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Margaret Atwood and Graeme Gibson
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Margaret Atwood and Graeme Gibson

Acclaimed Canadian writers, Graeme Gibson and Margaret Atwood, recently switched their home to clean, green electricity from Bullfrog Power. Gibson and Atwood have been active on the environmental front for many years, working with a variety of nature and conservation groups including WWF-Canada.

Gibson is passionate on the subject of climate change and relates a story about a visit to an Inuit healing camp on Southampton Island in the Arctic to illustrate his perspective. He was talking to a group of young hunters who had been forced to take shelter in the camp because of heavy winds. The conversation came round to Southampton Island’s resident caribou herd, which the community depends on for winter meat. The previous winter the caribou had suffered serious hunger because warmer weather had brought so much snow the animals had trouble digging down to the graze. "I see famine coming upon us again," one of the hunters, a 28-year-old Inuit man, told Gibson. "If the snow comes, there will be famine."

"This is where we see climate change most clearly," Gibson insists. "Arguments are futile. People on the land know. We can no longer avoid taking a position. We cannot be afraid to take action."

Gibson and Atwood have plenty of ideas about how to take action. And there’s no question that they have gone to great lengths in their own lives to make everyday choices that benefit the environment. At their bullfrogpowered home in Toronto, Gibson and Atwood have implemented a wide range of energy-saving measures, including installing awnings on key windows, thermal blinds to conserve heat in winter and cool their home in summer, and a programmable thermostat that is set to 16 degrees at night. "We like a cooler house," says Atwood. "It helps you to think. And if it gets too cold, we just put on sweaters."

The house has no air-conditioning, summer cooling provided instead by well-positioned shade trees, the awnings, and by having security bars on ground floor windows and leaving the windows open at night. Atwood and Gibson’s Annex-area home is also now bullfrogpowered, a decision that formed part of the couple’s overall commitment to "mitigate our extravagant presence on this earth."

Gibson stresses that meaningful action does not need to be expensive. While he drives a Prius, he recognizes that not everyone can afford a hybrid car, and recommends practical actions like choosing transit, taking reusable bags to the supermarket, switching to Bullfrog Power, and shopping for local produce.

"Solvitur ambulando." Gibson sums up his advice by quoting Saint Augustine. The statement, which translated means it is solved by walking, captures Gibson’s firm belief that personal solutions to the climate change threat can be as simple, practical, and economical as choosing to walk rather than drive – and that everyone can help. Atwood agrees, adding that innovations such as smart meters will allow people to make easy energy-saving decisions – like doing laundry at night during off-peak energy use hours.

Atwood and Gibson’s passion for the environment extends to their writings as well. Gibson, an avid birdwatcher and chairman of the Pelee Island Bird Observatory, has been active in birding conservation issues for many years. His Bedside Book of Birds: An Avian Miscellany is a remarkable exploration of the human fascination with these creatures through the ages. Gibson ascribes this fascination to the human tendency to imbue birds with our "best and most spiritual qualities."  HE argues that birds are emblematic of our relationship to the natural world and our perception of what is happening in that world. "Birdwatching," he writes in the introduction to the book, "provides a personal and very special entrée into the natural world."

Atwood’s writings often paint a darker picture of our relationship to the environment, exploring the consequences of everything from climate change to genetic engineering. Works like Oryx and Crake and Chicken Little Goes Too Far, a short story from her most recent mini-fiction collection The Tent, depict a world in which our actions have wreaked irreversible havoc on the environment. In Chicken Little Goes Too Far, a wry parable about the eponymous character’s thwarted attempt to raise the environmental alarm that the "sky is falling", we are reminded of the need to take personal responsibility for our impact on the environment: "Foxy Loxy moved in the shadow world. He did nasty things for a price, and was a devotee of zero accountability."

 Asked whether these bleaker visions of our interaction with the planet constitute warnings, Atwood doesn’t hesitate: "Absolutely, these are warnings," she says. "Nature is the biggest toy box in the world. People are going to play with it. But we must try to encourage people to act responsibly."

Ultimately, though, Gibson and Atwood seem optimistic about our personal and collective ability to take positive environmental action. Their enthusiasm for practical solutions and for spreading the message that each one of us can contribute is clear. The same "endless inventiveness" that leads humans to meddle with the natural world, they point out, can also help us to save it.

 

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