A Dystopian Future is Our Future

Dystopian future stories have become increasingly popular in today’s media. We are captivated by the end of the world and the aftermath of it. Weather it is stories like The Road and “The Tamarisk Hunter” or shows like The Walking Dead or movies like Mad Max, we love the end of the world fantasy genre. I believe we like them because they transport us from our own world to one that is far worse. They make us feel better about the state of society and the earth because they remind us that things could be worse. What we don’t realize is that things will get worse. We don’t see that we are headed to a world not too different from that in the “fantasy” stories we love. With the way we are treating the earth we are on a path of great destruction that will eventually lead into a real dystopia not unlike that portrayed in “The Tamarisk Hunter”.

We are headed towards a future where society crumples due to resource unavailability. We are headed towards a future with things such as water crimes. We are headed towards a future where entire cities are abandoned. We are destroying our earth and rather than taking media in the form of dystopian futures as warnings we take them as a way to make ourselves feel better. We don’t think for a second about us in that situation because we don’t think its possible for us to end up in it. We are pushing ourselves into something along the lines of a nearly waterless world but to us “The Tamarisk Hunter” is just a story. We don’t see that we will exhaust our resources in one way or another and society will be just as messed up as any dystopian story’s society. We don’t see that we are headed to a world that survival will be the most important thing. We don’t see that our future is a dystopia.

Economics, Motivation, and Planning Ahead

In the introduction of “I’m With the Bears”, I was intrigued by McKibben’s theory that we can imagine economic pain a lot better than we can imagine the effects of global warming; therefore, we are more inclined to protect our economic status than we are to fight against a crisis we don’t understand and that will immediately unbalance our economy. I normally thought of barriers to action against climate change as ones imposed by powerful fossil fuel companies, and also the fact that people don’t want to change their habits when it’s hard to see immediate danger in our day-to-day lives, but I didn’t think about fear of economic imbalance as being another barrier.

Due to this reluctance to accept the truth, it’s important for artists and writers to give their audience a wake-up call, like Bacigalupi does in his short story “The Tamarisk Hunter.” We can examine literary devices that powerfully communicate the message to the reader. For example, the repetition of “$2.88 a day, plus water bounty” emphasizes not only how monetarily valuable our natural resources are becoming, but also how Lolo manipulates water use to his advantage. Therefore, it raises questions about how the political climate will evolve as humans compete over ever-depleting resources. Ironically, Lolo purposely wasted water on the tamarisk trees in order to earn a greater water bounty for himself; in a similar manner, fossil fuel companies are exerting more and more energy and water to extract oil from increasingly hard to access reserves (e.g. fracking).

Another aspect of the story I found interesting was Annie and Lolo’s discussion of the “enviro crazies” who “want to give the river to a bunch of fish and birds” despite not even having enough water for humans. Is Bacigalupi suggesting that some environmentalist efforts are rejected because of the sacrifices humans would have to make? Many environmentalist arguments are based on the idea that conserving our ecosystems will benefit humans by maintaining the balance of vital processes like the water cycle and carbon cycle. However, will climate change reach a point of no return where the goal is not to restore our ecosystem, but only to harness enough resources for ourselves for as long as we can?

Image source: thetreecenter.com

Global Warming and Human Fate

Another story of a dystopian feeling society that appears to take global warming to an extreme. “Big Daddy Drought” appears to me to be another way to show how we are killing the Earth. The Earth has gone through ice ages and warming before. The only difference is that this time there are being that are effecting it more than ever before and are changing the ecology of the Earth. Nature and the Earth are going to survive way after humans do or humans will always survive with the Earth. Global warming only effects the now, “mother nature” does not care whether we die or kill off the Earth. “Mother nature” will always win out.

However, reading this short story I can see the effects that the author is trying to paint. I see the story showing us the damage humans will do to ourselves if we keep going on this path of warming the Earth and changing the climate. Humans will end up killing ourselves with the reckless way we treat the planet that we live on. I agree with this message and if we as humans want to survive we have to do something about it. I believe that humans will end up changing this fate of having a dystopian society due to global warming, because we have made so many strives in making the world better for us, I believe we will continue to do that.

The Earth may be better off without humans, but we as a species should keep going. Even though we are genetically related to every species on the planet, we have the opportunity to think about this kind of topic and even write and reflect on what it all means. However, stories like “The Tamarisk Hunter”remind us of a possible future of need, restrictions and despair.

