The entry of an eminent writer in the climate change story has brought the oxygen of imagination into the air. The very title of Amitav Ghosh's book, The Great Derangement, provides a much needed shift in focus. It refers to the collective denial of the seriousness of the crises we are living through - with climate change as one of its most serious symptoms. But it describes the planetary crisis through the human derangement, not just as a crisis "out there".
The most significant contribution that the book makes is waking the reader from the anthropocentric and eurocentric slumber of the past two centuries, and showing that the Great Derangement is the consequence of a mechanical worldview.
In the stories about the Sundarbans that the book opens with, Ghosh says, "The land is alive. It is itself a protagonist." This is also what I said in Staying Alive in 1988. And the climate crisis is the Earth's wake-up call to humanity. Ghosh asks, "Can the timing of this renewed recognition be mere coincidence or is the synchronicity an indication that there are entities in the world, like forests, that are fully capable of inserting themselves into our thought?"
Ghosh continues, "and if that were so, could it not also be said that the Earth has itself intervened to revise those habits of thought that are based on Cartesian dualism that arrogates all intelligence and agency to the human, while denying them to every other kind of being?" He reminds us that we are members of an Earth community. For me, this means a deep recognition that every geological age is an Eocene.
When our age is referred to as the Anthropocene, it refers to the power of man to disrupt the Earth's ecological processes. But it would be arrogant and irresponsible to claim that the human power to destroy gives some humans the right to take over the Earth's resources, processes and systems, in denial of the creativity, self organisation, diversity of living beings and living systems. Most nonindustrial cultures view the Earth as living, as Mother Earth. If we are alive today, it is because the Earth creates the conditions of our lives. To be alive on this beautiful Earth is to live in the Eocene.
Another major contribution of Ghosh's book is to correct the arrogance of what he calls the Anglosphere seeing all science and technology as arising within the industrial West. The chapter on history shows that one thousand years ago, China was using coal and Burma was using oil. Piracy defi ned as invention continues today, including patents on climate-resilient crops bred and evolved by the collective intelligence of our farmers. In the chapter on power, Ghosh clarifi es that capitalism is a child of imperialism and colonisation. For the empire, military violence, not innovation, was the basis of domination. The Anglosphere tries to hide its violence behind the narra-EX-LIBRIS Wake-up Call The book is a powerful reminder of the catastrophic implications of climate change that we have failed to grasp. By Vandana Shiva tive of 'innovation'.
My one disappointment is that Ghosh ignores the biggest contributor to climate disruption - the fossil-fuel-based industrial agriculture system accounting for more than 50 per cent of the greenhouse gases. And by ignoring it, Ghosh's creative breakthroughs in the Great Derangement fail to reach their logical conclusion. After referring to the soil, the land and the plants as living, Ghosh, through his silence, fails to address how industrial agriculture perpetuates the false assumptions of dead soil, plants as machines and food as a commodity. Fossil agriculture based on oil-based poisons is also the cause of farmers' debt and suicides, and the disease epidemic.
Fossilised carbon has been forced into every aspect of our lives, polluting the health of every ecosystem, species, through atmospheric emissions, plastic pollution and the destruction of nature's ecological processes. Our water has been destroyed by corporations privatising water and selling it back to us in plastics, further destroying our waters and oceans, and the life contained therein. Our soils have been ravaged by petrochemicals labelled as 'fertilisers', killing all life in the soil, robbing ourselves of everything the soil would give back to us. The powers that have contributed to climate change are trying to convert the crisis they have created into a new market and resource grab.
Ghosh turns to Pope Francis's Laudato Si as a source of inspiration at the end of the book. During his recent visit to Poland, Pope Francis said the world is at war. The Pope stressed he was not talking about a war of religion, but rather a war of "interests for money resources".
Imperialism in times of climate chaos is translating into what Ghosh refers to as the "politics of the armed lifeboat". If climate havoc is a symptom of the Great Derangement rooted in an imagined separation from the Earth, the rediscovery of our "kinship with other beings" offers a chance for sanity. There is an alternative to the politics of the armed lifeboat, and that is the politics of the garden of hope, of seeding a future based on what I have called Earth democracy, of human freedoms redefi ned on the basis of an Earth community.
For the fi rst time in human history, our common future, as a species, is no longer certain. In just 200 years of fossil fuel age, humanity has done enough damage to the Earth to ensure its own extinction. Our only option is to heal the Earth and in so doing, create hope for our future by recognising that we are part of the Earth; not separate from the Earth, and its masters.
The reviewer is an author and environmental activist