Future is quite terrifying

Future is quite terrifying Amitav Ghosh
  • The idea that climate change can be addressed through individual actions is profoundly misleading.

In 2005, Mumbai had an extraordinary deluge, an unprecedented rainfall event. Mumbai is the creative capital of India, our film industry is based there; many writers live there and it is also the artistic capital of India. To this day there is only one film in which the floods figure. Can you think of any short story or novel in which the floods figure? Many writers and artists experienced the floods at first hand, yet none of them have engaged with this phenomenon in their work.

Similarly while writing the book [The Great Derangement], I tried to find memoirs or accounts of the Chennai deluge. I couldn't find a single one. In the end I asked a young person to write one and posted it on my blog. It is so strange that there are no narratives about these events. And these events are not one-off events. They are going to happen again and again and again.

On the one hand, we hear all this happy talk about alternative energy. But on the other hand, the government is opening up more and more forest land to mining and coal mining. The Adani Group is trying to open a massive coal mine in Queensland, Australia. They've had to seek financing from the State Bank of India because no one else would touch the project. But our government is not the only one that says one thing and does another. Obama is eloquent on climate change. But he also opened up off-shore drilling. He hasn’t fought fracking in any important way. All over the world, the governments’ actions are at odds with their words when it comes to climate change.

As for renewable energy it has become a kind of mantra. But let’s take the example of solar energy. Do you think those panels are created out of nothing? It takes a great deal of energy and resources to manufacture those panels. Similarly, wind turbines. In order to create an effective wind turbine, you need solid moorings. So what does that consist of? Steel and concrete. And concrete is a very environmentally unfriendly material. Actually, very often, the talk about renewables is a way of avoiding the conversation that we really need to have, about is limiting consumption.

[Tackling a problem] like this is not just a question for India. It is a question for the world. Can Americans reduce their consumption? Are they even concerned about it? There is a peculiar thing with climate. Every time you see a ray of hope in the horizon, it quickly disappears. So, for a long time, it seemed that there would be a peak in oil, after which oil production would decline. Now we see oil is cheaper than it has ever been. As a result many Americans are buying bigger and bigger cars.

This is really my central problem with these climate negotiations. They don’t address this question of what are the alternatives. Inasmuch as they do, they only address technology alternatives. Lifestyle alternatives? No, never.

One thing is perfectly clear: that freedom, as it has been conceived of, is freedom to consume. That is really what the subtext of all this is.

But these ideas are not impervious to change. California has long been the embodiment of consumerism. But Californians have adjusted quite well to water rationing. To anyone with that laissez faire mentality, rationing is the ultimate evil. But now faced with dire water shortages they are dealing with water rationing. You can see already that in water stressed parts of the world, rationing is going to happen.

Future is quite terrifying

I think the idea that climate change can be addressed through individual actions is profoundly misleading. It is neo-liberalism at work again. In order to evade any sort of collective solution, we try and thrust this on individuals. It is really a way for corporations and governments to evade their responsibilities.

Unfortunately, time is not what we have. For me the elision of this issue in the arts is a symptom of a much broader failure. How this failure can be remedied? I don’t know. At this moment, there are certain impacts that are already locked in. We know that for a fact: sea level rise is going to continue for some time. Some projections say there may be a rise of several metres by the end of the century. Every day we see astonishing news. For example, recently, in northern Alaska, which is a polar region, the temperatures were around 86 degrees Fahrenheit, extraordinarily hot for that area. Every day, there is more and more news of this kind .

Actually some of these changes are happening faster than climate scientists had predicted. That’s it, we are caught in a runaway train. The train is hurtling on and we don’t know where it is going. This summer is only a preview of what is going to happen. If you think of what is looming in the future, it is quite terrifying actually.


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