My recent post on my first impressions of Canada made me think of an Atwood story I really like: “The Age of Lead”, in the collection Wilderness Tips. This story highlights how paradoxal scientific progress can be.
In this story, the character, Jane, is watching a documentary on the Franklin expedition and how all its members died mysteriously on their quest for the Northwest Passage. The documentary, which is based on an actual documentary and book, Frozen in Time, reveals that the explorers died from food contamination. The food they had brought with them was tinned food; at the time, it was a revolutionary invention, yet, it had irreparable consequences. Parallel to this story, we are told the story of Jane’s best friend who died from an undiagnosed disease. The narrative suggests that he might have died from the many consequences of scientific progress, including the pollution that results from it. It shows how scientific progress has its drawbacks: although it makes life easier, it might also be dangerous for us and the environment. “Progress” thus becomes a paradoxal and questionable word and we might not be able to go back to stop what it has started.
The story ends on a powerful image of the streets of a city which, I presume, is Toronto:
“Increasingly the sidewalk that runs past her house is cluttered with plastic drinking cups, crumpled soft-drink cans, used take-out plates. She picks them up, clears them away, but they appear again overnight, like a trail left by an army on the march or by the fleeing residents of a city under bombardment, discarding the objects that were once thought essential but are now too heavy to carry.”
From what I’ve seen, it seems that Canada is taking conscience of what we are doing to our planet and becoming more environmentally friendly. I wish Ireland would make more of an effort…