Hunting for Truth

Owens River from tableland-750px.jpg
Owens River via Wikipedia

While reading The Tamarisk Hunter, I found it crazy how digestible and tangible this reality felt; fiction has a way of doing that. While the story depicts a future in which California has purchased significant water rights for the Colorado River, causing many upstream inhabitants to suffer, this story is but a hypothetical depiction of a reality that has already unfolded in front of our eyes.

The Owen’s Valley and the Mono drainage basin have already been subjected to these exact circumstances, so much so that the Mono Lake water level dropped so low that the Mono County Water Committee sued LAPD over misuse of the water from the drainage. Many inhabitants of the Owen’s valley have dry wells, and native American populations in particular struggle to acquire sufficient water because of the comfort necessities of the rich in LA. While this story depicts national struggles across state borders, we don’t need to look that far to see the present truth in this.

Being as anthropocentric as we are, we neglect to see the effects of the misuse of water rights that are already effecting ecosystems relatively uninhabited by humans, such as LA’s extraction of water from underneath the Mojave desert, an aquifer which is nearly the only water supply to many plants which sustain desert life.

For a couple years, LA’s misuse of water rights has been a fascination of mine which I hope to soon start combatting from a political side by joining the Mono County Water Committee. I have spent the last few years preparing to move to Bishop, CA to work to return sovereign water rights to its’ locals. This story is not fully a false narrative, it is a fictional depiction of present truth.

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. 

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).

Not A Teenaged Fantasy

Photo by NASA on Unsplash

While reading the climate fiction piece, “The Tamarisk Hunter,” by Paolo Bacigalupi, I was reminded of all the dystopian young adult novels I read in middle school and high school – except this time there was a lot less teenage romance and an even greater sense of impending doom. It’s difficult to reflect on a piece like this that is labelled as fiction when it could not feel like a more real depiction of our future.

The piece also reinforces a recurring theme in our class – that people are disproportionately affected by climate change. There is always a group that is more severely affected by the consequences of climate change when they are not the ones solely responsible. In addition, there always seems to be a wealthy group of people that are hoarding all the resources and dictating what they can be used for. In “The Tamarisk Hunter,” this appears to be those in California who had the money and the power to win water rights lawsuits and were able to maintain the resource (water) for their own personal use, while others suffered (and were pushed off their land by the wealthy). Bacigalupi also depicts the water resource as something that those that are not so fortunate can see (and maybe steal from) but are not allowed to use. These parallel so many of the natural resources in less developed countries we see today. The residents can see the resources, are even the ones to extract it in some cases, but none of it benefits them personally. It all goes to those wealthier and those that are doing nothing to improve the overall situation.

The slow descent into the drought reminds me of the frog in a boiling pot analogy. It is clear from the text that the temperature and effects of climate change slowly got worse, until the residents were dying on their land.

Escape from Ourselves

This week’s readings offered some interesting perspectives on something we don’t often stop to think about: the sense of sound. As Krause put it, we are so visually oriented that we often use visual language to describe the qualities of sound (like when we call a piece of music dark or bright). Our sense of hearing is something we rely on daily but rarely do we stop to appreciate it for the pleasure it brings us, or the serious affect it has on our mood. 

I was intrigued by this idea and the idea of “soundscapes”. The readings made me think about the times in my life I have felt the most relaxed and at peace, and how almost always, I was surrounded by the sounds of nature. Industrial clamor and traffic noise provides a constant backdrop for my daily life, drowning out the once familiar and comforting sounds of birdsong, wind in the trees, insects chirping. As I write this essay, my sense of hearing is bombarded with car engines starting, distant construction projects, lawnmowers, and underlying it all, the low, constant hum of human activity. Over time, I’ve learned to block these sounds out, but until only until I escape into the mountains and am reminded of the freedom and relief that comes with the absence of this cacophony. Or perhaps more accurately, the presence of the quieter sounds that exist underneath it. 

Maybe these sounds of the Anthropocene are a result of the human notion that we are separate from nature, that we should “claim dominion” over nature. But within each of us, there exists a craving to escape the dominion we have created and return to the connection from which we came. How can we reconcile these two worlds?

Nature: The World’s First Source of Music

Both excerpts from The Great Animal Orchestra by Bernie Krause, and Soundscape – Tuning of the World by R. Murray Schafer exhibit similar thoughts on how the music is made up of the sounds in nature and our environment. However, Schafer expands on those thoughts and brings up the point that music is built off expressing one’s emotions.

Krause introduces sounds in nature as being the first music to have ever existed on Earth; water being the very first. He primarily discusses water and its deep roots in society from the beginning of time, to current studies on ocean life such as whale calls. I feel as though he wishes to convey that water is what links all life forms on Earth together. It is something we all have in common; we all need water in order to survive. He points out that although water is something that we all have in common, it sounds different and tells a different story anywhere you go in the world, or even the country. Water, and in turn nature, is therefore not only able to connect everyone, but provide a history to tell everyone who visits its shores.

Schafer on the other hand, although agreeing with nature being a part of music, also iterates that it can be created through emotion. He recognizes that music in Greek mythology had two sides: Athena versus Hermes. Athena creates a nomos due to her being so moved by the cries of Medusa’s sisters following her death, while Hermes constructed a lyre out of a turtle’s shell when he discovered that it could produce sound. The prior is music inspired by Athena’s feelings, and the latter utilizing logic and what was found around Hermes in nature. Schafer also points out that music is also capable of reflecting what is happening around us by mentioning that “vagaries of Richard Strauss are perfectly consistent with the waning of the […] Austro-Hungarian Empire” (Schafer 7) which bolsters his idea of emotion playing a significant part of composing music.

Humanizing Nature Through Sound

The Effect of Music on Plant Growth | Dengarden

In Murray Schafer’s “The soundscape: our sonic environment and the tuning of the world”, they discuss how the sounds of the world are changing, but more importantly how that effects “every corner of man’s life”. Because of this, Bernie Krause in “The Great Animal Orchestra”, writes about his mission to recreate the sounds of nature. Travelling around the world, Krause tries to capture important sounds of many cultures, as well as their significance. Combining these samples, Krause can make “natural” soundscapes representative of many areas.

To me, I see this is as quite a powerful tool to immerse someone in nature. Hearing the sounds of a place overwhelmed by the beauty of nature can be just as influential on your thought process of the world as actually seeing it, however, it is much easier to accomplish in practice. Society has a way of normalizing our destruction of nature, as it is often beneficial to those in power to alter the public’s perception to the extent of the destruction. However, given a much more personal experience with those natural places, as well as the education on what specifically is happening to them, could turn that tide. This is where I see an interesting idea with the application of this kind of work, using it to humanize nature. And this is exactly where Krause seems to be headed.

Krause’s work reminds me of a similar project done by a group called “Sound Builders”. They use the physical leaves of plants to create sound. To do this, they pin electrodes on two sides of the leaves and then transfer the electronic outputs into sound. While the process sounds quite harmful to the plant, the electrodes are only on for a brief period of time and has no effect on the plant’s health. Sound Builders then present their work as a way to educate the public on environmental sciences, similar to how I see the application of Krause’s work impacting communities.

Sound Builder’s project:

Picture from: https://usercontent2.hubstatic.com/13406415_f520.jpg

An Honors Colloquium in Environmental Arts and Humanities