The Climate Chromosome

If you are bothered about climate change, start by questioning consumption, not energy-efficiency, says Amitav Ghosh. Shubh Yatra takes notes

Anybody who has read The Hungry Tide will be familiar with acclaimed author Amitav Ghosh’s avidity with nature. Through the book, he subtly tries to bring to light the unpredictability of nature, the havoc and destruction it can cause and how humans, no matter how powerful, are incapable of stopping it. It has been 12 years since the book’s release, but his interest in nature has not waned, resurfacing in his latest, The Great Derangement, an extensive discussion on the absence of climate change in literary, historical and political discourse.

Ghosh’s primary concern is with climate change and the people affected therein. “We are beginning to see unseasonal rainfall, one of the many effects of climate change,” he says. “In absolute terms, the poor will be the first to be hit – and will be hit the worst, too. That, though, does not mean the rich will remain unaffected.

When nature strikes, it will not pick between the rich and the poor.” According to him, the current discourse revolves around conserving resources and adopting energy-efficient means of livelihood. And the minute we talk about lifestyle, we talk about consumption. “All the conversation now is about energy efficiency and substituting electricity generated through conventional means with solar and wind power. However, energy efficiency always leads to greater consumption – this was pointed out as far back as the 19th century by Samuel Jevons, one of the earliest energy economists. This is, in fact, called the Jevons Paradox. The problem, thus, cannot be solved by questioning efficiency but by questioning consumption,” he points out.

More than that, what disturbs Ghosh is that the subject is not allowed to appear in literature, “because literature has also become about styles of living and consumption”. Modern literature conceives freedom to be the freedom to consume, and does not point a finger at it. Why, then, are no stern steps taken towards conservation when we have conventions and conferences on international levels addressing the subject? Ghosh explains that there is a systematic silencing of voices, as seen in the Paris Agreement. “This issue of climate justice was recognised in earlier conventions such as the Kyoto Protocol. What’s sad is that people do not realise how much the Paris Agreement moves away from this. So, essentially, the whole issue is reduced to something almost laughable, with only a few believing that climate justice is important. Similarly, the agreement completely denies all historical responsibility or possibility of any kind of restitution. All these matters are now off the table,” Ghosh adds.

amitav-ghoshs-first-non-fiction-work-on-the-environment

It is, therefore, the need of the hour to re-orient the conversation towards a more productive direction. “We need to address questions on activism, and I admire those who work on this subject, because there has never been a more difficult issue with the world. Achieving significant movement in this direction is not particularly easy, as borne out by the fact that everything we have tried so far has not worked out the way we had hoped it would. What we need now is a different approach – something the youth of today will relate to,” Ghosh says.

Anybody who has read The Hungry Tide will be familiar with acclaimed author Amitav Ghosh’s avidity with nature. Through the book, he subtly tries to bring to light the unpredictability of nature, the havoc and destruction it can cause and how humans, no matter how powerful, are incapable of stopping it. It has been 12 years since the book’s release, but his interest in nature has not waned, resurfacing in his latest, The Great Derangement, an extensive discussion on the absence of climate change in literary, historical and political discourse.

Ghosh’s primary concern is with climate change and the people affected therein. “We are beginning to see unseasonal rainfall, one of the many effects of climate change,” he says. “In absolute terms, the poor will be the first to be hit – and will be hit the worst, too. That, though, does not mean the rich will remain unaffected.

When nature strikes, it will not pick between the rich and the poor.” According to him, the current discourse revolves around conserving resources and adopting energy-efficient means of livelihood. And the minute we talk about lifestyle, we talk about consumption. “All the conversation now is about energy efficiency and substituting electricity generated through conventional means with solar and wind power. However, energy efficiency always leads to greater consumption – this was pointed out as far back as the 19th century by Samuel Jevons, one of the earliest energy economists. This is, in fact, called the Jevons Paradox. The problem, thus, cannot be solved by questioning efficiency but by questioning consumption,” he points out.

More than that, what disturbs Ghosh is that the subject is not allowed to appear in literature, “because literature has also become about styles of living and consumption”. Modern literature conceives freedom to be the freedom to consume, and does not point a finger at it. Why, then, are no stern steps taken towards conservation when we have conventions and conferences on international levels addressing the subject? Ghosh explains that there is a systematic silencing of voices, as seen in the Paris Agreement. “This issue of climate justice was recognised in earlier conventions such as the Kyoto Protocol. What’s sad is that people do not realise how much the Paris Agreement moves away from this. So, essentially, the whole issue is reduced to something almost laughable, with only a few believing that climate justice is important. Similarly, the agreement completely denies all historical responsibility or possibility of any kind of restitution. All these matters are now off the table,” Ghosh adds.

It is, therefore, the need of the hour to re-orient the conversation towards a more productive direction. “We need to address questions on activism, and I admire those who work on this subject, because there has never been a more difficult issue with the world. Achieving significant movement in this direction is not particularly easy, as borne out by the fact that everything we have tried so far has not worked out the way we had hoped it would. What we need now is a different approach – something the youth of today will relate to,” Ghosh says.

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