Author Amitav Ghosh advances the conversation on colonialism and climate change in his new book, The Living Mountain. In an interview with Sunday FE, he explains how he visualizes a planetary reset. Edited excerpts:
“If there’s one thing that became very clear at the last Cop 26 in Glasgow, it’s that international mechanisms are fundamentally broken.” For author Amitav Ghosh, the solutions to climate change lie not in forums that ignore the human connection or geopolitics, but in mass grassroots movements that he hopes will lead to a planetary reset. “There is every reason to be skeptical about the fate of the planet. But there have been plenty of times when massive changes have happened suddenly and unexpectedly. As in the case of opium. Opium revenues kept the British government alive. But a global coalition has formed, with the Chinese at its head and the Americans and even the British joining. Eventually it became so strong that the British accepted that opium should be regulated. So I wouldn’t underestimate the power of grassroots movements,” he says.
For him, the Adivasis and the natives are already leading the charge. “The most flawed movement toward fossil fuel companies was the Indigenous-led No Dakota Pipeline Movement that created a broad international coalition, drawing people in from around the world. They were violently opposed; the energy companies hired private militias to attack them with dogs and guns, but they stood their ground and their argument was always based on the sanctity of their land, soil and water. We see a similar movement in Niyamgiri, where the tribals won a Supreme Court judgment in their favor to stop mining on their land. Likewise, the nature rights movement has become extremely strong. It has also been recognized in the Italian constitution. In New Zealand, a river has been recognized as a person. Glaciers have been recognized as beings in their own right in Iceland. So as the crisis deepens, energy companies will find it increasingly difficult to defend what they are doing. Look at the 350.org movement. They have already led to numerous divestments in energy companies. So it’s not as hopeless as it seems.
What is hopeless for him is political will. “International forums are fundamentally broken. This became even clearer with the war in Ukraine. What was very striking about Cop 26 was that three of the most important players in the world – Xi Jinping, Putin and Jair Bolsonaro – were missing. And as we know, Brazil holds the key to the fate of the world. The Amazon is the largest carbon sink in the world and already emits more carbon than it absorbs. But the good that came out of forums like Cop 26 was that young activists could connect with each other and build global networks.
Linking climate change to colonialism, he recalls how his interest in the planet began with what he saw in the Sunderbans. “While researching The Hungry Tide I could see all the worrying trends, rising seas, dwindling species, disappearing islands… As I started reading it started to appear that if you were looking at the global south, the view is completely different from the global north. In the global north, climate change is seen as a completely different problem with technological and scientific solutions. And the main solution they advocate is to reduce the carbon footprint. But when you go to countries in the South, you ask them if they think they should reduce their carbon footprint, and the answer is “why should we? Anyway, it’s much smaller than the western world. They got rich when we were weak and poor. Now it’s our turn.’ So basically what they’re saying is that it’s about colonialism, about geopolitics. Not to recognize this and not addressing it is what I would say is one of the major failures of the Cop process. You look at the Paris Agreement. The word justice appears only once. He says: “The question of justice is important for some”. They barely recognize the problem.
And it’s getting worse and worse. “The difference between, say, before 1980 or before 1990 and today is that the global South has completely accepted and taken over the colonial logic. We are now taking away the land and rights of Adivasis and indigenous peoples, and we are doing what the western world once did. And this is, in my opinion, the most catastrophic dimension of the current situation.
So what and who does he see as solutions? “Sci-fi writers have come up with different kinds of solutions where things get better with technology and science. But in my opinion, they are thinking of the wrong solutions. They think about science when on a visceral level it is more of a human and political issue. The reset will first have to be a geopolitical reset. »
So, does it completely neglect technology? “I don’t discount technology and hope there are solutions, but let’s face it, everything we see around us every day is an unintended consequence of technology. At one point, it seemed to be a great idea to have petrol cars instead of electric cars because at the beginning of the 20th century it was quite possible to have electric cars and many tried too, like Tesla, but it was fundamentally derailed by the fossil fuel industry. The only thing I would say about technology is that this idea that alternative energy can solve problems of scale is a misconception. I think that’s wishful thinking. Because alternative energies also require a lot of extractive practices. For example, for solar panels, you need various materials that must be extracted at great cost to the environment. Similarly, if you think of wind turbines, Finally, they need a lot of steel and cement. And cement is one of the most harmful materials. And we don’t talk about it very often, but cement is after fossil fuels the most dangerous substance for the environment. And cement lobbies around the world have a huge hold on political systems. How come huge road projects get approved in no time, even where they are not needed? How are these vast dams sanctioned? The only credible technology recognized in the Paris Agreement is carbon capture and storage. But no one has come up with a plan for that. Planting a few trees solves no problem. Planting even a million trees is not the same as planting a forest.
The Living Mountain
Pp 48, Rs 399