What the hell is a Tamarisk?

“The Tamarisk Hunter” is a short story set in a near future climate apocalypse world somewhere in the southwest United States. The story follows Lolo who is naturally a tamarisk hunter. Before reading this story the image that I had in my mind of a tamarisk was some kind of mythical beast, but I quickly learned of my mistake from reading on and instead a tamarisk is a type of tree. The key feature of the Tamarisk in this story is its water consumption. To quote the leading line: “A big Tamarisk can suck 73,000 gallons of river water a year.”. This is relevant because 1. there is an incredibly persistent drought (Big Daddy Drought) and 2. California has rights to all of the water flowing through the Colorado river. This means that every gallon sucked up by a Tamarisk is a gallon the state of California loses. Because of this, bounties are paid to anyone who can show proof they have removed a tamarisk tree from the Colorado river bank.

The conflict of this story comes from the fact that Lolo is not an honest tamarisk hunter. Instead of simply removing the tamarisk, he carefully finds places to replant the trees so that he has more to harvest later to earn more bounty. This is a big deal in the story because he is effectively stealing water from California, but it is also worth noting that tamarisk trees are an invasive species to the United States and cause considerable harm to the ecosystem (discovermoab.com). The oversight of this information is not particularly surprising considering the attitude toward “enviros” who want to give water to the plants and animals when there isn’t enough for humans. It seems that Lolo feels guilt about what he is doing, but it is not tied to damage toward the ecosystem. Lolo’s guilt lies in his dishonesty to his wife Annie.

Everything that happens in the story feels as if it’s setting up Lolo to get caught by BuRec (Bureau of Reclamation?) for his tamarisk crimes and sent to do manual labor to repay the fortune in water he has stolen. This continues up until the last moment in which he discovers the big scary government men (which he is prepared to murder in cold blood) were simply here to tell him that BuRec is not paying bounties anymore. Instead they are basically shutting down the entire area and sealing the river with carbon fiber to prevent evaporation. Lolo’s crimes are meaningless, not only to him, but in an ecological sense as well. The impact of planting some more invasive species pails in comparison to completely sealing off the water supply to an entire ecosystem. The message that I gather from this story is that in general, systematic harm is much more impactful than individual.

Also worth noting that in my attempt to learn what a tamarisk is I discovered the biblical connection. Tamarisks trees are native to the middle east and are mentioned multiple times in the bible. I was curious to learn more about this and I expect that there may have been some sort of juxtaposition surrounding the symbolism of the tree in the bible versus in this story. I however did not feel I had the bandwidth to look into this any further tonight, but hopefully I’ll find something about it before next class.

the looming threat comes closer

“On a stable planet, nature provided a background against which human drama took place; on the unstable planet we’re creating, the background becomes the highest drama (McKibben, 4).” 

Humans have made themselves the center of attention. We’ve disregarded the significance of the environment around us, and many refuse to acknowledge this in fear of causing the slightest inconvenience to themselves. The denial goes so far to where scientists and climate experts, the very people who’ve devoted their lives into research and sustainability, are discredited. They’re the experts, and we think we possess more knowledge than them. Climate change legislation and action is supported by concrete facts and evidence, but is motivated by the heart. The longer we fight it, the sooner we won’t even have an ethical environment to survive comfortably in. 

Of course, even if the environment is impacted in a horrible way, those contributing the least to it will be affected the most. Marginalized groups, low-income communities, and rural towns, won’t have the resources to lift themselves up. However, the top 1% of people and large corporations, the ones contributing the most to the climate crisis, will still live lavishly. Why? Because the system works in favor of them. Sadly, this becomes a big reason as to why little change has been made and why so much resistance is met with policies regarding the climate crisis. 

“The Tamarisk Hunter,” written by Paolo Bacigalupi, is a clear example of the detrimental impacts of climate change substantially altering the way of human life. Of course, many aspects can be exaggerated, however, the core message and effects of climate change remain the same. Over time, agricultural damage, famine, and drought, will become more than just a “looming threat,” but will become reality. 

Let’s Start our Twelve Step Program

“So the world will be a degree or two warmer, who cares? I like the summer warm.”

The fight against climate change has stalled. Jimmy Carter installed solar panels on the White House. Reagan tore them down. Nixon created the EPA. Now the head of the EPA is a coal lobbyist. Oil companies fund politicians and propaganda machines, and the opinion I opened with is not an uncommon one.

