Amid a career dedicated to addressing environmental and energy challenges, Julie McLaughlin, ’13 (XP-82), is adding a new title to her resume: novelist.
- January 10, 2020
It’s the middle of the 21st century. Barely a day goes by without a major climate catastrophe—a hurricane, fire, flood. New York and other coastal cities have disappeared, literally washed away by climate change. Those who can, bunker down in homes protected by indestructible Titus Glass, while climate refugees are relocated into government-run communities. In this world the granddaughter of Titus Glass’s inventor works for the new Department of Climate Control, convincing climate refugees to move to the communities. Then she witnesses a murder in Washington, DC, and starts to question everything.
That’s the plot of a novel-in-progress by Julie McLaughlin, ’13 (XP-82), an energy expert/professional/executive–turned-writer. She hopes to bring alive the potential catastrophic effects of climate change—the future in her world has warmed four degrees—through the power of storytelling. “Hopefully it brings to life something that seems abstract and far in the future and gets people thinking about what it might actually be like,” she said. McLaughlin was inspired to write the book after observing the destruction caused by the 2015 Valley Fire in Northern California, where her father has a home. “It blows you away how powerful fire is,” she said. “The ground was simmering, and all the trees were charcoal. A 5,000-gallon water tank was melted down like a penny in a souvenir machine.”
Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, McLaughlin was interested in the environment from a young age, and convinced her parents to take her to Costa Rica to see the endangered rainforest up close. On that trip, she met a couple who had been in the Peace Corps, and after she earned a degree in environmental studies and English at Bucknell, she went into the Peace Corps, in Nicaragua, herself. Afterward, she earned a master’s degree in environmental science and policy at Columbia University, where she confronted the difficulties of climate change in her coursework. “My brain was just hurting the entire class,” she said. “The science is so complex. It’s impossible to convey simply.”
“I took the Booth approach, asking myself: Where are the gaps, and how can I fill them?”
McLaughlin has since worked on confronting environmental and renewable energy challenges with market solutions, working around the world. While with E.ON in Singapore, she enrolled in Booth’s Executive MBA Program, taking classes at Booth’s Asia campus before finishing her degree in Chicago. “Business school has helped me form an analytical process through which you can approach the vast majority of problems in your professional career as well as your life,” she said.
Since returning to California to continue her work in alternative energy in 2015, she has applied that same analytical process to becoming a writer, spending a year researching the current science on climate change and hiring a writing coach to help her relearn how to write creatively, all while juggling this new pursuit with her day job in the corporate world. “I took the Booth approach, asking myself: Where are the gaps, and how can I fill them?” she said. She started setting weekly writing goals, and finished a first draft with the working title Rancho in 2018; now, after several revisions, she plans to send it out to publishers this year.
McLaughlin is targeting millennials and Gen Z readers who may be more conscious of the effects of climate change, but hopes that the book will appeal to anyone—even climate skeptics—by dramatizing the possible environmental future in a visceral way. “The novel is founded in science, but not overburdened by science,” she said. “It’s meant to be a story people will enjoy and will hopefully get them asking questions without feeling judged.”
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