This post was loosely reflecting the story, but these were my thoughts as I read through the short story and even through previous discussions of this class.

The Projection of Pessimism through Creative Output

If you examine the TV shows, movies, and books that are popular nowadays, you will notice that a whole lot of them fall under the category of “dystopian fiction.” There seems to be a general, perhaps largely unconscious, feeling that we are headed towards a future that is less like Fourier’s or More’s Utopia and more like that of “Mad Max” or “The Walking Dead.” “The Tamarisk Hunter” presents a similar dystopian narrative but perhaps one more (and frighteningly so) grounded in reality. It is interesting to speculate as to why stories like the one we read this week are becoming so common and why we might find them so compelling.

If you are to believe the psychoanalysts, if you want to understand what a person (or a society) thinks about the world around them and their place in it, the first place to look is in what the ego expels from the depths of their unconscious and projects (via dreams, ideas, creative output). That being said, I would argue that this trend reflects a certain fatalistic, pessimistic, and hopeless attitude towards the future that we hold as a society, an attitude reflected in our idea-formation. If you look back at Ancient Athens, or the age of Enlightenment, you will see an attitude of hope and optimism reflected in the creative output of the society. The people who lived in these societies believed that they were on a trend upwards and that the sky was, to use a cliche, the limit. Then the Great War happened and the core Enlightenment ethos of optimism went up in flames. The Second World War then passed by and suddenly we lived in a world in which nearly everyone lived under the pressure of the understanding that the human race could be erased at the turn of a few keys.

Why was it that there were so many popular monster movies and science fiction movies in the 50s? For the same reason, I would argue, that there were so many “torture porn” gore-fests in the 2000s and for the same reason that zombie movies, TV shows, and novels in the 2010s are so trendy: they reflect an unconscious anxiety (or at least an awareness) collectively held by society, an anxiety that most people are not even aware they have. “Max Max” and “Interstellar” filled theater seats and “The Hunger Games” flew off bookshelves in part due to our deeply held unconscious (or conscious) fears and beliefs about the future, which as fears do, fascinate us like nothing else. Because after all, nothing is more relevant than that we fear, than that which we consider a threat. Most of us know that we have likely irreparably doomed future humanity through our pursuit of profit and progress, but the only way we show this is through our ideas as creators and wallets as consumers of media. 

The Choice Between Oil and Water

This weeks reading, the short story “The Tamarisk Hunter” by Paolo Bacigalupi, did a good job of helping me to imagine what the future could be like if climate change isn’t stopped. The western US, but mostly California, already uses the entirety of the Colorado river such that it almost never actually makes it to the ocean anymore. This means that even before a possible drastic reduction in rainfall and snow pack in the areas that feed the river, we have already built the infrastructure with an expectation that we can utilize the entire current average flow. While the usage of water does not contribute to climate change, our dependence on the realities of the present climate is troubling since water is the only raw resource more vital to our society than fossil fuels currently are. However, unlike fossil fuels which we must reduce our consumption to zero, for water we must learn only to reduce the amount we use to a level that is replenished by whatever rainfall occurs in a given region.

The way in which the story described the government cutting off the water supply to different cities one by one as the supply dwindled was disturbing to me. If we do not stop climate change soon enough in order to be able to deal with the changes it makes to our environment I think horrible occurances like this will become innevitable even in the US. A drastic reduction in environmnetal quality is exactly the type of event that has brought down some of history’s greatest civilizations. Even at their cultural, economic and technological peaks, environmental degredation, that on paper seems somewhat managable and temporary, has proven to cause enough instability that past societies have collapsed almost completely untill order was restored on a more local level and society returned to grow once more. This is especially troubling because it seems to happen quite often when societies reach their peak, just as we seem to be now. Perhaps this is because this also signifies their greatest toll on the environment, underwhich the slightest fluctuation can cause the whole ecosystem and the society it supports to come crashing down.

There is a bright side, however. Unlike societies of the past we have instruments that have told us ahead of time that we have unsettled ecological systems, most notably the climate, before the system has cascaded into more serious failure. We also exist in a time of absurdly rapid technological developments which allow us to develop technologies that avoid unsettling these systems (such as renewable energy) as we find out about them. Hopefully we can use these two advantages to save our society before we end up just another arrogant period of decadence before a collapse.

