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Climate Change and Speculating our Future: MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood

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In the changing global scenario, climate change is the defining issue that challenges the very way we organize our society. Humanity is not only facing the impending climatic catastrophe but the constant negligence and decisions of the totalitarian government make it more evident. For instance, sea ice melted in both Arctic and Antartica, global average Co2 levels hovering closer to 410ppm, rising ocean water forced the Pacific island nation of Kiribati to purchase 6,000 acres of land in Fiji in 2014. The Yup’ik Alaska native village of Newtok requested in 2016, a federal disaster declaration to secure funds to finance the relocation of the entire community due to the erosion of village lands and thawing permafrost in particular places. Despite of all these disastrous events taking place, the Trump administration withdrew the United States from the Paris Agreement on climate change, leaving global diplomats to plot a way forward without the cooperation of the world’s largest economy. Discussing the recent event of prolonged fire in Australia due to extreme heat, drought and strong wind which killed millions of wildlife and the ignorance of the government stating that “fires are nothing new and climate change is irrelevant” shows how much the authority is concerned about the climate crisis. Focusing on the earth’s functioning that is altered by the human acts, Paul Crutzen and Eugene F. Stoermer defined the era as “Anthropocene- the age of humankind” calling the humans as “great forces of nature”. Margaret Atwood’s Maddaddam Trilogy no doubt addresses these gleaming issues of climate change and how it affects the social, economic and political sphere.

Margaret Atwood’s Maddaddam Trilogy speculates a dystopian future that articulate on a specific point of anthropogenic apocalypse: the release of “BlyssPlus” pill by the scientist Crake to clear away human species which he sees as faulty and destructive. And as a replacement he made Crakers, genetically mutated beings whom he believes will repopulate the earth without repeating the faulty human history, thereby making the “Great Rearrangement” which made the “Great Emptiness”. As Toby ( a god’s gardener, survivor, and the narrator of Madaddam) has pondered over it: “May be it’s what drove Crake on, maybe he wanted to end it…the grinning, elemental, malice. Begin us anew (Maddaddam 41).

The plot moves back and forth around this cataclysmic rupture, between and already dystopian past of corporate “compounds” (owned by big corporation having well equipped scientic technologies and well guarded security) and impoverished “pleeblands”(outside of compound walls, filthy slums where people are in constant fear of diseases and crimes) and a post-pandemic present that is the reader’s future. But the pandemic is not only the cause of apocalypse but the global warming as evidenced in the images of a sea turned to “hot metal”, the sky “a bleached blue…hole burnt in it by the sun” (Oryx and Crake 11). And “the coastal aquifers turned salty and the northern permafrost melted and the vast tundra bubbled with methane and the drought in the mid-continental plain regions went on and on, and the Asian Stepps turned to sand dunes and meat became hard to come by” (24).

The first part of the Maddaddam Trilogy, Oryx and Crake deals with Snowman ( self-named by jimmy), the only human survivor who lives among a group of Crakers (genetically bio-engineered species who are resistant to the ultraviolet, thick-skinned, inbuilt with mosquito repellent, grass-based diet and communal mating rituals conditioned for a peaceful and low carbon footprint society). The flashback memory of Jimmy enabled us to peep into the chaotic life of compounds and “pleeblands”. As the trilogy unfolds, this speculative world broadens with other human survivors: from the “Painballers” (aggressive dehumanized corps prisoners who have ruthlessly killed other combatants in the painball arena) to “God’s Gardeners”, a vegetarian cult who are called as ‘eco-freaks’ and the Maddaddams, the bio-terrorists.

Maddaddam was published in the year 2013. Set in the later part of the 21st century, it is a sequel to the first two parts of the Trilogy. The word “Maddaddam” was used by a group of bio-terrorist activists. In Oryx and Crake, the word first appeared in the “Extinctathon” game which proved to be a vital mode of communication (exchanging secrets to prevent hackery) between the members of the group . The motto of the game refers to naming of the animals too: “Adam named the living animals, Maddaddam named the dead ones.” (Maddaddam 194) players have to correctly guess the names of the species through analyzing its “Phylum Class Order Family Genus Speciess” provided by the opponent player. The story begins with the snowman’s encounter with the Painballers and the gardeners, Toby and Ren who are in a rescue mission to save Amanda from Painballers. It continues with survivors trying to sustain in the scarce, destitute remains of human civilization coinciding with the backstory of Zeb that covers all the gaps and silences of the first two novels. It deals with the story of the formation of a new community with outlived human race comprising of Maddaddamites, Crackers and Painballers. Like Oryx and Crake, this novel is written in double time narrative, the post- apocalyptic present and the pre-apocalyptic past from the perspective of Zeb, the leader of Maddaaddamites and the brother of Adam One, who is the founder of God’s gardener. The novel ends with a final confrontation with the Painballers giving a hopeful note towards a future community.

