Power elite waiting for millions to die before acting on climate change: Amitav Ghosh

Globally, power elites are waiting for a ‘Malthusian correction’ and millions of the poor to die before acting on climate change, said celebrated author Amitav Ghosh at the Khushwant Singh Litfest

Amitav Ghosh
Amitav Ghosh

NH Web Desk

Man as a species is facing an existential crisis because of climate change, asserted renowned author Amitav Ghosh. In a conversation with author and presenter Paul Waters on Saturday after delivering the keynote address at the Khushwant Singh Litfest at Kasauli, which concluded on Sunday, Ghosh spoke at length about the crisis. Ghosh, author, social anthropologist and a Gnanpith Award winner in 2018 was speaking at the three-day litfest on the theme, ‘Climate of Change’.

“The situation is really, really bad and the more you know about it, the more you know how bad it is. It is difficult to see how we can get back from here,” Ghosh said.

Everyone who loves good food and good things in life, as “I do”, Ghosh asserted, must worry about climate change and greenhouse emission because all that adds to the taste and texture of life comes from nature.

Asked about the inequality between the global North and South and whether colonialists did mankind a favour by delaying industrialisation in Asia, Ghosh rejected the proposition. Had India and China been industrialised in the last century, he said, the world would have become aware of the harmful effects on Nature much earlier. What was important was consumption and the carbon footprint. Even today 33 Bangladeshis together match the carbon footprint of a single American, he added.

The West, which is so critical and resentful of China’s push for industry and technology, he said, never speak of the contribution of China’s ‘one-child policy’, which prevented the situation from worsening faster.

Here are some of the significant insights the author provided in his conversation with Waters:

1. You think Donald Trump does not know about climate change? Why is he then insuring all his properties and building huge walls? The power elite all over the world are all too aware of the effects of climate change. But they are all waiting for a ‘Malthusian correction’; to put it bluntly, they are waiting for millions of people to die. They think they will not be affected by it. They believe others will pay the price and only the poor will be affected. They are of course completely wrong.

2. It is now established that dams and canals can cause enormous devastation. You have to just look at what is happening in Pakistan and Uttarakhand. I have no doubt in my mind that dams were promoted by the cement lobby which is one of the most powerful lobbies in the world. While the Tennessee Valley Corporation inspired the dams in third world countries, even in the United States there is now a strong movement against dams.

3. Mahatma Gandhi had said that we don’t want to live like westerners. If everyone lives like westerners, the planet will be consumed, he had said; and of course, he was right. But we are now told that greed is good. Indian youth today are as wasteful as westerners. When I was young, I was expected to switch off the fan or else we were punished. We were told that one should not live on loans. There was a realisation that every family cannot have a car, a fridge and an air conditioner. But today we are told that we too must have everything.

4. When I first visited the US in 1988 and saw one person driving one car, I thought this would never happen in India. Few Indians had cars then and those who did, would pack family, friends and neighbours in the car. But now I see the phenomenon of one person in a car in every other Indian city. You must know that the earliest cars were electric cars. But they were pushed out in favour of petrol driven cars.

5. I am deeply suspicious of the saying, ‘Be the change you want to be’, that you are responsible for your actions, that you alone can change the way you live. You must remember that this was promoted by British Petroleum because they did not want regulations. What can individuals do when 20 to 40 per cent of greenhouse emissions are related to defence? Wars and preparations of war are wasteful and disastrous for the environment. But we never learn.

6. There is increasing recognition of the rights of Nature. The New Zealand supreme court recognised the ‘personhood’ of a river. Supreme Court of India recognised the spiritual significance of Niamgiri hill. In Iceland glaciers are acknowledged to have rights. The colonialists, all elite and white Europeans, made fun of animism but people who live close to land and Nature, even in Europe, are now talking of the rights of Nature.

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