The two-time Booker-winning author talks with Sadaf Saaz about her work and activism
In today’s world, the climate crisis is an undeniable reality. We are most likely living in a dystopian future where the earth is on the brink of a looming environmental disaster.
Margaret Atwood, a two-time Booker Prize winner, has been capturing the devastating repercussions of climate change for decades through her speculative fiction lens. With her provocative comments and formidable depictions of possible outcomes, Atwood hopes to persuade her readers to change their attitudes and behaviour regarding climate change.
Margaret Atwood spoke with Sadaf Saaz, director of the Dhaka Lit Fest, at the inaugural keynote event of Everything Change on the importance of creative writing in tackling climate crises on June 10. Atwood coined the phrase "everything change" to further emphasise the severity of climate change. Atwood reiterated that climate change is not and should not be viewed as an issue that would affect only one element of life. Earth and its inhabitants are inextricably linked, but when the ecological system and its natural form are demolished or altered, everything else changes in response.
When asked about her exploration of humanity’s relationship with nature and how technological growth is separating the human race from its roots, Atwood responded, "When people think that they are progressive and enlightened, in reality, they are not." She argues that one of the primary reasons people are now detached from nature is the Newtonian concept that everything is a machine except humans. According to the Canadian author, the Newtonian notion led humans to believe that they could "do what they want with the animal world."
Most of the time, people appear to be unaware of the symbiotic balance, namely the reciprocity with nature. They tend to forget that they receive exactly what they give. When humans take anything from nature and do not handle it adequately, they must accept themselves to face the consequences since Mother Nature can only forgive so much. This notion of symbiotic connections within our ecological system is explored in Atwood's nonfiction book Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth, which includes five lectures as five chapters.
During the discussion, Sadaf Saaz notes that Atwood explores ecological debt and views death in a unique manner "through a lens of humanity" and what she observes in "different sectors and spheres, and metaphorical balance sheet that one has with the environment around them."
However, it's not just in the world of speculative fiction that Margaret Atwood reminds us of climate change and environmental degradation. She is also politically active, and she recognises the power of social media. Atwood has discovered the Internet as a form of protest for herself. As an active user of Twitter, she frequently spreads the word about efforts to combat the climate crisis.
At one point, Saaz and Atwood agreed that more critical thinkers and brave orators are needed to contribute to this green movement. They both look up to the current generation to ensure that everyone is aware of the climate problem. Like Greta Thunberg, many young people have already vowed to communicate the looming risks and promote awareness among their generation, which Atwood believes is a significant indicator.
Atwood read two passages from her speculative pieces throughout the hour-long event. The first one that she read from was “Hardball” from the collection of short fiction called Good Bones. The second excerpt that Atwood read is called “Payback” from the nonfiction book titled Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth.
One of the most effective ways for leaders to influence, instruct, and inspire others is to tell stories. Storytelling helps individuals connect with one another and with ideas. Stories help people understand their shared culture, heritage, and beliefs. Well-crafted narratives are more successful in influencing than statistics and data. The power of stories does have potential to change the world.