A Journal of the Arts
Imagine with me now, a world with cities flooded and crumbling in the now distant ocean, the tallest buildings covered in overgrown vines, a dark blue hole burnt around the sun. How would you survive in this world? With the sun blistering your uncovered skin. The water too dirty and trash-filled to even drink, while the dehydration ebbs at your ever-drying mouth. No trees to shade you from the constant and ever prevalent sunshine. Now, think to our world, how we are just a few steps closer down this path, one littered with Bud Light cans and McDonalds bags, the one laid out before us in Margaret Atwood's book Oryx and Crake. The saddest part is that we humans are to blame, as we continue to support the destruction caused by major corporations. Companies that see no correlation between what they are doing and the effects that their business practices are having on the environment. If we as humans continue to follow the path that we are on when it comes to major corporations and climate change, our world may come to a conclusion that is significantly close in comparison to that of Oryx and Crake. We can no longer focus on worrying about the plastic cups, straws, and other non-biodegradable items, if we do not do anything to make major companies and corporations see that their business practices are killing us. If they don't change, and we don't hold them accountable for their actions, then the Climatologists’, scientists who study our climate, prediction of the world only having twelve years will become our irreversible and inevitable future. We humans, living on this big green rock, need to take a stand, and stand together with Mother Nature.
Before we can even begin to look at how to we can start change, we need to look at how our current form of capitalism, and what is was meant to be used for, is affecting the world around us. According to Jonathan T. Park, a first year law student at William and Mary who also received a B.S. in Environmental Science and Sustainability with a minor in Political Science from the University of Utah, “Capitalism was designed as a mechanism for efficiently allocating scarce resources, encouraging human ingenuity, and improving the quality of life for those willing and able to participate in the system” (Park; 189). Park goes on to explain that under the original workings of the capitalist system, the production of wealth and quality of life can be enhanced. Even when any natural resources have reached a point of depletion, “the market will produce an alternative.” These alternatives end up being man-made, creating a larger demand and gives reason for companies to produce more. This causes more waste and byproducts that bring harm to the environment.
The system on which we as a capitalist society run, and are meant to run, bears a striking resemblance to that of Atwood’s Oryx and Crake. When we talk about the depletion of natural resources and the production of alternatives, many of the corporations mentioned sporadically throughout the book are able to produce alternatives. Even with the endless possibilities and scientific breakthroughs, in Atwood’s world, this society can and will run out of ideas, and even more importantly, time. When we take a look at one of the quotes from Crake, Atwood’s villain and secondary character in her book:
“It’s not altruism exactly,” said Crake. “More like sink or swim. I’ve seen the latest
confidential Corps demographic reports. As a species we’re in deep trouble, worse than
anyone’s saying. They’re afraid to release the stats because people might just give up, but
take it from me, we’re running out of space-time. Demand for resources has exceeded
supply for decades in marginal geopolitical areas, hence the famines and droughts; but very
soon, demand is going to exceed supply for everyone” (Atwood, 294-295).
This is our first time learning how Crake feels about what is happening to the world.
Throughout a major portion of the book, we feel that he has no emotion, no feeling for what is around him, when really, he more or less feels numb to the truth. This feeling can be linked to the many people fighting for a climate solution. They feel numb and helpless in their ever growing fight against major corporations and the pollutions that they produce. Learning that Crake does care shows the reader that, while he does feel almost nothing, he still cares for the Earth and what will come of it, which, again, can be paralleled to the many climate activists we have in the world in or day to day lives.
Though Atwood’s book focuses on the extremes of what the end could be like, it is not too far off what scientists are saying today. According to the website Exploritorium.edu, if we are to keep producing the same amounts of CO2 emissions we are now, the estimated temperature will rise 7.4-degrees Fahrenheit by the year 2100. This is a scary future that we are laying out for the next generation. But it doesn’t stop there. With this increase in the overall temperature, the sea level will also raise by an astonishing 29 inches. This also means that in Sacramento, California, the overall yearly temperature, including winter, would be almost 10 degrees warmer, rising from 74 degrees (in the 1960’s through the 1980’s) to 83 degrees in 2100. While this may be a scary thought to have floating around in your mind, as you continue through the article, it is later stated, “Not only that, there would be about 10 times as many extreme heat days (heat in the 89th percentile)—about 40 days per year in 2100, compared with only four days in the 1980s. There would also be about six heat waves per year, instead of one, and these heat waves would last longer. (A heat wave here means four days in a row of 104ºF or higher)”. To think of the world we may leave behind is a scary thought. Just to survive in this overheating, overflowing world, out descendants would have to evolve to maintain a stable existence, just like that of the Crakers, the humanoid beings that Crake made for his Paradice Project.
Unsurprisingly, Atwood also seemed to have predicted how the temperatures would rise, changing the way that the world moves and functions. When talking about Jimmy, the main protagonist and the character who we follow throughout the novel, and Crake’s graduation from their high school, Atwood writes “Jimmy and Crake graduated from HelthWyzer High on a warm humid day in early February. The ceremony used to take place in June; the weather then used to be sunny and moderate. But June was now the wet season all the way up the east coast, and you couldn’t have held an outdoor event then, what with the thunderstorms. Even early February was pushing it: they’d ducked a twister by only one day” (Attwood; Section 8). This is a prime example of how climate change can majorly affect the overall temperature, the seasons, and how we live our day-to-day lives in the appropriate weather.
