Margaret Atwood: The War Against Climate Change is Our Battle for Middle Earth

By Margaret Atwood on at

When I was asked to do a piece for Gizmodo, I confess I went a bit silly. I had the idea of describing a Lord of the Rings parallel universe, using the climactic scene in which the Dark Tower tumbles down, the Nazguls perish, the Ring is destroyed, the good guys win, and a new day dawns.

All of this would have related to the recent Canadian election, in which a government hostile to the mere notion of “climate change” was voted out, and a new government willing to at least make planet-friendly noises came into power. It would have gone something like this:

The Day The Climate Changed in Northern Middle Earth Gather round, children, and I will tell you a tale of a mythical time, in the land of the beer-drinking, hockey-playing, tuque-wearing, little fur-footed people of the Great White North Blank-on-the-Map.

On that far-off legendary day in October, the little fur-footed people, oppressed for a hundred years — it was only ten years, but it felt like a hundred — crouched in their darkened burrows, watching as the battle that would decide their fates unfolded on the far-seeing screens.

As the Tide of Liberal Red washed across the map from East to West, the Eye of Mordor in Ottawa blinked, and the Ring of Power slipped from view; and the Iron Bubble imprisoning the Castle on the hill cracked and shattered, and many undead Nazguls, including several Cabinet Ministers, plummeted down in flames; and a grey cloud in the shape of a menacing hand stretched out, shredding many papers; but winds from the East and the West and the North and the South swept the cloud away. And there was much wailing among the Trolls; and some vanished into clefts in the rocks and some into the consulting firms.

And the next morning the day dawned fair, and the little fur-footed folk skipped around, singing like the finale in a particularly chirpy musical; and they trilled of Sunny Ways. And the young prince ascended unto the Hill, and was crowned king; and there was much hoo-hah. But the time approached when the young king must go to join the Great Folk of the Wide World in a crucial discussion concerning the Magic Blue Marble on which they all lived, and which was in great peril from the carbon dioxide within its air and the acidification within its waters.

But the young king had many challenges, and also the Dark Lord had left a legacy of behaving like unto the nether end of a horse, and of pissing off the Great Folk in respect of the Changing of the Climate. So alas, most probable was it that the Great Folk might not give a rat’s ass about what the young king had to say.

And on top of this challenge, all those released from the curse of the Cone of Iron Silence imposed by the Dark Lord, having been forbidden to speak even of such lowly things as fish and algae, began to voice their bottled-up opinions, and to give advice to the young king; and varied and copious and ofttimes confusing was the advice that they gave; so that the young king was in danger of addlement, before he was even a month into his reign.

****

That’s as far as I got. Sober up, I told myself. This is not a fairy tale.

So I snapped out of the enchanted trance in which I had been wandering; a trance, I must add, that has been shared by a great many of my fellow citizens, so weird and depressed had the outgoing Harper government made them feel. The clampdown on data — data paid for by the taxpayers — had been unprecedented in their experience, as had been the absence of meaningful public dialogue and the extremes to which the efforts to assert control had been taken.

For a while there, Canada felt a lot like East Germany during the Cold War, though nobody had yet been shot for dissent. Climate change initiatives were one of the casualties: Harper was all for oil, but not much for anything else, and Canada was beginning to show the kinds of distortions typical of petri-states. Have they been saved by the plummeting price of oil? Not exactly: having had a government bent on ignoring or even suppressing other sources of revenue, they’re going to get poorer in some ways, and the low Canadian dollar is already reflecting that.

Which leaves the new Prime Minister facing some large challenges at the Paris summit. How to address climate change? It’s clear that cutting emissions by cutting the burning of fossil fuels is only part of the solution; and if you cut too far too fast, a lot of people really will freeze in the dark. Renewables such as wind and solar have not always been deployed wisely. (Hint: keep the wind farms out of parks, and away from raptor migration areas. Why have war between two sectors that ought to be cooperating?)

New technology will supply part of the solution: all-electric cars that recharge directly from solar are already on the market, as are home storage solar batteries. As the price comes down, a distributed grid looks more and more plausible as part of our future.

Some speak of carbon taxes: but what would the revenue generated from them be invested in? Cutting emissions by replacing fossil fuels with renewables is one way to go, but there are now a number of technologies that actively remove carbon from the air and turn it into other things. One of the fastest, cheapest and most efficient ways of removing carbon is not even a technology: it’s the regeneration of degraded tropical rain forests. This has the added benefit of aiding biodiversity and helping poorer parts of the planet by restoring traditional sources of income.

Just as “climate change” does not have a single cause nor a single bundle of symptoms, so the remedies we adopt will, in the best of all worlds, be multiple.

...And the Age of the Climate Deniers had drawn to an end; and there was rejoicing among Elves, and Dwarves, and Me. And hobbits. And Ents. But there was sadness too, as they saw how much had been destroyed. Nonetheless, after drinking heartily of the Waters of the Entwash and of the products of the microbreweries along its banks, they set to work, and mighty and multiple were their labours. And lo, the carbon that had spewed forth under the reign of the Dark Lord began to diminish, and, sprinkled with the magic dust of WTftior, a lot of enormous pink flowers burst into bloom, colourful birds flitted through the foliage, and...

***

But I mustn’t get carried away. First things first. Let’s see if the new Canadian Prime Minister makes a creditable showing in Paris. Even if he improves Canada’s climate score from an F to a B, or even a C, we’ll be modestly happy. There's a lot of catching up to do.


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