World faces inequality, war, famine, fire without change, Margaret Atwood says

Smaller communities adapted to pandemic better than urban centres.

Renowned Canadian author Margaret Atwood says she grew up in the 1950s surrounded by biologists, with dinner conversation covering extreme pollution, habitat loss and interconnected species.

“They said if we don’t change our ways, we’re going to be in a lot of trouble in 50 years,” she said of that table talk. “We didn’t change our ways and we’re in a lot of trouble.”

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“We’re talking about a biosphere,” the best-selling author of The Handmaid’s Tale and dozens of other books and co-winner of the 2019 Booker Prize said. “If you change something here, it’s going to have an effect over there.”

Atwood was the Union of B.C. Municipalities 2020 annual conference keynote speaker in conversation with CKNW radio host Simi Sara. The talk ranged from the pandemic, to climate change and democracy in the United States.

People need to act on climate change, not just talk about it, she said.

Without change, without fixing inequalities in society, Atwood said, the world faces war, famine and fire.

But, she added, work needs to be done at local levels. And, she said, people need to see a benefit for themselves, one that won’t hurt their finances or harm them.

Further, she added, only 1.5% of charitable giving is going to aid biodiversity. “That doesn’t make sense to me.”

Asked if humans are capable of fixing the climate crisis with an economic model or if a new one based on climate restoration, Atwood said, “I think both.”

But, she said, people will have to adapt, jobs will be lost.

“There’s no rule of the universe that says jobs have to continue once they’re no longer useful,” Atwood said. “How many whalebone corset makers do you know? It used to be quite a flourishing industry.”

She said that crisis is just one the world faces along with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Smaller communities may have adapted to pandemic realities faster than urban centres, she said.

“Smaller communities can mobilize faster,” Atwood said. “When they say ‘we’re all in this together,’ I think it’s true.”

The author expressed concern about the rise of authoritarianism. She said clamping down on a free press and controlling the courts and voting process are threats to democracy.

She didn't mention any leader trumping any other in restricting democracy but did say, “I’m betting on the U.S. being ornery enough . . . so they’re not going to march in lockstep.”


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