When Water Becomes Gold

 

Image source: www.obwb.ca

 

The short story “The Tamarisk Hunter” by Paolo Bacigalupi, is set in the future at a time with extreme water shortages. In this hypothetical landscape, water is provided by the government to those who rid the rivers of tamarisk trees. In order to provide his family with water, the protagonist, Lolo, hunts and kills the tamarisks. Tamarisks are a species of trees which grow on the banks of rivers and absorb immense quantities of water. “Tamarisk Hunter” presents an alternate reality in which trees are hunted down in order to preserve the water for humans. This concept challenges readers to consider and reflect on the idea of what measures humans will need to take in the future to survive the issues, such as water scarcity, that climate change will bring.

A tamarisk hunter is a person who earns their water by traveling the many creek beds of the dry and desolate South West, in search for a tamarisk tree to cut down. This type of work is very competitive, and it is difficult for Lolo to make ends meet. He actually has become so desperate that he secretly plants his own grove of tamarisk trees, so that he has a continuous source of trees, and therefore, a means of attaining water. However, each tamarisk tree can use more than 73,000 gallons per year. As such, by planting the trees in hopes to be granted water from the government, he is ultimately decreasing the amount of water from which the government can draw. The determination Lolo has to maintain his continued lifestyle has caused him to plant the trees which steal what Lolo needs most, water. Bacigalupi uses this example of desperate and backward ideology in the story of the “The Tamarisk Hunter” to suggest that it is this kind of thinking that has lead humans directly into the climate dilemma they are faced with today.

Disregarding the politicized claims of today’s GOP, climate change is accepted as a fact. Countries across the globe are recognizing the problem which climate change poses, and are attempting to make changes in policy to decrease the rate at which the climate is changing. However, even with the massive amount of evidence to support the climate change issue, there are still those who do not wish to change. Those individuals are used to their old ways of life and do not wish to change as it would cause economic shifts, affect one’s ability to travel, etc. Humans are very good at continuing to do a given task for a long time, and it is not easy for them to alter their actions, even if the issue at hand is recognized as a threat. In writing this short story, Bacigalupi transcends the idea that if humans do not change their selfish ways soon, the world will become one similar to that of “The Tamarisk Hunter.”

The Inevitable Drought

This weeks reading The Tamarisk Hunter by Paolo Bacigalupi painted a bleak picture of what our world could become if climate change continues. In it, Lolo is a Tamarisk Hunter, travelling the desert pulling up any Tamarisk he can find. It is revealed that he does this job because of the “Big Daddy Drought” (Bacigalupi 176), which has decimated the water supply in California and has resulted in the displacement of several towns after having their water shut off by the government. The narrative ends with Lolo discovering that his job is no longer needed and he will ultimately be displaced like everyone else.

What stood out to me the most about this reading is how pertinent it really is. Almost every year we hear about droughts in California. This reading’s dystopian setting is not all that unrealistic when we consider how real and constant droughts are in our country. Although it may seem a bit far-fetched to think that California could actually end up experiencing a drought that drastic, droughts have been getting worse every year as the effects of climate change have grown. Over time it is not unreasonable to believe that the narrative’s world could become our reality. If we do not try and stop climate change, our country will only continue to feel its effects. We often like to believe that things like big droughts could never happen to us. However, that mindset is only making climate change worse. Bacigalupi’s narrative highlights how we need to open our eyes to what is happening to our water supply and recognize that we could end up in Lolo’s situation if we allow the Earth to continue to deteriorate.

Furthermore, Bacigalupi draws our attention to how we take our water for granted and how the privileged misuse our water. Several times pools are brought up when talking about what water is being used for and when referencing the rich. The example of the pool draws our attention to just how wasteful we are with water. We take perfectly good drinking water and use it for baths and long showers as well as pouring it into pools. While it may be okay to do that right now, if we continue with this wasteful behavior long term we will feel the negative effects of the aforementioned wastefulness. Furthermore, it draws attention to how the healthy are privileged in our society. If we experienced a drought like the one in the narrative, the rich would be the ones who received all the water, not the less wealthy who don’t live in large cities. Bacigalupi helps demonstrate how we not only need to realize that we could have a serious drought due to climate change, but that our behaviors need to change in order to combat what could be the inevitable.

