Wednesday, July 12, 2017

My response to Amitav Ghosh's THE GREAT DERANGEMENT

This piece turned out to be not so much a book review as a sermon. But perhaps that's the kind of response Ghosh would like...

The Great Derangement
Climate Change and the Unthinkable                                             
Amitav Ghosh     University of Chicago Press 2016
Ghosh is an Indian writer of considerable academic distinction. His main output has been historical novels of great length, precise detail, daunting length and fascinating descriptions.
This book, The Great Derangement, is not a novel but enjoys the same attention to detail. It deals with climate change but clearly from an Asian perspective. He writes in three sections:
Great climatic events have occurred before. The biblical story of the Flood should say something to us! In 1978 Ghosh was right at the epicentre of the only known tornado ever to hit Delhi. Not much is known of the Mumbai cyclone of 1882 where one eighth to one quarter of the population of 800,00 died — primarily because the British encouraged the population to move onto the buffer islands of the delta. In 2005 and 2015 vast deluges have completely overwhelmed the drains of Mumbai.
But get this: in about 1300AD there were stone tablets placed along the upper shore of a coastal valley in Japan. They proclaimed: nobody should build a house below this level. Not only did the people build a city on the waterfront but they established a nuclear power plant there as well. We all know what happened at Fukushima in 2011.
The colonisers of the last three centuries imposed their transport needs on people who often knew better than to live near the shore. All the world’s major cities of the last three centuries have been built close to the sea routes. Colonialism and the coal economy have enforced development of this vulnerability. We continue be de-ranged from known and obvious historical reality.
The great majority of potential victims of climate change are Asian. Rising sea levels could cause relocation of 50m in India and 75m in Bangladesh. 24% of India’s arable land is already turning into desert. Ghandi, 1928:
God forbid that India should ever take to industrialism after the manner of the West. If an entire nation of 300m engaged in similar economic exploitation (they) would strip the world bare like locusts.
But Asia presses ahead with all manner of Western-style medicine, higher education, nuclear armament and space exploration. The standard of living expectations of so many fortunate Chinese are an obvious case in point as we see the massive residences going up in our own suburbs.
In the period of dramatically rising emissions since WW1, the literary and creative elite have let their output be “deranged” from climate change realities. Only a handful of novel writers, dramatists and artists are dealing with real possibility of climate change and they are usually Sci Fi rather than mainstream. What we might call the prophetic role is gone from the creative culture of most nations.
But do we notice? We know: Where were you when Kennedy was killed? Or: Where were you during 9/11? But do you remember the month when CO2 in the atmosphere reached 400ppm? The last time that was so high there was no human life on the planet. We live on the edge—we separate ourselves from the unthinkable.
Widespread denialism on the one hand and vigorous activism on the other clash to produce another derangement which seems to ensure there is no political change.
Strangely, the American Military has somehow sidestepped this political derangement and is investing billions in alternative energy strategies.
As an Asian writer, Ghosh is particularly cynical about the “armed lifeboat metaphor”–that some of us will be lucky and will survive—if we don’t let others get their hands on our resources.
In a fascinating criticism of the Paris Accord, Ghosh compares it with an encyclical from Pope Francis produced a few months earlier the same year. “We fail to see the deepest roots of our own failure”... There’s no language like that in what he calls the Paris Accord’s “waterfall of gerunds”—recalling, welcoming, recognising.
At the very end of the book Ghosh appeals for the great religions of the world to take up the issue. Countries will not do it—either by themselves or internationally. They are structured — deranged, you might say—to look after their own people. Only religions span the world. Religion may be the world’s only hope.
Do we need old-style evangelists?

What am I going to do? 

Almost all NZ's electricity is produced from renewable resources, so in two days we are taking delivery of an electric car....

No comments:

Post a Comment