Thursday, July 14, 2016

The most important review of Amitav Ghosh's new book of climate-themed essays you will ever read. Nitin Sethi in India nails it!

***UPDATE***:  A rather testy Amitav Ghosh tweets his judgement re ''climate-affected fiction'' and his distaste for ''hypenated'' literary terms like sci-fi - #CliFi
A note and a clarification: Dr Ghosh's new book is not a transcript of the lectures he gave at the University of Chicago in the fall of 2015. It is based on them, yes, but much expanded and extensively rewritten. There is a long tradition of important books derived from lectures -- c.f. the Charles Eliot Norton Lectures, the Clarendon Lectures, Tanner Lectures, etc. This is another. [Oh, and yes, the ''Cli-Fi'' literary term *does appear briefly* in the book, or so I was told by Ghosh's friendly editor in Chicago!]

But for now, let's look at Nitin Sethi's brilliant review and analysis!


HEADLINED: ''Philosopher's guide to climate change''
bylined Nitin Sethi | July 13, 2016
a review and analysis of "THE GREAT DERANGEMENT:
[subtitled] Climate Change and the Unthinkable"

from the pen of Dr Amitav Ghosh

published by Penguin Random House in India
coming in at 275 pages; and selling for 399 rupees

available for order via
NOT available for order in USA until September

BLOG NOTE: Mr Nitin Sethi has written the most important and most brilliantly inisghtful analysis of Dr Ghosh's new book, now published in India (on July 12) and soon to be published in the USA as well (in early September) you will ever read. Forget all the other reviews appearing in India, and forget the reviews that will be appearing in the West in September and October. This review and analysis locks it all up. If you want to know what Dr Ghosh's powerful and important book of essays on climate change -- regarding politics, history and literature -- read this review. Mr Sethi has nailed it and he has done his homework, as has Dr Ghosh.

TEXT BEGINS HERE: [from behind a paywall but open to anyone who wants to read it here. It's so important that it deserves to bust out from behind its paywall and reach the entire world!]

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government celebrated the fact that India secured the
principle of climate justice in the Paris COP 21 climate change agreement in late 2015. Few people chose to
fact-check that chest-beating statement.

It must be said, though, that most of those who
are paid to either decipher or build the conversation on climate change never read the text of the global agreement.

Most of those who did, pr saod they did,
appear to have eschewed the need to scrutinise such bold statements or comment on it.

Amitav Ghosh has read the agreement.

In one section of his 3-part essay, ''The Great
Derangement,'' he notes, “There is only one mention of the word ‘justice’ in the text and
that too in a clause that is striking for the care with which it is worded: the preamble to
the Annex merely takes note of the “importance for some of the concept of ‘climate
justice’ when taking action to address climate change.” The scare quotes that bracket the
phrase ‘climate justice’ and the description of the concept as being important only for
some amount to nothing less than an explicit disavowal of the concept.”

He says what every insider to the climate negotiations has known since the day the
hammer was gavelled down on the Agreement in a Parisian airport hangar at COP 21 in late 2015.

He continues, debunking yet more fallacies that the myth makers of climate change have
sold to the world
, “But an implicit disavowal occurs much earlier, in one of the few
passages in the text that is pellucid with clarity: ‘the Agreement does not involve or
provide a basis for any liability or compensation’. With these words the Agreement
forever strips the victims of climate change of all possible claims to legal recompense for
their losses; they will have to depend instead on the charity of a fund that developed
nations have agreed to set up.”

These two razor-sharp observations and candid assessments are not the reason to go out
and buy his book. Dr Ghosh’s essay has far more enriching lessons that will outlast
many governments and perhaps even the Paris Agreement.

Take one of the most complex planet-wide scientific phenomena that humankind has
tried to understand. On this ever-evolving science, build a projection of how the planet
will evolve. Hinge the future of the human race on this greatest-ever scientific
undertaking. Link it to it the fates of nation-states and their relative power against each
other. That is climate change.

These wide dimensions and the deep consequences of climate change have challenged
writers of all sorts. One has to be confident, first, in her or his knowledge of the
geopolitical realities, the scientific complexity, the economic and technological details
and the ethical arguments that collectively provide a coherent framework to address the

The two classes of people that have largely set the terms of the global public discourse on
climate change are the technocrats and bureaucrats and the activist-writers.

Too often,
they are insiders
who are merely setting the optics or the messaging for their side of the
as it’s called in diplomacy. Which is why writing on climate change peaks around
annual global negotiations, and then ebbs.