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Atwood speculates the consequences of climate change which makes the world uninhabitable. In Oryx and Crake, snowman wakes up near the beach where “the tide coming in, wave after wave slashing over the various barricades…The offshore towards stand out in the dark silhouette against it, and the distant ocean grinding against the crests reefs of rusted car parts and jumbled bricks and assorted rubble sound almost like holiday traffic” (3) .

It shows the rising of the sea level due to global warming. Similarly, in Maddaddam, she portrays the wish-wash rhythm of the rising sea waves that had “swept away the beaches and the once upmarket hotels and condons were semi-flooded” (168) and the world where material stuff exceeds the number of living species leaving behind the survivors for nothing but “ waiting for meaningful time to come” (136).

Atwood outlined a dystopian future that is extrapolated from our contemporary modernity. It establishes a world of rampant capitalism of individualistic consumer societies, leading to a global ecological catastrophe. Ellis states that capitalism causes social inequalities that supported “audacious strategies of global conquest, endless commodification and relentless rationalization” and thereby results in Earth’s transformation. Inequality in human transformation of environments are merely a reflection of inequalities within and among societies resulting from socio-political and economic processes. In the novel, while the capitalist corporations like “OrganInc”, “AnooyoSpa”, “HealthWyzer”, provide best services like organ donation, younger skin to the affluent compound people, the pleeblanders are striving for trivial needs. Another instance in the novel is “The Church of Petroleum” and “OilCorps” groups who got rich and plentiful when “oil become scarce and the price shot up” causing “desperation among the pleebs…” (111). Zeb narrates, “we didn’t pray for forgiveness or even for rain…We prayed for oil…the Rev included that in his list of divine gift for the chosen.” (113) This is undoubtedly the extrapolation of the familiar event of the oil crisis that had started after the second world war during 1970s in US when the OPEC oil embargo decided to stop exporting oil to the united States resulting in increased oil prices that reduce U.S. economic activity by squeezing consumers discretionary income. Brian C. Black writes that “the inculcation is so dramatic that Americans during the postwar era can be said to exist within an ecology of oil.”

This capitalist corporation (OrganInc) disturbed the animal-human relationship through the creation of “pigoons”, as a medical organ donor of humans. Pigoons are the “transgenic knockout pig host” whose “organs would transplant smoothly and avoid rejection, but would also be able to fend of attacks by opportunistic microbes and viruses, of which there were more strains every year”(22). Moreover, they are infused with human DNA as they are customized using cells from individual human donors” (23). Calina Ciobanu notes that pigoons clearly destabilizes exceptionalist views by becoming in part human. This process of organ production in animal species “reduces the human itself to be a part of a technoscientific, mechanized view of nature.” The insecurity was already shown in Jimmy’s reaction to the rich assortment of pork products in the cafeteria: Pigoon pie again! , they would say. ‘Pigoon pancakes, pigoon popcorn. He did not want to eat a pigoon because he thought of the pigoons as creature much like himself. (Oryx 24) Eating of pork will be much similar to eating human flesh as it is practiced by the “SecretBurgers” when meat was in scarcity. Also in Maddaddam the humanity have no objection in eating the pigoons meat: “Frankenbacon, considering they’re splices. I still feel kind of weird about eating them. They’ve got human neo-cortex tissue” (19).

Atwood goes so far as to endow the pigoons with high intellectual power as human, attacking and threatening the humans creating their own animal culture but also gives them the opportunity of communication, politics and diplomacy. Towards the last part of the novel, pigoons were able to communicate with the humans via Crakers as well as they ally with the humans to fight against the painballers: the Crakers “kneel so that they’re at the level of the pigoons: head face head…they are talking…they are asking for help” from those painballers “who are killing their pig babies. The pig ones want those killing ones to be dead” (269). In the battle between the Maddaddamites and the painballers, Atwood portrays the pigoons as fine military experts, standing guards and clearing away possible cover, are running messages between the scouts and outriders and the main van of older and heavier pigoons: the tank battalion” (246). And later they also took part in the voting on the death decision of the painballers. These scenes have reference to Animal Farm, fitting with the clearly satirical tone of the scenes. The pigoons are more like pigs of Animal farm who believed in the equality and unity to fight against the common enemy (totalitarian government/ painballers) but they do not try to overpower the human beings unlike the pigs in Animal Farm.

