The novelist Amitav Ghosh published his most recent non-fiction, The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable, before Donald Trump and his merry bunch of climate refuseniks assumed power in Washington. Yet, the key message of his book about the nature of empire in an age of globalisation that is driven by populism and climate denial is eerily prophetic.
Climate change negotiations like the 2015 Paris Agreement threaten the global power status quo, and voters in some western democracies are convinced that this will result in an erosion of their power and wealth. Global disparities have widened in the post-colonial world. But to attain true climate justice, industrialised countries would need to cut their emissions by 80-90%, something that is politically untenable for petroleum addicts.
Since he was so accurate in predicting how climate denialism in America could lead to someone-like-Trump, we have to believe Ghosh when he draws a parallel between the carbon economy and militarism. The irony is that while the political-corporate complex in Washington backpedals on the environment, the American military sees increased instability around the world due to global warming. It is addressing the new challenge of âgreen securityâ through greater surveillance of environmental activists and an âarmed lifeboatâ mentality.
âCorporations and energy billionairesâ are funding research to sow confusion about anthropomorphic climate change so that the corporate media underplays the dangers of warming by trying to be âbalancedâ. Such false equivalence has parallels in the way the US media covered Trump during the election campaign last year. Ghosh wrote these lines at a time when a Trump victory was not even a remote possibility: âThe denial and disputing of scientific findings has become a major factor in the climate politics of the Anglosphere.â
Ghosh sees the laissez-faire philosophy of the pursuit of individual happiness that underpins Anglo-Saxon cultures as central to the climate crisis. Although he may be accused of extrapolating a bit, there is merit in the argument that âthe rate of climate denial tends to be unusually highâ in the US, UK and Australia. It is the Anglosphere that is driving the global carbon economy of the anthropocene to protect the western âway of lifeâ. Ghosh acknowledges that official denialism in these countries exist in direct contradiction to a growing citizenâs movement and global environmental activism.
The grip of fossil barons on the new US administration is so strong that it has failed to see the potential to make money from renewables. Under public opinion pressure, the Nordics are weaning themselves off petroleum: new car sales in Norway will be 100- per-cent zero emission by 2025, and one breezy day last July Denmark produced 140 per cent of the electricity it needs from wind farms and exported the surplus to neighbours. China has discovered that âgreenâ is not just synonymous with environment but also with âgreenbacksâ, and is already the worldâs largest exporter of wind turbines, lithium-ion batteries and photovoltaics. Under Trump, America risks being left behind in the global race for green energy. India, for its part, will soon be the worldâs largest emitter of greenhouse gases and is relying on what Ghosh calls the âpolitics of attritionâ â the argument that the poor are more used to adapting to hardships than the rich. Ghosh forces us to think about the links between a world burning hydrocarbon energy to provide carbohydrate energy for 7 billion humans.
The less compelling chapters in The Great Derangement deal with Ghoshâs somewhat intricate attempt to unravel why novelists do not write about climate change. He asks: Where is the fiction about the facts of global warming? Readers may question why this navel gazing is even needed, except for an esoteric class in Contemporary English Literature. Ghosh admits that he himself has failed to incorporate in his novels the geological scale of the changes humans have wrought during the anthropocene. âThe climate crisis is also a crisis of culture, and thus of the imagination,â he writes, âintimately linked with the wider histories of imperialism and capitalism that have shaped the world.â
Trumpâs efforts to roll back Obama-era gains on climate action show how fast politics can move. Global warming is also much more rapid than scientists predicted, with the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere crossing 406 ppm this month. Perhaps Ghosh needs to bring out a new edition of The Great Derangement, because however dire his prognosis, it has already been overtaken by events.
In 1998, after India conducted its first underground nuclear bomb test, Ghosh wrote a slim volume of non-fiction titled Countdown on how fallout from a full nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan would contaminate the Himalayan icecap, turning rivers that irrigate half of Asia radioactive. A future update of Derangement could look at the accelerated deposition of soot from coal and diesel burning in the subcontinent, hastening the melting of Himalayan glaciers in Asiaâs water tower.
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