Monday , July 4 2022

Margaret Atwood: Do you want to belong to a species that lives on this planet?


I am often asked when I became aware of the threatening environmental crisis and the death of species. Yes, it wasn’t in the early 40s; I was born two months after World War II and when the war started people definitely had other things to think about. But my father, a biologist and insect researcher, was well aware that life on earth is dependent on other lifestyles, as well as that many species have become extinct over time because they have found food and food or lost opportunities. because of diseases or because they were converted to other species. It was well known that man, a medium-sized terrestrial mammal that breathes oxygen, is no exception to the laws that prevail in nature.

Those who need to survive are killed by those who are lost. This was confirmed by the fact that we kept the children in glass containers and sometimes forgot to feed the tadpoles and larvae. This was confirmed by mammoths and mastodons. We can confirm that.

To read as a 12-year-old HG Wells ’film“ Time Machine ”did nothing but clarify something I already knew: human life on earth was not given forever. It was temporary. And partly an opportunity. We humans could do things that would improve our chances. We could also do things that were terribly ruined.

Human life on earth was not given forever. It was temporary. And partly an opportunity

In 1988 I published a novel called “The Cat’s Eye”. It was a matter of growing up in the 40s and 50s. The father of the novel had some resemblance to my father, and the cheerful but disturbing monologues for dinner were his own:

“… my father explains why humanity is doomed. This time it’s because we found insulin. Not all diabetics die like before, they live long enough to transmit diabetes to their children. Soon, according to the law of geometric progression, we will all be diabetic, and because insulin is made of commas, the whole world will be covered by insulin-producing cows /…/ Cows drop methane gas.There is already too much methane gas in the atmosphere, it will drown oxygen and maybe turn the whole earth into a huge greenhouse.Polar ice will melt and “New York will be under six feet of water /…/ In addition, we have to worry about deserts and erosion. If the cows don’t kill us, we’ll end up like the Sahara Desert,” he says.

There was also the death of the species something he was thinking. On one of his stages were cockroaches, lions and grass all left over from life on dry land. It was 1955. The miraculous pesticide DDT was being dumped everywhere at the time; the kids sprayed each other with a FLIT gun, a device used to kill pests. Rachel Carson had yet to release “Silent Spring,” which added another potential disaster to the list: no birds, no insects, no pollination, a powerfully shrunken humanity.

Rachel Carson had not yet released “Silent Spring,” which added another potential disaster to the list: no birds, no insects, no pollination, a powerfully shrunk humanity.

The list also included, of course, the ground condemnation of nuclear war. Children a decade or younger than me had to learn to take ducks and lids, “duck and lids,” if they wanted to bomb, as if hiding under a school desk would have any use. During the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, when the Soviets decided to deploy nuclear missiles in Cuba, I was in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and we were afraid of 13 surreal days that would explode into tiny, tiny pieces at all times. How close was it? Who knows?

Without knowing it The man barely escaped when he was hit by a bullet in the Vietnam War when Agent Orange’s huge containers were sent across the Pacific Ocean. If some of them ended up in the ocean and started pouring and killing algae that supply us with 60% to 80% of our oxygen, I wouldn’t write that today. So now we have to lower the acid rain a little bit, but it still causes the problem in many parts of the world. And because the air is fast and does not respect any limits, sooner or later the problem will become everyone.

And then there was the dreaded hole in the ozone layer, which threatened that ultraviolet light would infect the cancer. Chlorofluorocarbons, freons were to blame – so useful in refrigerators and spray cans, so deadly in the stratosphere. It is said that the ozone hole began to heal thanks to the 1987 Montreal Protocol, which banned the use of hazardous chemicals and created a series of hopes: perhaps man is by no means a fool.

But then came the climate crisis and its side, the plastic tide. Will we be smart enough to avoid these two bullets too? Or will we breathe and drown from lack of oxygen when we turn the planet’s oceans into a giant dead zone and release methane stored in the Arctic permafrost?

Of course, we can be wiped out by other effects of the climate crisis: our habitat can be destroyed by huge hurricanes or large forest fires, we can die in the oven at very high temperatures, the food supply can be reduced because crops are reduced. To this we can add the inevitable consequences: social unrest, the war for resources, the collapse of the social order, the uncontrollable outbreaks of disease. We become tadpoles in an abandoned glass jar that is too hot.

At very high temperatures we can die in the oven, as the harvest decreases the food supply may decrease. We become tadpoles in an abandoned glass jar that is too hot

In 2003, when he had It’s been 48 years since the scene in the movie “Cat’s Eye” where the father’s speculations are presented as an example of the book’s narrator’s eccentricity. I published a novel called “Oryx and Crake”. He is talking about the future rather than the past. Scientist Crake has concluded that the planet cannot be left in the hands of humans. They need to be eliminated with the help of a fast-acting artificial pest and replaced with their genetically enhanced versions. (Yes, we could do that. We have the tools. Basically. At least the ones needed to create the plague).

Since the release of “Oryx and Crake,” the climate crisis has shifted from headlines to margins. In the novel, there is a game called Extinctathon. Nowadays it is played on a massive scale all over the world, it is no longer a fantasy creation. The face of humanity is a simple question: Do you want to be a species on this planet? Or would you rather have another entry on the long list of extinct life forms?

Time to choose. And then, if life is your choice, time to act.

Or not.

You decide.

English translation: Per Svensson

The quote is from Maria Ekman’s translation of “Kattöga” (Norstedts 2018).

Margaret Atwood.

Margaret Atwood.

Photo: Bernd Thissen / Alamy

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