Margaret Atwood’s “Year of the Flood” is a typical economic dystopian novel about a not too distance future in which the world has been divided into two distinct socioeconomic classes, and the few remaining inhabitants are recovering from a deadly manufactured bio-pandemic referenced as “The Waterless Flood.” The Waterless Flood consumed the world “not as a vast hurricane, not as a barrage of comets, not as a cloud of poisonous gasses. No: it is a plague-a plague that infects no Species but our own” (Atwood p. 424). This plague was released against the public through bioengineering (many speculate that the HIV/AIDS virus was developed with the same intent) and its delivery method was just as sinister: they “put it in the supersex pill” (Atwood p. 395), this clearly denotes the lower-income class and socially undesirables were the targets as it was first released in the Sex District. Corporate Juggernauts like “HelthWyzer” and “CorpSeCorps” have consolidated their power and influence together, while depleting the world’s natural resources. As the world careens into further despair and the people on the bottom of the economic scale begin to fight against the corporate rule, the Corporations ban together and adopt the ideology “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” That is to say, though in financial competition with one another, the rouge legions of militant groups like “God’s Gardeners,” (a theological group’s perspective threaded throughout the novel; much like Octavia Butler’s “Earthseed” from “Parable of the Sower”) are more of a burden to the corporations: enter “CorpSeCorps” and their “CorpSeMen.” CorpSeCorps is a totalitarian governmental force that “started as a private security firm for the Corporations, but then they’d taken over when local police forces collapsed for lack of funding” (Atwood p. 25), and their tactics are reminiscent of Hitler. The plot to “Year of the Flood” is richly developed yet simple and familiar in the genre of sci-fi/cli-fi writing, but what sets Atwood’s novel apart from the rest is its intricate structural design of what can be described as a pyramid triple narrative.
Most readers will only see “Year of the Flood” as a double narrative told from the perspectives of the two main protagonists, Toby/Tobiatha (her story is told from the third-person narrative) and Ren (her story is told from the first-person narrative); however, AdamOne’s voice in his sermons does not read neither first nor third person, but actually second-person narration. For instance, when AdamOne says “Dear Friends, dear Faithful Companions our Edencliff Rooftop Garden blooms now only in our memories. We are driven from one refuge to another, we are hounded and pursued” (Atwood p. 311). AdamOne’s subjective and possessive form use of personal-pronouns “we” and “our” interpretively can be read as the second-person. In second-person narrative the narrator is telling “you” (the reader) what “you” are doing, thinking, or feeling; arguably, AdamOne is doing the same by using the inclusive form of the personal-pronouns. AdamOne’s contextual use of the words are not the same as Ren’s first-person meaning, there is a difference. When readers see Ren use these words it is inclusive of herself and the other characters she is telling the readers about; on the other hand, when AdamOne uses these words it is as if he is bringing readers into the story; the reader becomes his “Dear Friend” his “dear Faithful Companion,” a brilliant literary technique implored by Atwood to bridge a deeper connection between the writing and the reader. More than bridging an emotional connection between readers and the novel, the triple narrative is the framework for the pyramid structure.
Unlike a triangle where two opposite points meet at a conjoining vector of interest, a pyramid has the same basic design, but its structure is a complex layer of building blocks leading to the point of interest, like Atwood’s “Year of the Flood.” On one end of the spectrum is Toby on the other Ren, though walking different paths Toby’s and Ren’s lives will intersect at the peak position of AdamOne and “God’s Gardeners.” The new theological belief system called “God’s Gardeners” fosters around what can accurately be described as a type of vegetarian extremism; the motto of this new religion is “God’s Gardeners for God’s Garden! Don’t Eat Death! Animals R Us…Spare your fellow Creatures! Do not eat anything with a face! Do not kill your own Soul!” (Atwood p. 39-40). This theological concept and its minister AdamOne are the meeting point of interest for Toby and Ren atop the pyramid. At the core, this structure delineates the fall of man: “the Fall of Man was multidimensional. The ancestral primates fell out of the trees; then they fell from vegetarianism into meat-eating. Then they fell from instinct into reason, and thus into technology” (Atwood p. 188). Atwood continues to build the structural integrity of the pyramid as “‘The fear of you’—that is, Man—‘and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every fowl of the air…into your hand are they delivered.’ Genesis 9:2. This is not God telling Man that he has a right to destroy all the Animals, as some claim. Instead it is a warning to God’s beloved Creatures: Beware of Man, and his evil heart” (Atwood p. 90-91). The preceding symbolizes Man’s hubris for advancement as the reason for the world’s destruction. As the blocks reach their peak, many species in Atwood’s world have become extinct because the environment has eroded. In their place, the Corporations have bioengineered new species culminating to the climatic discovery that the Corporations were seeking to bio-manufacture the perfect homosapiens, “Project Paradice.” Paradice Project was about “changing [human] cells so they’d never die; people would pay a lot for immortality. ‘What would you pay for the design of a perfect human being?’ The Paradice Project was designing one” (Atwood p. 305). It is the manufacturing of humans that leads to the completion of the pyramid, and the justification of “God’s Gardeners” linking Toby’s and Ren’s narrative as a whole. Ironically, the bioengineering of plants and animals (including humans) is the novel’s cognitive link to climate-change: sustainability of the world’s food supply through technological bio-advancements.