It is a hard thought to process when we are told that if we don’t change what we are doing to the world around us will change for itself, to our detriment. At this point you may be asking yourself “Is there any way we can stop this? Any way that we can reverse what we are doing to the Earth and go backwards on this winding path?” According to some, it is not impossible. Although we are further down the road than most would like to be, it is not too late if we are able to not only change our ways but bring light to and enforce change within the conglomerate that makes up corporate America. The change in the ever-present climate change is not done with just a single group deciding that things need to change, but the need for many, if not all, parties to come together and find a fair and trusted system. “To succeed, such a system and the institutions which implement it must be seen as fair by all parties: the biggest challenge will be achieving the necessary levels of trust.” Says Anil Markandya, author of “Can Climate Change be Reversed under Capitalism?” In fact, once we are able to come together as a system, living in a more sustainable society is not an impossible feat. Take Bhutan in South Asia for example. This is a “carbon negative” country and according to Jigme Singye Wangchuck, Bhutan’s 4th King, “Gross National Happiness is more important than gross national product”. This society believes more in their people’s happiness rather than the capitalistic needs that plague other countries.
The saddest part, though, is that when we think about how many of the companies and high payed executives live without the fear and think that climate change doesn’t affect them. The types of people that have the luxury to believe that effects of the climate do not exist, even when they themselves are major contributors to Earths downfall. When we look at pop culture, specifically anything set in an apocalyptic setting, we can take note on how these rich communities are able to survive in a more comfortable, luxurious style, while the underclass try their best to survive in what is left of the world after its destruction. Much like Jimmy has to do.
This hold true even for the many compounds and companies scattered throughout Atwood’s text. Throughout the book, the reader will see many comparisons of the compounds to the pleeblands, which are the remains of the city that everyone had once lived in together, specifically displaying how great the compounds are and how poor the pleeblands and its people are. “The dome complex was at the far-right side of the Rejoov Compound. It had its own park around it, a dense climate-controlling plantation of mixed tropical splices above which it rose like a blind eyeball.” (Atwood, 297). In one quote, we see how amazing and controlled the climates were inside the compounds, even though we are only showed one of them.
On the other hand, when Atwood writes about the pleeblands, we see what happens when climate change reaches a point of no return. She writes:
“Jimmy spent a lot of the three-hour trip looking out the window at the pleeblands they were
passing through. Rows of dingy houses; apartment buildings with tiny balconies, laundry
strung on the railings; factories with smoke coming out of the chimneys; gravel pits. A huge
pile of garbage, next to what he supposed was a high-heat incinerator. A shopping mall like
the ones at HelthWyzer, only there were cars in the parking lots instead of electric golf carts.
A neon strip, with bars and girlie joints and what looked like an archeological-grade movie
theatre. He glimpsed a couple of trailer parks, and wondered what it was like to live in one
of them: just thinking about it made him slightly dizzy, as he imagined a desert might, or the
sea. Everything in the pleeblands seemed so boundless, so porous, so penetrable, so wide
open. So subject to chance” (Atwood, 196).
The stark contrast between the two settings shows the reader that what the wealthier and “smarter” did to the world around them could be resolved by making a more protected, controlled area for the elite. Thus, bring forth the capitalistic classism that exists in both the imaginary world of Oryx and Crake and our own world.
In Margaret Atwood’s speculative fiction, we are shown two different worlds that the main character visits. One, destroyed and left unrecognizable and the other created to keep the wealthy and smart safe from the previous city they helped to create. These imaginary companies mirror what can happen to our society if we are to follow capitalistic goals and climate change to the furthest point on our path.
Laying before us, we as a society have three options. One, we can sit around, going nothing while the Earth that we have come to love wastes away before our very eyes. Two, we can continue to fight for a more alternative and sustainable way to drink our fancy expensive Starbucks out of. Or three, we can get on our feet and fight for what’s right. Together we can demand that these big companies and corporations take a step back and change their immoral and unethical practices to ensure a better, more controlled world around us. Our planet is crying. Our planet is dying. And yet, we sit here and put straws and cups above what is truly bringing us further and further down this path of self- annihilation; climate change brought on and furthered by capitalistic greed.
Atwood, Margaret. MaddAddam Trilogy. Oryx and Crake: a Novel. Anchor Books, 2004.
“Looking Ahead.” Exploratorium, 25 Oct. 2018, https://www.exploratorium.edu/climate/looking
Markandya, Anil. “Can Climate Change Be Reversed under Capitalism?” Development and
Change, vol. 40, no. 6, 2009, pp. 1139–1152., doi:10.1111/j.1467-7660.2009.01615.x.
Park, Jonathan T. “Climate Change and Capitalism .” Consilence, vol. 14, no. 2, 2015, pp. 189–206.
Tobgay, Tshering.TED, https://www.ted.com/talks/tshering_tobgay_this_country_isn_t_just_carbon_neutral_it_s_carbon_negtive?language=en.
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Climate Change, Capitalism, and Oryx and Crake: A Road Map for Destruction
By Quinton Callahan