Truth in the Fiction?

“The Tamarisk Hunter” written by Paolo Bacigalupi explores an alternate story in which California is the only state in the United States that is not suffering from a water shortage. He destroys tamarisk in order to earn money as well as a water bounty.

Although this is climate-fiction, this is quite similar to what we are dealing with currently. The government shutting down the water bounty program, and therefore Lolo, the main protagonists, only way of earning an income as well as money to support himself and his wife, parallels with large cooperations ignoring how much impact that they personally have on the current climate crisis. For example, when companies remind individual people to regulate their carbon footprint while they are causing even more damage to the environment in comparison.

This story allows us to relate to the characters on a personal level and feel what they feel. Despite it being fiction, it assists in us being able to imagine the struggles that could result due to climate change without having to have to experience the issues to the extent as in the climate fiction. However, it may also cause some people allow the word “fiction” take over their thoughts on the matter and think that because the story is not equivalent to our reality, that it is impossible for the hardships exhibited in the text to be possible of happening.

Therefore, I believe that in order to get people to listen and therefore want to fight against the destruction of the natural world, there needs to be a way to connect to people on a personal level, through a novel in this case in which they can relate to the characters, while also maintaining a degree of nonfiction and portraying the risks of not working to prevent the deterioration of the environment as we know it.

A New Way to Present Climate Change

Source: Wikimedia Commons

In “The Tamarisk Hunter,” Paolo Bacigalupi tells the story of Lolo, a “water tick” (someone who chops down tamarisk trees in order to retrieve water) living in a drought-ridden, future California. The drought is the result of the failure of today’s humans to act on climate change. There is a class of people in the region who are prohibited from drinking water (and so must steal it), while another class has access to all the water they need via a system of pipes, which are inaccessible to the lower class. This is why water ticks like Lolo hunt tamarisks; they need to in order to survive, even if doing so may endanger their lives.

This story somewhat resembles those of Cormac McCarthy, an author who is known for his apocalyptic westerns such as Blood Meridian and The Road (the latter of which may be based specifically on climate change as well). Bacigalupi’s story is one which may look like our visions of the future of our own lives, but it instead mirrors the lives of countless individuals experiencing water shortages today, who not only    but who are deprived of water by people with opposing interests. This is happening presently in Bangladesh, Honduras, and Flint, Michigan, to name some examples. 

This story successfully takes a pressing issue and turns it into a digestible, fascinating piece of fiction. Sadly, people tend to empathize more with fictional characters than with real people who are facing the same struggles. But in many ways, it is beneficial for writers to put a new spin on a relevant topic if the standard ways are falling short or if they seem too redundant. In the same way that satire can help many people view a contemporary issue in a new way, so too can fiction. 

Can We Manipulate Individuals Into Caring About Climate Change?

“The Tamarisk Hunter” by Paolo Bacigalupi is hands down the most interesting and engaging piece we have read so far this term. I think that Paolo Bacigalupi presented climate change and the implications and effects in accessible, understandable, and relatable manner. The most effective pieces of literature are the ones that evoke emotion and provoke a reaction from the reader, and “The Tamarisk Hunter” did just that. By the end of the short, Cli-Fi story I felt sympathy for Lolo and Annie, which means that I understood the issues that they were facing. 

Often, it is easy to read articles or books about climate change and to think about it objectively. When reading an article about climate change, I understand the concept of climate change and I understand what climate change is going to bring (and how it is going to be absolutely awful), but I don’t take it to heart. I read the article, I process it, and I move on. And that is no way to approach this topic. As Bill McKibben mentioned in the introduction, it is hard to visualize and understand how climate change is going to affect us individually, and that can often lead to a lack of acknowledgement or care by some individuals. This fact is why I believe that “The Tamarisk Hunter” is so beneficial. When I read a book, and I really get into it, I begin to resonate with certain characters and begin to feel for them. I have opinions about what I want to happen to that character, and I feel anger or sadness when something happens to that character that I don’t like. Framing and incorporating the concept of climate change into a short story is an act of brilliance. By using literary techniques to get me to feel connected or invested in a character’s story, and then by implementing the negative, detrimental effects of climate change (and by having those negative effects affect the character in a negative manner), I recognize what climate change really is. I recognize how climate change was created, how it is going to affect the world, and most importantly what it will potentially feel like. That is a perfect way to get readers to care and understand climate change and want to combat it.