Succinctly, environmental sustainability involves protecting the natural world, with particular focus on preserving the Earth’s capability to support human life in the future. The correlational link this novel has to climate change is Sustainability: “sustenance is what sustains a person’s body. It’s food. Food! Where does food come from? All food comes from the Earth” (Atwood p. 149). With this in mind, food is the most key resource with direct sensitivities to climate-change; a timespan of too little or too much rain accumulation/precipitation, a fluctuation between hot and cold seasonal weather (when winter turns into spring, and summer turns into fall), or inclement weather patterns like severe flooding and/or hurricane storm systems, can have a significant effect on local crop yields and livestock production. According to an article published in The Guardian “the impact of recent droughts in the USA, China and Russia on global cereal production highlight a glaring potential future vulnerability” (Ranger p.1). The aforementioned quote highlights the adverse effects increasingly warm temperatures will have on the world’s food supply, which is most noteworthy given that Atwood’s novel clearly places her characters in a climate setting assuredly effected by global warming and extreme temperatures of heat. Characters are described as having to wear body coverings “in the sunlight, which is hotter by the minute” (Atwood p. 384), to protect their skin from sun damage and the harmful ultraviolet rays: “pink top-to-toes, for when the sun gets too high” (Atwood p. 365), like when “the sun’s at ten. They put on their top-to-toes and Toby smears their faces with more SolarNix, then sprays them again with SuperD” (Atwood p. 367). The heat of Atwood’s world is miserable with no escape: “it is shadier under the tress, but not cooler. It’s dank, and there’s no breeze, and the air is thick, as if it has more air stuffed into it than other air does” (Atwood p. 375). Attempting to condense the overall effects climate-change will have on the world’s food supply is complex because there are several variables that must be taken into consideration.
Some factors to consider are nutrient levels, soil moisture, water availability, changes in the weather frequency concerning rainfall and droughts are some of the challenges for farmers and ranchers. Global warming temperatures and carbon dioxide (CO2) increases are beneficial for some crops in some places, and deadly for others. Moreover, warmer water temperatures are likely to cause the habitat ranges of many fish and shellfish species to shift, which could disrupt ecosystems. Universally, climate change could make it more difficult to grow crops, raise animals, and catch fish in the same ways and same places as done in the past and present. The effects of climate change also need to be considered along with other evolving factors that affect agricultural production, such as changes in farming practices and technology. The three major food industries that will be affected are Crop production, Livestock reproduction, and Fisheries.
Warmer temperatures will yield a positive effect on a great number of crops by promoting faster growth periods; conversely, these same warmer climates will reduce yields on other vegetation. It is important to note that faster growth times are not necessarily a total positive; for instance, in the case of grains “faster growth reduces the amount of time that seeds have to grow and mature. This can reduce yields (the amount of crop produced from a given amount of land)” (EPA p. 1). Most important to understand in agriculture, pertaining to any crop, is that the effect of warmer climates will depend on the crop’s “optimal temperature” for growth and seed reproduction, and if climate temperatures warm beyond a crops optimal temperature yields will decline.
Warmer temperatures will induce heat stress making animals more prone to “disease, reduce fertility, and reduce milk production” (EPA p. 2). Drought will effect pastures used for grazing and feed supplies, and “may increase the prevalence of parasites and diseases that affect livestock” (EPA p. 2). Increases in atmospheric CO2 may expedite the growth rate of planets that livestock use for consumption providing more food, sounds good, now comes the question of quantity or quality. According to the EPA “studies indicate that the quality of some of the forage found in pasturelands decreases with higher CO2. As a result, cattle would need to eat more to get the same nutritional benefits” (p. 2). Eventually, all consumable animal protein will become diseased and extinct.
