SCIENCE
02/29/2016 03:39 pm ET

'Mad Max' Is A Lot Scarier When You Realize That's Where We Could Be Headed

Climate change was front and center at the Oscars.

Two winners at Sunday night's Academy Awards used their time on stage to warn audiences about the dangers of climate change -- and it turns out that science supports many of their claims. 

Specifically, some scientists say it could be possible for the Earth to one day resemble the arid wasteland depicted in "Mad Max: Fury Road" if we don't take steps to curb climate change.

The movie -- which, with six awards, won more Oscars than any other film -- takes place in a post-apocalyptic Australia run by outlaws hoarding water, fuel and other resources. Jenny Beavan took home the award for costume design, and made it clear in her speech that she thinks this make-believe world could possibly be a reality in the future.

"I just want to say one quite serious thing, and I've been thinking about this a lot, but actually it could be horribly prophetic, 'Mad Max,' if we're not kinder to each other and if we don't stop polluting our atmosphere," she said.

NASA's senior water scientist, Dr. James Famiglietti, told The Huffington Post that the 2015 action film is pretty extreme but that elements of it could be possible. 

"Of course, there are desert regions on Earth that already look like that -- like those in the film -- so the question is, will more of Earth's wet regions be converted into dry ones?" he said.

"Our climate models certainly predict increasing 'desertification,' which will be particularly difficult for those regions, like the Sahel, that are on the boundary between wet and dry," he added. "There are metaphorical elements of 'Mad Max' that are already happening, and that will only worsen with time."

Some of those elements include extreme drought -- such as the continuing situation in California -- and conflict between nations over access to water resources.

There are metaphorical elements of 'Mad Max' that are already happening, and that will only worsen with time." Dr. James Famiglietti, senior water scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Dr. Michael Mann, distinguished professor of atmospheric science at Pennsylvania State University, said "state-of-the-art climate models" project that Earth's future will include increasingly widespread and persistent drought across large parts of the subtropics and middle latitudes, including in Australia and North America.

"The devastating ongoing California drought is a good analog for what we expect to see more of in response to ongoing human-caused climate change," he said. "Climate model simulations appear to be pretty robust with regard to these predictions."

When asked what resources we would need to survive in a "Mad Max"-like environment, Mann said three words: "a time machine." Famiglietti noted that unlimited sunscreen wouldn't hurt.

The ceremony continued to give a platform to climate change awareness when Leonardo DiCaprio won an award for his leading performance in the thriller "The Revenant."

"Climate change is real, it is happening right now. It is the most urgent threat facing our entire species, and we need to work collectively together and stop procrastinating.

We need to support leaders around the world who do not speak for the big polluters, but who speak for all of humanity, for the indigenous people of the world, for the billions and billions of underprivileged people out there who would be most affected by this. For our children’s children, and for those people out there whose voices have been drowned out by the politics of greed."

This awareness of climate change is something scientists have long said is critical. Now is the time for action, according to Famiglietti.

"Getting extremely serious about climate change is key, but preparing for a future in which water will become progressively more scarce over a full one-third or more of our planet is something that needs to start immediately," he said. "The ball is in humanity's court to figure out how to live sustainably."

For instance, he said, the White House is hosting a water summit in conjunction with the United Nations' World Water Day on March 22 to encourage the U.S. to rethink water governance and solutions to address water-related issues, such as scarcity and drought.

Mann pointed out that our use of fossil fuels should also be addressed to avoid a "Mad Max"-like future.

"We need to get off fossil fuels as quickly as possible, and transition to a renewable energy-driven global economy," he said. "Fortunately, there is evidence that we are now starting to make significant headway in that effort."

What do Star Talk's Neil deGrasse Tyson and America's beloved "science guy" Bill Nye think about the possibility of "Mad Max" becoming reality? Watch them debate whether the action film is a likely scenario in the video below.

CONVERSATIONS