The ENd for Hunters

Paolo Bacigalupi puts a fictional spin on reality within The Tamarisk Hunter. The story follows Lolo and his attempts to secure a source of water. In order to do so, he works everyday by pulling up tamarisk from the water beds. He does this so that he and his wife won’t be pushed off the land like her parents had been. I thought the story was interesting and was different from our previous readings. 

It focuses on the possible effects of a drought on the people and the land. You could say that this is a warning for what is to come if we continue to allow our current climate to change even more. As humans contribute to global warming, it makes a large impact upon the amount of precipitation there is. Drier soils means less water less water is evaporated when dry seasons come up. This has been very apparent in states like California. 

The setting of the story is along the colorado river. Every day Lolo rides his camel down to the riverbank in order to pick tamarisk, his reward is $2.88 a day plus water bounty. Lolo uses a secret trick in order to take advantage of the current system. When he rips up tamarisk, he also salvages some and replants them in other areas. This allows it to regrow so he can harvest it later on. One day the Utah National Guard shows up and it worries Lolo. He thinks that they’ve found out about his job plots but they are actually there to offer him compensation. It’s been decided that there is no longer a need for the water bounty because the government saw profit elsewhere. This concept illustrates the prioritization of monetary benefit over many other things. It’s been a key piece of climate change denier’s argument to say that fixing climate change would sacrifice our economy. 

Yeah, I knew what a tamarisk was

Firstly, I googled what a friggin’ tamarisk was. I was really confused at the first definition then I watch a youtube video explaining what a tamarisk was which then made me feel stupid for not getting it at the first definition I found for it. ANYWAY,

I thought “The Tamarisk Hunter” was a very unique story that brought up an interesting “possible future world” (does that even make sense?) where water is the valued commodity. This story really reminded me of the Lorax in that there was a huge deal with business and necessary resources and it was somewhat scary because it really reflected our values as a society. A couple weeks ago we talked about values with the “The Vanishing” and I see similar themes presenting themselves here.

We as a society are pretty much willing to place a value on pretty much anything. Or rather, the United States has at least. We are willing to jeopardize lives with arguments like, “If you can’t work or pay for it, then you shouldn’t get it,” or ,”just work like everyone else and pay for it”. Although I do think work is very important, I also hope that people that argue arguments like that read this short story. It’s real, and shows a very possible reality where “working” isn’t the solution. It shows a world where we have to resort to stealing, being afraid of being caught, and even hesitant to help others especially with our self-preservation instincts kicking in as we saw in the story.

I guess the biggest question I had after reading this short story was and want to pose to those that so strongly uphold a society where everything has a value is:

For what?

H20

Access to water is a huge issue even today’s world. We are lucky to have access to basically unlimited clean water. This isn’t often the case in other parts of the world. Water in many developing countries is tainted in one way or another and there are many projects in place to combat this inequality. Water is essential to life and everyone should have access to clean water no matter where they live. 

Looking at this issue from the perspective of climate change sheds a very different and foreboding light on this critical situation. What happens if we run out of water? Any of us can go into the bathroom and turn on the faucet for as long as we want. We often take this for granted and don’t consider what are lives would look like without this invaluable resource. With increasing temperatures and extreme weather a drought is a very real issue that could arise. This is especially true in places that are already dry and don’t receive a lot of rainfall.  Then think that humans are mostly made of water.

Whenever a resource is scarce the rich get it and the less rich don’t. This would be no different if water became a rarity. This is already obvious in the world today. Who has water and who doesn’t? This creates additional problems of class and divides people even more. The serious problem that climate change could cause to our would be even worse than you might initially think. This is the depressing but very real truth of climate change.

-Russell Fitch

Invasive Species and Change

A tamarisk is an invasive tree that consumes a large amount of water in a desert environment. In “The Tamarisk Hunter” a dry future is painted upon the American Southwest, where water is scarce as a result of an extended period of drought. To keep water feeding the Colorado River into California. Lolo, the tamarisk hunter, is most likely located in Arizona or Colorado, where it is generally dry, but snows in Winter to feed the Colorado River. Lolo gets paid by the government to pull out tamarisk in order to keel water flowing to the river for the river to meet the amount of water it needs when it enters California. Drought during the story is so bad that the towns surrounding Lolo’s location are ghost towns, without enough water for residents to shower on a weekly basis.

The impacts of climate change combined with invasive species are apparent in the story. Drought occurred as a result of the climate change, creating less sustained water for use in the Colorado River. Tamarisk’s large amount of water consumption takes away further amounts of water from the river, particularly when it is near smaller tributaries, causing environmental and economic destruction as a result.

Tamarisk reminds me of other invasive species crises in the United States, like the Asian carp in the Mississippi River system. Like tamarisk’s impact on the economy in “The Tamarisk Hunter,” the Asian carp could cause further economic impact if they reach the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes have a large fishing industry, and the introduction of the carp would result in large scale habitat destruction, as they breed quickly and out compete native species for food. On a more relevant note to us in Oregon, the Zebra mussel and Quagga muscles do much of the same as the Asian carp. Environmental change, partly due to invasive species is yet another example of the impact that humans have on the environment.