Big Daddy Drought

Photo by: George Steinmetz
National Geographic

The short story, The Tamarisk Hunter by Paolo Bacigalupi is part of a larger collection called, I’m with the Bears. The introduction provides a bleak outlook on the world that is suffering the early-onset of climate change. The example provided in this introduction is Pakistan. They recently were drenched with twelve feet of rain in a week when they normally get 5 feet in a year. (pg 2) This effect was seen with an increase one degree in temperature. Knowing what one degree of change can cause, what can five?

At the end of the Pakistan paragraph on page 2, the author takes a stance commonly taken on the side of the ecosystem. In summary he said people who are causing the environmental harm are not yet feeling it. On the flip side the people who are not adding nearly as much carbon to atmosphere (like Pakistan) are feeling the exacerbated effects. I think it is interesting the author takes this stance for humans as innocent instead of claiming ecosystems and their organisms to be innocent. I am not taking a side on this, but rather noting.  However, considering the publish date of this work was 2006, it makes sense. The progressives themselves have progressed a lot in 10 years.

The author outlines a terrifying future for our planet but assures readers at the end of the introduction that if we have simply have big enough hearts that could match how big our brains evolved to be, we can fix the mounting problem facing us. He preaches “hope not fear.” (pg 4)

This introduction is a drastic contrast to what we discussed in class last week. We discussed that it seems as if every time we try to remedy a problem we have created, we seem to cause another problem. Maybe the best thing for the planet is our own extinction and to let the ecosystems repair the harsh damage imposed.

The short story was like the tale of most water rights issues. After doing some research, the story about Lolo was set in 2030. This probably seemed futuristic in 2006, but it is not anymore. The water scarcity issue is just as Paolo Bacigalupi had anticipated- but 15 years premature. In this story, the water scarcity gets so bad that Lolo disregards the law to make his living and get his water allotment. The water scarcity was so bad that when Lolo thought he was going to get caught frauding the system, he considered killing himself. This may seem drastic but it is not far from being very real. His land is worth so little he would only be compensated $500 for leaving (remember to include inflation for the 2030 setting). For perspective, this is less than a new iPhone 8. As much as I would love to proclaim this story struck me as scary, it is all too common now and seems like a mutual story for most people in the drier areas to the South East.

 

Owning Nature

“Tamarisk Trees”  by rocor is licensed under CC BY- NC 2.0

One concept that kept coming up in “The Tamarisk Hunter” by Paolo Bacigalupi that I found interesting was the concept of owning nature. The premise of the story is that Californians now “own” the Colorado River. All towns that were situated alongside the river can no longer use the resource, because they lack a “claim” to it. This has caused the destruction of those towns, and the displacement of thousands of people. The same restriction goes for any animals or plants growing alongside the river- they’re using water that’s not “theirs.” All main characters express anger at the Californians for claiming that they have more of a right to the river than others. However, they themselves still believe in a hierarchy of who deserves the water more. Annie chides the “enviro- crazies” for trying “to give the river to a bunch of fish and birds” when there is “not enough water for people.” When Lolo finds out he will no longer be reimbursed for removing tamarisks, he remarks “Why should one of those damn plants get the water?” There is a pervasive belief among the characters that humans deserve this water the most. Of course nature obeys neither this claim nor this belief: the tamarisks still grow, animals still come to the river, and constant human intervention is required to try and keep nature in check.

Reading “The Tamarisk Hunter” seemed particularly relevant given the recent drought in California. While the world depicted in this story is a bit of an extreme, water rights are going to become a major issue in the next few years. There was a quote towards the beginning of the story that I think is very reflective of the current mindset many people have towards environmental issues. When Lolo hears of the difficulties Travis has encountered, he thinks “He hasn’t been thinking ahead about all the competition, and what the tamarisk endgame looks like, and now he’s feeling the pinch.” We love to delude ourselves thinking everything will somehow come together in the end. We want someone else to solve the problem. We lament that the problem developed in the first place, all the while putting little effort into making a better future a reality. Instead, we continue about our lives as destructively as before, complaining about how deserts are stupid places for rivers.  

WWIII over water?

Nature Area at Abiqua Falls

The introduction to this weeks reading was really thought provoking and definitely helped to put things into perspective and frame the story. It is crazy to think that in one year, 2010, so many awful things happened as a result of climate change. It is even crazier to realize that all of these events were reported in the news, but no one in the media really linked all these events together. I think this is one reason that so many people continue to disbelieve climate change, because they’ve never seen all the facts and events stacked together – they’ve never really noticed of the magnitude of the problem.

