tip the somewhat jarring ending, which Stein says has “taken aback” a number of his friends who read the novel.
“I didn’t want to have a happy ending,’’ he says, ‘’where we changed course and everything turns out fine.” With skeptics questioning the scientific evidence of human-driven climate change, he says, and politicians in this country unwilling to act, “I see climate change as becoming even more of a problem."
Stein is modest about his first effort at story telling. He's not planning to quit his day job, and he says he doubts his story has a future in Hollywood. But he’s reserving the option to write a sequel.
“The way it ends leaves open the possibility of a follow-on,” he says.
For more on the book, go here.
(Book cover image, portrait, courtesy Dana Stein)