Amitav Ghosh, celebrated author and Jnanpith awardee, says it’s not him or his body of work that is changing, but it’s the planet that has changed. Climate change effects that are being observed around the world can no longer be escaped. “There’s nowhere else,” he says.
In this special podcast, The Quint’s Opinion Editor, Nishtha Gautam, catches up with Amitav Ghosh to discuss his new book, The Nutmeg’s Curse, which is based on climate change, the history of colonialism and how society has changed over centuries. In the book, Ghosh traces the trajectory of the spread of nutmeg from the Banda Islands to the rest of the world, which is symbolic of the wider sweep of the colonial mindset across the globe that brought both human and environmental devastation.
From starting as a weaver of tales of the history of people to almost straddling the world of climate action today, Ghosh has come a long way. He says it’s what one would expect.
Two Distinct Events That Shifted the Focus
The Hungry Tide (2004) author recalls visiting the Sundarbans in the early 2000s to research for the book. “The climate effect was ever-present. Saltwater intrusion, change in species, it was all very visible there. That’s when I started to take the [issue] seriously,” he says.
Ghosh also marks the 9/11 attacks in the United States (US) as a crucial moment that precipitated a shift in global politics. “On the one hand, there was a natural change, and on the other hand, there was this big shift in global and geopolitics.”
There are uncanny similarities, too. Months after the Hungry Tide was released in the summer of 2004, the massive Indian Ocean tsunami ravaged several countries of South and South East Asia. In 2019, the wildfire that approached the Getty Museum in Los Angeles occurred just six months after Ghosh had finished the chapter in Gun Island (2019). “It was so disturbing to see that play out in real life,” he says.
A Harsh Indictment of Development Politics
In The Nutmeg’s Curse, Ghosh has presented a harsh indictment of developmental politics in its current form. The present-day politics is not very different from colonialism and the white man’s ‘development burden’.
On the rich shirking their climate responsibility and blaming the poor, he says it’s a classic case of blaming the victim.
He remarks, for example, “There’s this brainwashing that someone will buy a Tesla and [it will] shrink their carbon footprint. The embodied emission in producing a Tesla is enormous... it has a huge footprint not just in terms of carbon, but other elements as well.”
According to Ghosh, ‘common but differentiated responsibility’ is the way forward for nations. The US, the United Kingdom, Russia, and European nations that developed fast have huge historic emissions. In contrast, China and India’s per capita emissions currently are smaller. “But again, we have to remember that the middle class and wealthy Indians' carbon footprint is just as big as that of Americans,” he says.
On the ongoing COP26 Summit, Ghosh says it may not be very different from any of the other meetings. “Already now we can see the huge roadblocks it has run into,” he says, referring to Jair Bolsonaro’s demand that Brazil be paid for preserving the Amazon, Saudi Arabia’s diluting of the language, and India’s possible brainwashing given its opening up of forests and coal mines.
Tune in to listen to the whole conversation!
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