The story itself really reminded me of the end of The Big Short (if you haven’t seen it yet it’s on Netflix, go watch it!), where they mention that Michael Burry, the guy who first bet against the housing market, is now betting against water. I remember sitting in the theater reading those words on the screen and feeling my heart plummet. I know that we are depleting our water sheds, but in that moment it really hit me that water was likely going to be our next big source of conflict. This story reflects that, especially with the hints to war flashbacks throughout the piece.

I really thought the quote “Not enough water for people, and they want to give the river to a bunch of fish and birds” is a good reflection of what we’ve been talking about in class so far in terms of antropocentric thought. It’s surprising, although not that surprising, that even after all that happened with these people, that they would still disrespect nature in such a way. It gives me limited hope for humanity’s ability to turn it’s human centered ways around and embrace a better symbiosis. As much as I wish people would view such a terrible event as a sign from nature, I am sure there will still be plenty of people who will still think that nature is here for us.

Dried up Swimming Pools

“The Tamarisk Hunter” by Paolo Bacigalupi follows the story of a man named Lolo living in a time when there is a severe water shortage in California nicknamed Big Daddy’s Drought, and other parts of the world. This scenario is extreme and illustrates the inevitability of dangerous consequences of global warming and the impacts that humans have on the planet. A recurring detail that I noticed was the gloominess and dryness that the world, people and animals seemed to embody throughout the story. There appeared to be little hope about life getting better, especially at the end when “Lolo doesn’t believe” his own statement that the drought could break sometime soon.

Swimming pools are mentioned a couple of times in the story, as a sort of luxury item that people of higher standing could get, even though no one could have one in California under the laws. This joke about having enough water for a swimming pool made me think about all the water that the average American uses in a day, and how wasteful it really is. Filling up a bath takes many gallons of fresh water, and after splashing around in there for a while, runs down the drain and is never thought about again.

I believe that this apocalyptic drought scenario in “The Tamarisk Hunter” is inevitable and is gaining speed today. It is ridiculous to think about how much clean water one person uses in a day to brush their teeth, shower, wash a dog or do any other task that we never stop to think about the irreversible impacts that we are making on the amount of drinking water there is on the planet. The drought in the story is unlikely to break at any point, and millions of people are suffering because of it, all because they kept filling their swimming pools without a care in the world, before it was too late.

 

Nature is Everything

Steven Shaviro’s 22 Theories of Nature were hard for me to understand at first. Most of his points were lost on me but there were a few I found to be intriguing. His first theory of nature focuses on how humans in today’s world separate themselves from nature but we are not separate. We are as natural as anything else no matter if we think we are detached from it or not. His second theory of nature focuses on how we are a part of nature but we do not make nature what it is. Nature is not human just because humans are a part of nature. These are important because most people do not see the world this way. People believe that we are either completely separated from nature or we dictate it. Personally, though I understand Shaviro’s point, I disagree with Shaviro’s first theory of nature because I do not believe humans are a part of nature anymore. We separate ourselves from it in our mind and in our practice and though we still follow the rules of nature (as Shaviro says later in the theories) we are not immersed in it. We are not one with nature, we have no respect for nature, we have minimal connection to nature. We are not nature because we have intentionally and unintentionally cut our ties to it. We degrade it and destroy it and find ways to cheat it. We have minimized the influence of nature on human existence so we cannot be considered a part of nature.

 

I found Shaviro’s fourth and fifth theories of nature to be interesting and I found myself more in agreement with them. He says in them that nature is everything but it is not finite. You cannot fully define it but it is all encompassing. There is infinite possibilities and it expands infinitely. In this case I agree and I believe that the first theory is slightly validated because it makes humans such a finite part of nature as a whole. It make it so no matter how much humans attempt to distance themselves from nature, we will never succeed because it is so vast that nothing can escape nature.

 

I also found Shaviro’s 8th and 9th theories of nature to be compelling because they discuss how though nature is everything it is also not. Nothing can be outside of nature but it is not full. There is only partial fullness and partial emptiness in nature. It cannot be finished or quantified or structured but it is still something. This seems to contradict the idea of everything being nature but instead the two ideas work together to show how there is too much to nature to define it.

An Honors Colloquium in Environmental Arts and Humanities