After reading Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye recently, I was fuelled with many thoughts about today’s current political and social climate. But climate change was at the forefront of my mind.
Although the novel is over thirty-years-old, nothing mentioned seems like a trait of the past. Atwood is good at that. She manages to keep everything she writes relevant, and that might be due to the philosophical twist to her language.
Whilst it was not my favourite book of hers, it was still fruitful in discussion. I found myself highlighting quote after quote, exhausting my tabs. And after reviewing each quote I found the majority of the points I marked were about the environment.
Maybe that was because the foreboding nature of climate change was lurking in my subconscious. Fuelled by my younger brother learning the concept of consumerism and shouting every day that he doesn’t want any Christmas cards because Christmas is all about consumerism!
But it certainly seemed to be lurking in Atwood’s subconscious three decades ago. Re-entering the city after many years in nature, her protagonists are overwhelmed by the sight of a “shopping complex”. She explores this term as if it is a psychological disease. “… what they call a shopping complex as if shopping were a psychic disease. It’s glassy and betiled green as an iceberg”.
One of the greatest factors on global warming, consumerism and capitalism, are presented a disease upon the earth, and upon ourselves. We could analyse the building that houses global corporation after global corporation to reveal all the damage they have caused to the earth.
An “iceberg” jutting out of the city, a typical Freudian diagram. But also a symbol of global warming. A warning of what could happen if you keep supporting all these companies that do nothing but pump toxic gases into the atmosphere.
But the “shopping complex” is also your state of mind. It reveals what you see about the environment. If you carelessly dance around the complex picking up anything you like, then throw it away a month later, icebergs will become an inconvenience for you.
But, if the complex has many empty shops or smaller independent business, it reveals a healthier psychological state with shopping. You are more conscious of what you purchase.
Of course, there is a huge debate around belittling individuals for where they shop. Not everyone can afford smaller businesses and need to shop where environmental standards are not as good. This conflict has created much tension around global warming. It scares people into changing their lifestyles for worse, not better.
At one point Atwood writes: “I see that there is no end to imperfection, or to doing things the wrong way”. Every action feels scrutinised. You drive instead of the cycle on a rainy day – you’re a bad person. You buy bananas wrapped in plastic because there is no other option – you’re a bad person. You eat meat twice a week instead of being a dedicated plant-based vegan – you’re a bad person. There is no end to the criticism. Someone is always going to find a way to be upset with you.
However, doing one small thing is better than doing nothing. And if we all do small things, this will combine into a multitude of greater things. Of course, there will be imperfections. We are humans, it is our condition. But, it only makes us more imperfect to criticise others when we could be encouraging them.
“Potential has a shelf life”. We, and the planet, is wasting away with each second. Why waste our time complaining our what other people are doing wrong when we could use that potential doing something right. Cheering others on.
We should use our ability to talk and communicate to put it to good. Other creatures, that we know if, don’t have this ability. Why waste it, when we could save the world with it.
Ironically Atwood writes: “The future belongs to insects”. She talks about insects being stronger than us. They have lived before us, and they will outlive us. Just because we have a brain and have developed the capacity to reason, does not mean we have a survival tool.
We should look at what other creatures do to survive. How they maintain a habitat (that we destroy). There is a lot we can learn from animals. Teamwork is one of them. Think about ant colonies. Passing pieces of food from one ant to another, we can barely do that!
So next time you encounter someone who accidentally eats meat for dinner, ask what would an ant do? They certainly would not belittle each other.