Amitav not Ghosh: What is the West to the climate crisis-and understand


In the new novel, The Islands of Amitav Ghosh, climate change plays a Central role. The multi-award-winning author tells DW how differently the crisis on the Eastern and Western hemisphere is true.

As a small Boy, Amitav Ghosh was completely clear where the pineapple came from that landed on his plate. “They came from the garden. I have watched how the people cut them into small pieces,” he says.

His garden was in Kolkata, India – my garden in a suburb of Manchester in England. There was only some Grass, a tree and an old football. Nevertheless, we ate the pineapple in small pieces, but mostly out of a can. I’ve never thought about where the fruit came from.

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At a Meeting with Amitav Gosh, we got to speak on it. I visited the Indian author in September, in Brooklyn, in his kitchen we talked about our memories. How differently you perceive things, is also the subject in his work “The great delusion. Climate change as the unthinkable” from the year 2016.

The author presents at the outset, the question of why it is so difficult to make the climate change in a modern English book on the subject – at least then, if it is not a Science-Fiction novel. His conclusion: The Western literature was caught in the last 200 years in a world in which the human Comedy and tragedy had nothing to do with environmental issues. In the book, Ghosh also discusses the dynamics of Power. In his opinion this leads to the debate on climate change in the Eastern hemisphere is quite different than in the Western.

Western novels, he says, must usually meet two requirements: they should be plausible and human Action to describe. Could something like this happen? Our Hero manages to struggle through his moral adventure? His new work “The Islands” is, in some ways, the attempt to break free of these conventions. It is a coincidence full of abnormal typhoons, and less likely – and makes the climate change framework for action.

Increasing forest fires, Floods, and droughts mainly affect the poorer countries

Crisis and knowledge

His book “The great delusion” also differs from other recently published literature, which deals with the ecological destruction – “The inhospitable earth” by David Wallace-Wells (2019), or “Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist” (2017), Paul Kingsnorth, for example. The books are of people in the USA or in the UK, have made a terrible experience and now try to deal with it.

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Also, Ghosh is aware of the existential threat, but he seems to have no fear. He is of the opinion that the current crisis says a lot more about the colonial past as a destroyed future. For some people in this world, the disaster has already occurred.

“I have a friend who is a philosopher and says: All Future projections are essentially projections of Power,” he says. “Therefore, it is almost always the White, which make these projections, because you are projecting in fact, the Disappearance of Power in the future. I don’t know anything about the future.”

“I come from a part of the world in which we never had rosy expectations of the world or to the future,” says Ghosh. “We knew that there would be a lot of changes and experienced these changes first-hand. People in the West, I believe, is given the promise of the Belief in stability and a Future. It was like that with me.”

According to Amitav Ghosh, the West has begun to rely on “expert discourses” of scientists. The result is that the research fulfilled the fear, people hope – hope in an economy-friendly, sustainable development, biofuels, or climate-friendly technologies, which they believe that they will save the System before it collapses.

Amitav Ghosh says that, for many people, the climate catastrophe has already occurred

Ghosh sees climate change as an aspect of the British Empire

A fundamental economic adjustment, including a reallocation of resources, was too scary. The end of capitalism will be perceived as just as bad as the end of the world.

“The people who have experienced the climate crisis first, are at the other end: farmers, fishermen, Inuit, indigenous peoples, forest based peoples in India. The had to adapt already, most of the time, by leaving their homeland in search of a new livelihood,” says Ghosh . “And indigenous peoples have already to survive the end of the world is living through and found ways to.”

The British Empire

Ghosh considers that it is no coincidence that the already mentioned requirements for novels arose in the period to make use of when the West started to fossil fuels, in order to be a world power.

“Climate change is an important aspect of the British Empire,” he says. “The colonial Empire was built in substances, basically with fossil fuels. It is the British domination of the coal, which gave them great military advantage over the Rest of the world.”

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This is also one of the reasons why renewable energies are a threat to the System that have built up in the West over centuries and defended. “One thing is for sure, if in a big way on renewable energy would be converted, that would bring the global, political order completely messed up,” says Ghosh. Because Oil and Gas had to be by sea, narrow headed, controlled by the US, Australia, UK and Canada. This would give these countries a major geopolitical advantage.

Ghosh says that farmers, fishermen, Inuit and indigenous peoples have experienced climate change first-hand

Power and justice

Seen in this way, it is no wonder that climate change in the West, triggers, especially Fears of social Abstiegl and extinction. “I think people feel in the West that the entire order is changing in a way that is extremely threatening,” says Ghosh.

Therefore, the Problem of historical injustice for the people of the Eastern hemisphere is at the centre of the climate debate. “If you go to a Indonesians, Indians or Chinese to people so that the climate risks are well aware, and say: Why not reduce your immediately all the emissions?’ What will you hear? The answer, always highly political, is: ‘The West has created the Problem, should you give up there first of all.’ This is the terrible Dilemma we’re in.”

Climate change in the developing countries, already a lot of devastation. Nevertheless, it is assumed that the wealth of the people over the centuries have built, will serve a total ecological collapse as a buffer to avoid catastrophes.

“We are always told that the rich countries can better adapt. I do not believe that this is indeed the case,” says Ghosh. “I think countries with very complex systems, such as the USA and Europe, are in many ways much more fragile. Just think of the distribution of food.”

And so we came to the pineapple. It is easier to get them, if you are growing in your garden.