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.

Sources:

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. 

Three steps backwards, one step forward (don’t read this piece its boring and convoluted)

Much of what humanity has accomplished in recent years can seem baffling and backwards at the same time. Computers today are more capable than the instruments which sent humans to the moon, fitting in your pocket just because. However, what has been slower to accelerate in improvement is social understanding and coherence of the implications of the generation of technology, furthermore, whether such an awareness is possible at large scale is unclear. There is not much to say that society will feel the weight of its decisions. This is all reasonable. People are much more logical at a base level than much of the political contention and ethical differences would suggest. Most of our motivations stem from our base feeling of the utility of things. Technology is a great example thereof, when people look at a new gizmo or gadget it is often clear that it has been made with a utilitarian purpose. The next iPhone will help you to communicate more efficiently than the previous version, the newer the cars the lower gas costs tend to be, the better the assembly lines are constructed the more products can be sent out to consumers for prices they can appreciate. Ecological problems and implications are often much harder to ameliorate. Often what is good for a person in a culture is not correlated to what is good for the environment, because it is what we can take from the environment rather than what we can give that is often considered. People don’t often colonize deserts, they colonize forests. Places with resources. These resources are exploited to the fullest with differing timelines depending on the acceleration of advancement therein. When groups decide to take areas, the natural world often combats change for a period, this is what is shown as ecological resilience, what there is clings on. This lasts a very large period of time, however, in the end, the acceleration of resource demands outstrips supply. In this scenario the logic is to paralyze development. The issue is that such problems can ultimately be seen from ground level, each person sees the issue with their own eyes. There is not a greater source of change above the parts of a group cooperating. Within western culture especially, the drive of competition outstrips the drive for conservation. It’s exhausting to watch and take part in at the same time.

The Shortsightedness of Man

Like other readings we’ve had in this course, this article highlights the shortsighted, anthropocentric worldview of Western culture. As “The Vanishing” by Malcolm Gladwell discusses, the Norse people of Greenland came, settled, and worked the land with the techniques they learned from the land where they originated. For a while, their methods appeared to work, but they were destined to fail in the climate of Greenland in the long run. The Norse’s “social glue” that held together their culture was inflexible and therefore was their downfall. Had they chosen to learn from the Inuit people, who knew how to work the land properly, they might have survived. However, they refused and soon starved. 

This reminds me of the consequences of the tragic fires that occur here on the West Coast of Ameria and in Australia. For centuries Native and Aboriginal people worked the land in particular ways that prevented it from becoming too overgrown or too barren. They used controlled burning to clear away undergrowth that could potentially fuel wildfires and to preserve the fertility of the soil. Through the process of colonization, those wisdoms were disregarded by settlers, who sought only to immediately gain as much from the land as possible. Turning to use those methods on the land of modern states in America, for example, would admittedly be difficult. However, with wildfires growing worse and worse every year, it is time to explore every potential solution, including consulting the indigenous peoples.

It is important to note that this “shortsightedness” in environmentalism is not exclusively a trait of Western civilization, as mentioned in “The Vanishing” with the Eastern Islanders’ fall. In fact, it is a trait that can now be seen on a global scale. The deforestation of the Amazon Rainforest is another example. Large oil and agricultural companies are extracting an abundance of resources from the Amazon and surrounding areas. While providing resources that temporarily sustain individual economies, these cooperations contribute to rising global emissions and are actively destroying one of the world’s most massive land carbon sinks. 

These degenerative acts that continue to happen worldwide are ever decreasing our chances of “biological survivability”. If we genuinely wish to endure, we must try to convince the rest of the world to stop the shortsighted behavior and actively fight against global suicide. 

δ13C

δ13C

Why Did Greenland's Vikings Vanish? | History | Smithsonian Magazine

We are taught history to learn from others mistakes, but many say history repeats itself. We may think that what is happening to our climate is a first, but we would be wrong. This happened to the Norse in Greenland and to the Polynesians who lived on Easter Island. Just this time it is a lot bigger so more people are noticing.

We are aware that the climate is changing at a very rapid pace. Many of us know that the oceans are becoming more acidic, glaciers are melting, and wildfires are burning down our natural forests, but we don’t make any major changes. Why is this happening? What will it take for us to make any meaningful change? Or will we die out like the people in the history books? 

I think that people don’t like change and climate change requires a lot of it on our part. We are just like the Norse. We won’t change even when it threatens to literally kill us and everyone we know. They refused to eat fish and only ate beef, so they could be more like the people they wanted to be like. In the end it didn’t matter that they were starving- they still refused to change their ways. Will we be like this too? Refusing to embrace reality and continue to hold on to our poisonous ways? 

Only time will tell.

On a side note some researchers did a study that was published in 2002 in Europhysics News to determine if they actually didn’t eat any fish. If you want to read it I linked it below. It turns out that they did start to convert to other sources of food including fish. This makes the story even better though. They realized their mistake and started to make a change, but they were too late and still died off.

-Russell Fitch

https://www.europhysicsnews.org/articles/epn/pdf/2002/03/epn02301.pdf

An Honors Colloquium in Environmental Arts and Humanities