Struggling to Survive

“The Tamarisk Hunter” by Paolo Bacigalupi tells the story of Lolo, a water tick, who hunts down plants with high rates of water consumption and kills them, allowing for more water to be accessible for humans. However, in Lolo’s world, water is highly regulated due to the “Big Daddy Drought,” and going thirsty seems to be a common daily occurrence. Animosity has grown between those with water and those without, especially in the case of the government of California, which has better water rights than other places. Those from California and those associated with the national government–like the National Guard–are spoken about in terms of disgust and anger, even when Lolo is confronted with a childhood friend who now works for the National Guard, he is angered by his choice in employer. Faced with an inward spiral of water regulations, the human race seems to be slowly dying of thirst. 

Unlike other science fiction works, Bacigalupi does not put the ecological crisis in the background, like it is in James Dashner’s The Maze Runner, but instead makes it the main focus of his short story. He also includes many responses to the crisis: Lolo’s avoidance of governmental regulations, Hale’s compliance with those with the most water, and Travis’s unending search for water.  Not only are there varied responses to the crisis, but there is also a disproportionate struggle associated with it. Travis–who has not had the success that Lolo has in collecting Tamarisk–is forced to move North in search of available water. In turn, Lolo is worse off than Hale, who may potentially gain admittance into California, where water is slightly more abundant. Despite the differences in access to water, there is an underlying sense that each character is doing what they can to survive. Lolo, once he hears about Hale’s attempts to get more water for his family, seems to acknowledge that the broken system is just looking out for its own, even if it is at the cost of others. This serves a reminder to readers: we are all just doing our best to survive, and all deserve a chance to flourish.

Our Future?

Found on Pixabay
By: Seaq68

“The Tamarisk Hunter” by Bacigaupi details a fictional time where water is scarce and only those in California seem to be living in any semblance of comfort. The protagonist Lolo survives as a Tamarisk hunter which makes him $2.88 a day, plus a water bounty. 

The scary thing is that this story doesn’t seem that far from the truth. Our future could look very similar. As we have talked about in great lengths in class, there are certain groups of people that will and are feeling the effects of climate change first. They are paying the highest price for our way of life.

In the story California bought rivers and were controlling who gets water and how much. At first people weren’t all that worried when California began calling the water sources but soon it became a much bigger problem. It wasn’t even that there wasn’t water, it was the fact that they couldn’t touch it because it was to go straight to California. While we currently don’t have states doing that, wealthy corporations have been buying up public water sources for a while now. In fact the company Nestle has been trying to privatize water for years. So even though this story is fiction it has grains of truth. We should take note from the story and pay closer attention to what is happening around us before this dystopian story becomes a reality. 

When Fiction Becomes Fact

Image result for city in a desert
Photo from The Wall Street Journal.

I’m With the Bears is a collection of short fiction stories that portray a potential future life on Earth. Although these stories are fiction, they provide a window into how life could be if we fail to act. The short story The Tamarisk Hunter takes place along the Colorado River. In this futuristic US, California has won and bought 4.4 million acre feet of water rights from the Colorado River and consequently the basin upstream has become uninhabitable. They have build unimaginable infrastructure to provide adequate comfort and amenities to Californians, while people upstream suffer.

While this story is indeed fiction, it is based on truth. Water scarcity and water rights are current and very important issues that impact people every year. Cape Town, South Africa nearly reached Day Zero last year. Countries surrounding the Jordan River, including Israel, Jordan, and Palestine, struggle with water scarcity, and the political implications of water allocation. Farmers in the western US who don’t hold senior water rights have been suffering in drought years because they aren’t receiving adequate water supply for their crops. These problems are here after only one degree Celsius of global temperature rise. I don’t think that the environment in The Tamarisk Hunter is too far off from how Earth will look after two, three, or four degrees of temperature rise.

We could all learn something from fiction. These stories provide a glimpse into the future without having to live through it. While we have made mistakes that have brought us to the place we are today, we don’t have to continue making mistakes. If we can read fiction such as I’m With the Bears, and understand it more as fact than fiction, than we can avoid situations such as that portrayed The Tamarisk Hunter.

The Environmentalist Western

In Paolo Bacigalupi’s “The Tamarisk Hunter”, we find a dystopian fictional society where environmental degradation has wreaked havoc on the earth. What is interesting about “The Tamarisk Hunter”, is not so much the dystopia but the way it inverts the Western genre. Similar to the western, we follow the adventures of a lone ranger, Lolo, as he struggles to survive in the Utah dessert. Unlike, the conventional western heroes, Lolo does not find in the west a realm of freedom, adventure and possibilities. Instead, the west is a place of misery, unfreedom, and decay. The west, once a placed for those who wanted to start a new life with bountiful resources and land, is reduced to a place where no one owns anything and where drinking the water could get you arrested. As Bacigalupi described it “there was water; they just couldn’t touch it” (174). Bacigalupi also provides interesting descriptions the extreme disparity in wealth and power. This was conveyed most vividly with the description of the National Guards’ helicopters as “thud-thwap of a guardie chopper” in contrast to its appearance as “black-fly dot” (177). The extreme loudness of the chopper representing the high amounts of power and influence the Californians have over those on the outside, while its small appearance representing the Californians numerical insignificance. Through the theme of inequality, we can also see Lolo’s replanting of the tamarisk along the river as an attempt at rebellion, similar to Robin Hood stealing from the rich and giving to the poor (172). However, even here, there is a tragedy in Lolo’s rebellion. Not only does it end in failure, it was also not a true rebellion. Unlike Robin Hood, who rebelled in order to provide for the welfare of the community, Lolo rebelled solely to serve his own interests. Despite his “rebellion”, Lolo has wholly given up the struggle for freedom. Whereas Travis looked with fond memories back to the early struggles against the Californians’ dominance, Lolo shivers in fear (177). Ultimately, what makes “The Tamarisk Hunter” a dystopian is precisely its inversion of the Western genre. Through it, we can see that the worst thing about the end of the world is not the suffering, the violence, or the inequality. It is the impossibility of a better future. After all, Lolo’s defeat at the end of the story comes with one final realization: “Big Daddy Drought’s here to stay” (190).