Relatively recently, activists have changed terms from “Global Warming” to “Climate Change.” Because the issue isn’t a couple degrees of warming or even the glaciers melting, the issue is about that warming’s far reaching effects on the system that is the Earth. Scientists warn us about more turbulent storms, ocean acidification, less productive agriculture, and as “The Tamarisk Hunter” is written about, larger droughts.

“The Tamarisk Hunter” is a short story by Paolo Bacigalupi, published in the collection “I’m With The Bears: Short Stories From a Damaged Planet.” From the introduction of the book, a sentiment that resonated with me: “The scientists have done their job … Now it’s time for the rest of us–for the economists, the psychologists, the theologians. And the artists, whose role is to help us understand what things feel like.”

Part of what makes “The Tamarisk Hunter” a great story is the feeling that this really could happen. In the story, the US is in a postapocalyptic state, with the seemingly sovereign California controlling all of the water of the Colorado river. Our main character Lolo works uprooting tamarisk, a water hungry plant, which California has put a water bounty on. In the present day, there are already water issues with the Colorado river. It used to flow all the way to Mexico, but now it is diverted to California agriculture and is stored behind a dam.

The events of the story show us a possible future we need to work to avoid. Droughts and water shortages will be created and worsened by climate change. And people who are paying attention know that. That’s why George Bush’s family bought 300,000 acres on the world’s largest aquifer. It’s an investment.


Reagan removed White House solar panels

Fossil fuel funds propaganda

Coal lobbyist leads EPA

Colorado river no longer reaches Mexico

Bush family investing in aquifer

A Depressing Future

“The Tamarisk Hunter”, a cheery tale by Paulo Bacigalupi, centers on Lolo, a tamarisk hunter living in the dystopian hellscape of the American Southwest. He lives on small patch of relatively arid land and hunts tamarisk, a thirsty invasive tree, for a living. To make even more money, he secretly plants additional stands of tamarisk, (tama)risking severe capital punishment. Water is only scarce for those living in intermountain Southwest, as much water from the region is syphoned off to the high rollers in California.

This story offers a really grim outlook on the future. Unfortunately, as humans continue to use up our finite resources and burn large quantities of fossil fuels, this future may be inescapable. Climate change will increase the risk of severe weather events and longterm droughts, which we have already seen in a number of regions throughout the globe.

Though, climate change is not the only societal issue considered in this piece. Income inequality is explored in the theme of Californians, who are still living a somewhat normal life by stealing water from the Southwest. For the residents of this region, society has collapsed. The over-militarization of police is also considered in squads of “Guardies”, who rule over the impoverished non-Californians, guarding precious water resources and quashing any sign of dissent.

Indeed, it is likely the potential climate change caused societal collapse would only serve to exacerbate existing societal problems as everything goes to shit.

A Possible Version of the Future

“The Tamarisk Hunter” is a futuristic short story that was written in 2006 by Paolo Bacigalupi. Set in 2030, the story revolves around a character who lives in the U.S. during a massive drought and who makes a living by removing a type of invasive tree. It pulls from reality in that it presents this county’s fate based on the real-world, observed scientific effects of climate change. 

This story prompts the reader to compare this story to their own notion of the future. Will it look similar to the vision of the author? It is not impossible. It is effective in that it engages the reader’s imagination, allows them to picture a possible future instead of shoving statistics down their throats. In the plot, people began adjusting to the drought and the lack of water very realistically. It started as a seemingly slow process, and it started with people taking shorter showers. Then things speedily devolved. In reality, we are instructed to conserve resources such as water and power in our everyday lives, but do we actually commit and take the advisory seriously? 

The rate of the damage of climate change has obviously worsened since this was written. One example of this is the increasing lengths of droughts occurring on the West Coast, specifically California. California is a state that is described in this story as a place that hoarding the water by it controlling its natural source in the form of a river. However, “The Tamarisk Hunter” does not solely focus on the physical effects of global warming. It also integrates the political and socioeconomic factors into the plot as well. Only the wealthiest people get an abundance of water, and everyone in the lower classes are left to fend for themselves. It causes the reader to wonder how, if things progress, political leaders will choose to handle the situation, whether capitalism will doom those who are less fortunate. While intimidating to consider, it can be useful to contemplate the dark implications of climate change. It can serve as a motivating factor to induce action.

According to the United Nations, we only have approximately ten years until climate change is irreversible. In 2030, the year this story is set, we will truly see what will become of this country, of this earth if preventative measures are not taken.