5 things we learned from author Margaret Atwood (BA 1961) at Collision

June 27, 2022 by MaRS Lora Grady

At this year's Collision Conference, author Margaret Atwood (BA 1961) and MaRS CEO Yung Wu (BSc 1982) joined Gideon Lichfield, Wired magazine’s editor-in-chief for a wide-ranging discussion on the conference’s main stage. Atwood and Wu have collaborated frequently on projects to support Canadian entrepreneurs and last year, Atwood was a judge in the $1-million MaRS Women in Cleantech Challenge. Their freewheeling conversation took in the future of tech, social issues and climate change.

Here are five takeaways from their discussion:

1. Optimism beats cynicism — even in these fraught times

A pandemic, a climate crisis, inflation, a sriracha sauce shortage — there’s a long list of reasons for anxiety right now. But Atwood, who was born in 1939 just after the Second World War broke out, can remember when things were a lot worse and people didn’t have many choices — or vaccines. “I’m pretty optimistic. I was impressed with how quickly the vaccines were developed,” she said. “It is not the worst of times yet. And we are still at a moment where we could turn it around.”

2. Politicians should be a lot more worried about climate change

Atwood said we have the knowledge and equipment in the clean technologies that have been developed in recent years. “It’s the willpower that we are missing at the political level. And we’re going to need the luck.” When discussing the potential consequences of climate change, she added that “the kids are scared already. We have to go from scaring the kids to scaring the politicians.”

3. Women in tech still need more opportunities and better funding

When discussing gender diversity, Wu noted that although 30 percent of entrepreneurs are women, they only attract two percent of venture capital. “Diversity of lived experience drives diversity of thought. That is incredibly powerful when it comes to inventing new solutions,” he said.

4. In the U.S., women’s rights are threatened

Speaking four days before the U.S. supreme court ended the constitutional right to an abortion in America, Atwood voiced her opinion the on impending ruling. She pointed out that the leaked draft opinion was based on originalism, a philosophy that the U.S. constitution should be interpreted as it was understood at the time it was written. “Well, the original U.S. constitution did not include votes for women,” said Atwood. “So, if you really want to be an originalist and you’re a female Republican voter, I would think twice about that.”

5. Individual behaviour creates large-scale change

When it comes to creating change, Atwood said, you have to start with what people do every day:  the kind of houses they live in, where they get food, what energy sources they use and the kind of clothing they wear. Solutions have to be carbon neutral or negative, as well as scalable, affordable and attractive enough that people will actually use them. “You can’t say you have to dress in old flour sacks and eat nothing but tofu, because people will not do that,” she said.

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