Several species of marine life have temperature specific ranges for which they can thrive. Take the cod of North Atlantic, they “require water temperatures below 54°F. Even sea-bottom temperatures above 47°F can reduce their ability to reproduce and for young cod to survive. In this century, temperatures in the region will likely exceed both thresholds” (EPA p.3). Migration of schools is not as easy an option as some may realize; moving into new regions will create competition between the species over food and other resources. Some diseases that affect marine life have the potential to become more dominant in warmer tempered water. In addition to oceanic climate changes, increases in temperature have caused the acidic levels to rise due to surges in atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2). According to the EPA “acidification may also threaten the structures of sensitive ecosystems upon which some fish and shellfish rely” (EPA p. 3). Again, all consumable marine protein will become diseased and extinct.
Given these facts Atwood presents a scenario that present day scientists and biologists are working on to counter this potential food shortage, creating genetically modified plant and animal species that will be able to better endure, survive, and sustain the changing climate. From Atwood’s novel these include the “rakunk,” a cross between a raccoon and a skunk; the “mo’hair,” a sheep with human hair in colors such as silver, blue, and purple; and the “pigoon,” a pig with human brain tissue. The most alarming animal, the liobam, was created by a religious extremist group: a cross between a lion and a lamb, gentle-looking but deadly. Atwood’s fictional claim is not too farfetched as a paper published in the Journal of “Ethics, Policy and Environment” suggests successions of biomedical alterations that could be used in the physiological development of human beings to help them consume less making them more suitable to sustain in the changing food climate. Some of the biological modifications are “pharmacological meat intolerance” (Liao, Sandberg, & Roache p.5) and “making humans smaller” (Liao, et. al. p. 7). The paper suggest that individuals that have an affinity to meat flavors, and want to give it up for ecological reasons, but may lack the necessary willpower to resist on their own could take a pill that would induce mild to severe nausea upon ingestion of meat, which could lead to a lasting aversion to all meat products. Moreover, “meat intolerance is normally uncommon, in principle, it could be induced by stimulating the immune system against common bovine proteins” (Liao, et. al. p. 6); basically, someone can be programmed to distaste meat flavors. Another Frankenstein type of treatment suggested by the authors is genetically modifying humans to be smaller is stature with the logic that smaller humans consume less. There are two ways to accomplish making humans smaller: (1) using “preimplantation genetic diagnosis. It simply involve[s] rethinking the criteria for selecting which embryos to implant” (Liao, et. al. p. 8); (2) using “hormone treatment either to affect somatotropin levels or to trigger the closing of the epiphyseal plate earlier than normal (this sometimes occurs accidentally through vitamin A overdoses” (Liao, et. al. p 8). However, instead of trying to change the physiology of plants and animals, would it not make more sense just to stop overusing the Earth’s resources: “God’s commandment to ‘replenish the Earth’ did not mean we should fill it to overflowing with ourselves, thus wiping out everything else” (Atwood p. 53). The big extraction companies just need to stop, what has been pulled from the Earth is more than enough to compensate for current and future use there is no need to go down the mad science track.
Margaret Atwood’s “Year of the Flood” is a tremendously, highly, recommended controversial book that puts Earth’s over consumption problems at the feet of the major perpetrators, the 1% big business companies, while calling to action individuals to fight now and stop asking “what can I do, am only one person?” This novel evokes individuals to stand: “We must be a beacon of hope, because if you tell people there’s nothing they can do, they will do worse than nothing” (Atwood p. 248). What’s worse than nothing? Sitting idly by and watching the world decay.
Atwood, Margaret. The Year of the Flood. New York: Randon House, Inc, 2009. 1-431. Print.
EPA .Agriculture and Food Supply. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Mar. 2015. <http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/impacts-adaptation/agriculture.html>.
Liao, Matthew S., Anders Sandberg, and Rebecca Roache. “Human Engineering and Climate Change.” Ethics, Policy and the Environment (2012): 1-29. Print.
Ranger, Nicola. The Guardian. N.p., 19 Sept. 2012. Web. 11 Mar. 2015. <http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2012/sep/19/climate-change-affect-food-production>.