Moreover, the novel talks about the sustainable living of the human survivor after the collapse of human civilization. The land in Maddaddam is so wrecked that the survivors have no choice but to continue scrounging among the remains of the very industrial civilization such as the soap, toilet paper, the bed sheet to protect their skins from damaging rays of sun. The “Cobb House” they chose for their place of refuge was a “parkette staging pavilion for fair and parties.” (26) It seems like humanity is going back to the point where the civilization started long before humans even existed as species. Also the hope of possibility of human existence through reproduction of human species by the women survivor and the urge of writing history by Toby presupposes a tomorrow that will bring with it those who will read the words written today. In Oryx and Crake, jimmy thinks that writing is a futile exercise because “he’ll have no future reader, because the Crakers can’t read”, then Maddaddam evidenced a ray of hope, when Toby thinks of writing the future that is yet to come. She thinks “what kind of story?- what kind of history will be of any use at all, to people she can’t know will exist, in the future she can’t foresee?” (205) also by teaching the Craker boy, Blackbeard the art of writing she wants to create a history of this new community. So in the end Maddaddam describes the course of history through the new strategies of altering and using environments that were passed on to future generations through writing. In this light, Atwood emphatically writes “Repair what can’t be repaired, mend what can’t be mended…Hold the fort” (28).

References

  1. Atwood, Margaret. Oryx and Crake. London: Bloomsbury, 2009. Print. —. Maddaddam. London: Bloomsbury, 2013. Print.
  2. Black, Brian C. “Oil for Living: Petroleum and American Conspicuous Consumption.” The Journal of American History (2012): 40-50. Web. 28 Jan. 2020
  3. Bowers, Mike. “waiting for the Tide to Turn: Kiribati’s Fight for Survival.” Guardian 23 Oct. 2017. Web. 1 Feb. 2020.
  4. Carruth, Alison. Wily Ecologies comic Features for American Environmentalism.” American Literary History 30.1 (2018): 108-133. Project Muse. Web. 14 Jan. 2020.
  5. Ciobanu, Celina. “Rewriting the Human at the End of the Anthropocene in Margaret Atwood’s Maddaddam Trilogy.” Minnesota Review 83 (2014): 153-162. Project Muse. Web. 23 Sep. 2019.
  6. “Climate Change.” Un.org. Web. 24 Oct. 2019.
  7. Ellis, Erle C. Anthropocene: A Very Short Introduction. New York: OUP, 2018. Print.
  8. Friedman, Lisa. “Trump Serves Notice to Quit Paris Climate Agreement.” New York Times 4 Nov. 2019. Web. 31 Jan. 2020.
  9. Merola, Nicole M. “Archives of Ecocatastrophe, or Vulnerable Reading Practices in the Anthropocene.” American Literary History 30. 4 (2018): 820-835. Project Muse. Web. 14 Jan. 2020.
  10. Newey, Sarah. “Australia is burning- but why are the bush fires so bad and is climate change to blame?” Telegraph 15 Jan. 2020. Web. 29 Jan. 2020.
  11. Phillips, Dane. “Collapse, Resilience,Stability and Sustainability in Margaret Atwood’s Maddaddam Trilogy.” Literature and Sustainability: Concept, Text and Culture (2017): 139-157. Web. 23 Sep. 2019.
  12. Schmeink, Lars. “The Anthropocene, the Posthuman, and the Animal.” Biopunk Dystopias: Genetic Engineering, Society and Science Fiction. 2016: 71-118. JSTOR. Web. 26 Sep. 2019.

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Climate Change and Speculating our Future: MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood. (2022, Jun 09). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 2, 2022, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/climate-change-and-speculating-our-future-maddaddam-by-margaret-atwood/
“Climate Change and Speculating our Future: MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood.” Edubirdie, 09 Jun. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/climate-change-and-speculating-our-future-maddaddam-by-margaret-atwood/
Climate Change and Speculating our Future: MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/climate-change-and-speculating-our-future-maddaddam-by-margaret-atwood/> [Accessed 2 Dec. 2022].
Climate Change and Speculating our Future: MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Jun 09 [cited 2022 Dec 2]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/climate-change-and-speculating-our-future-maddaddam-by-margaret-atwood/
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