Thankfully we now have Dr Ghosh’s brilliant global essay. As a journalist who has attempted to
understand the politics of climate change for a while, I use the word “thankfully” with
full intent.

Dr  Ghosh’s essay -- based on four lectures he gave in Chicago in the fall of 2015 but amplified and rewritten for this book -- creates a fabric out of threads drawn from all the themes that must be
part of a complete conversation on climate change -- science to history, politics to ethics,
personal to the communitarian, literature to geopolitics.

He begins with a query: If
climate change is the biggest challenge humanity faces, why has art and literature failed
to capture the discourse on the subject?

That question raises more pertinent issues: Why
have global politics and humanity at large failed to respond to the urgency that climate
change demands and why are the solutions limited to treating the symptoms, not the

Mr Ghosh is not the first to try to answer these questions. But he excels by deploying
personal narratives to sharpen the reader’s focus on distant ideas.

He prods history,
science, economics and contemporary politics to divulge answers, revealing new nuggets
of information and, importantly, providing contextual illumination for the facts.

One need not agree with all his conclusions but they make the reader think and consider
questions that were previously side-stepped or not thought of.

He dwells deeply on the
consequences of the economic and political forces that have segregated human beings
from nature and made the latter a subject of governance by the other.

He posits the
questions of inter-generational inequity against existing inequity among nation states
and how the two argue with each other to produce the stalemate in which we live.

He highlights the phrases that are never uttered aloud at formal climate negotiations or
fancy conferences and yet everyone whispers
-- the capture of global resources and neocolonialism.

The last one who raised the spectre was the Sudanese negotiator Lumumba
Di-Aping at Copenhagen in 2009,
never to be seen again at the negotiations.

In his intellectual storm surge, some of Mr Ghosh's ideas could each spin off into new
philosophical inquiries into environmentalism.

He talks of this false and evasive tactic
by many to pitch personal moral and civic responsibility of the individual as the
alternative to governments undertaking structural reforms to address climate change.

Have you not heard this perpetual pitch to Indian school children: plant a tree to save the

Have you not smirked at the Indian government turning the Swachh Bharat Mission
into a campaign about individual cleanliness taking focus away from the government’s
own investments in sewage and municipal waste systems?

Mr Ghosh trashes this
palliative approach with a lucidity that is the hallmark of this essay.

He falters at only a few steps. Most are not significant enough to mention. One is.

reading the COP 21 Paris agreement like few have, like most of us who write on the subject, Dr Ghosh
also fails to see that the Paris agreement was a sleight of hand -- that 198 countries came
together and supplanted the original UN Framework Convention on Climate Change,
claiming the agreement was to ensure the implementation of this very mother

The deceit was necessary to reflect the changed world economic order
without acknowledging it.

Mr Ghosh’s essay is all about acknowledging the profound
changes human society and economy have undergone to reach the age of “The Great
Derangement”. So one misses the lack of this particular reference in a book that has
more than 50 pages of end notes

Dr  Ghosh does not present a power point primer on climate change such as former US Vice President Al Gore’s
documentatry movie "An Inconvenient Truth.'' Instead, Dr Ghosh presents a philosopher’s guide to the subject.

The moment
you feel the primers are cheating you, and one usually does rather quickly, buy the

-- Nitin Sethi. INDIA

Amitav Ghosh's new book does mention the rising new literary term of 'cli-fi.' But his target in the third of the book that focus on literature was specifically the realism of mainstream literary fiction.
NOTE: The covers of the Indian edition and the USA edition are completely different.
[Turns out that book titled cannot be copyright, so there can be multiple books titled the same way.]

Amitav Ghosh: 2015 ''The Berlin Family Lectures''

Amitav Ghosh -- LECTURES
"The Great Derangement: Fiction, History, and Politics in the Age of Global Warming"
In four lectures over two weeksin October 2015, Ghosh highlight4r the literature, history, and politics of climate change. All four lectures were held at the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts at the University of Chicago.

The Berlin Family Lectures bring to campus individuals who are making fundamental contributions to the arts, humanities and humanistic social sciences. Each visitor gives an extended series of lectures with the aim of interacting with the UChicago community, and developing a book for publication with the University of Chicago Press.

Ghosh’s four-part lecture, “The Great Derangement: Fiction, History and Politics in the Age of Global Warming,” will begin on Sept. 29, and continues on Sept. 30, Oct. 6, and Oct. 7.

“Global warming is not just a crisis of economy or environment. It calls into question many of our accustomed modes of thought,” Ghosh said in 2015 before the lectures began. “These lectures are an attempt to think through some of the issues that arise when we approach literature, history and politics from the perspective of climate change.”

No comments: