Atwood in her environment

  So let’s talk about Margaret Atwood and our environment. I know, these two things don’t seem to go together, but they actually kind of do. While I knew her as the author who wrote The Blind Assassin , I never bothered to actually read any of her books- I can’t explain it, but I thought she was the more soapy, beach read type author, and a lot of times those are disappointing. It was my AP Lit teacher that reminded me “not to judge a book by its cover”- literally, as I was partly doing that. He has an extensive collection of books in a bookshelf in the room, so I always find something new to read. A couple weeks ago, he hands me Oryx and Crake and tells me to read it because he hasn’t yet and wants an opinion. I stared at it warily, but as the saying goes, “it’s the inside that counts”- ok I am having way too much fun with this. Basically I read it- no, more like devoured it- loved it, and then reflected. The dystopian/speculative fiction novel follows the story of Snowman, known as Jimmy before mankind was overwhelmed by a plague,who is struggling to survive in a world where the human race has basically been wiped out, and mourning the loss of his best friend, Crake, and the beautiful Oryx whom they both loved. In search of answers, Snowman sets out to find answers through the wilderness that, not long ago, was a great city, until powerful corporations went crazy with genetic engineering.

It is a gritty, in your face, harsh look at the future state of our earth. And yet, it shares a truth that applies to mankind today. We are destroying our planet. I know that it sounds extreme. But you know what else is extreme? our climate change, the extreme storms, the extreme heat waves, the inhumane treatment of animals, the immoral experiments and crazy genetic engineering being carried out. I made a presentation for my AP enviro class about this novel. here are a few key points dealing with Atwood’s take on our treatment of the environment.

  • Margaret Atwood presents a futuristic, satirical look on genetic engineering and the affects humans and technology have on not just our environment but also our cultures, societies and individual lives.
  • Her overall argument about environmentalism in Oryx and Crake has to do with human manipulation of nature. Through her various examples (ie: genetic modification of animals), she demonstrates the human tendency to alter and change our environment so that it better suits our needs.
  • In this fictional world, humans have stopped worrying about the ethical issues revolving around genetic engineering. Concerns for animal treatment, vital ecosystems and false health advertisements, have gone out the window.
  • For instance, the scientists in the compound OrganInc Farms created the “pigoon project”; the goal was to grow an “assortment of foolproof human tissue organs in a transgenic pig host”- organs that could fend off any virus and transfer smoothly from pig to human. But this is unstable and dangerous for both human and animal.
    • They are also kept in a tiny pen and some suffer from the experiments done on them, as Jimmy recounts when his father shows him. “ The adults were slightly frightening, with their runny noses and tiny , white lashed pink eyes…. He was glad he didn’t live in a pen, where he’d have to lay around in his poop and pee.” (pg. 26) this eerily echoes our inhumane present meat and animal testing industry.

What was really telling about her novel, is the look at how we deal with and think about our environment, and what that shows about our humanity. Do we really deserve to live on this planet if we are constantly meddling with nature- genetic engineering, deforestation, etc.? How far should we go to meet our own wants and needs, before it’s too far?

  • The scientists of Oryx and Crake, by deliberately manipulating organisms and natural systems, follow a tradition that views humans as separate from nature. As politician and environmentalist Patrick Murphy observes, “the western idea of human exceptionalism holds a belief of inhuman independence from natural functions, including evolution and extinction.”
  • Human exceptionalism is the “excuse” for humanity’s consumer habits through self dominance over other life forms.
  • In the novel as in reality, humans shape the environment in their search for food and the environment, in turn, shapes humanity.

 I know, sound pretty bitter and harsh about human beings, but I just care about what is happening to my home, to our home. We are taking too much for granted; people throw trash in oceans- polluted water, ecologically important marine life harmed; scientists are genetically modifying food and animals to certain extremes- we consume GMOs and harmful chemicals; and the list can go on. While we have started becoming more concerned and aware of our environmental issues, and coming up with eco friendly strategies, many issues such as the treatment of animals used for testing and food, are pushed aside. So please be kind to the earth. recycle, drive less, try and stay away from animal tested products- just be mindful .

  • Oryx and Crake functions as a cautionary tale, generating an ethical awareness of current agricultural practices from a futuristic perspective. As a fictional world struggling with climate change and overpopulation, Oryx and Crake‘s pre-plague food production systems foreshadow approaching sustainability issues for our current genetically-altered, monoculture-dependent agriculture
  • the post-plague wilderness setting challenges our status as humans on this earth- by playing god with nature, are we creating our own demise?
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