Book Launch: The Great Derangement

Vrushal Pendharkar

The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable
The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable   (Photo: Penguin India)

“Serious contemporary literature has failed to consider climate change as part of its narrative.” observed acclaimed writer Amitav Ghosh, speaking at an event to launch his latest book, The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable. Ghosh is somewhat baffled at the ignorance shown by writers towards the subject of climate change. Most of the writing on the subject takes the form of news reporting or opinion articles, usually following a natural disaster. Seldom is climate change central to a novel or a piece of fiction.

The book launch was  held recently at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore. Ghosh was joined in a panel discussion by Rohini Nilekani, Chairperson of the Arghyam Foundation, R. Sukumar, professor, Centre for Ecological Sciences, IISc, J. Srinivasan, professor, Centre for Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, IISc and Karthik Shanker, director, Dakshin Foundation.

Various topics related to climate change like lack of political action and the economics of climate change were discussed by the panel. However, Ghosh was particularly interested in the science of climate change and the communication of the phenomenon. He opined that scientists working in the field of climate change have couched the subject in technical language riddled with jargon, making it incomprehensible to public at large. This should not be the case, he added, since climate change is not as complicated to understand as something like string theory. Ghosh doesn’t think it is only the scientific community at fault. He pointed out that even artists, writers, politicians and lawyers have been unable to bring this most serious of threats facing the world in public conscience. He recollected a meeting with two famous artists soon after the deluge in Mumbai. He was surprised to learn that despite the flood damaging the artists’ work, the event had never been depicted in their art. The effects of climate change have featured in some of Ghosh’s previous work like The Hungry Tide. In his initial comments, Ghosh also underscored that society at large must take responsibility for its actions. He noted, “Communities believe this is an issue of communication. They think that if people understand they will act. I personally believe the issue is much grimmer. People do know everything but they refuse to act.”

Sukumar, speaking next, observed that although the idea of climate change was propagated by science almost 30 years ago, it has only started to feature in our conversations in little over the past decade. He thinks it only really caught people’s imagination after the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change and Al Gore in 2007. Sukumar declared that one challenge in communicating the impact of climate change in India is the paucity of information, apart from the greater levels of uncertainty in weather patterns. For example, temperatures will rise, monsoons will be affected, glaciers will melt and sea levels will rise. “But we don’t have clear information on actual impact, so how does one plan and adapt?,” wonders Sukumar.

He was followed by Srinivasan who said, “In India, climate change is occurring due to confluence of factors. It may not have an immediate impact. Factors such as population explosion and aerosol usage has contributed significantly to climate change.” He is of the opinion that it is a human-induced phenomenon. Being a populous and developing country like India is a challenge for governments and societies alike to combat a problem like

At the end of the discussion, the packed audience had a whole range of questions for the panel. From wanting to know what one can do at an individual level to mitigate the effects of climate change, to commenting on how caricatures in children books serve to educate them about their future world, the audience had pointed questions for the panel.

Ghosh’s hopes that the book starts a conversation among all strata of the society about the ailments plaguing our only planet. The society needs to be aware as “climate change is not about economic conditions but political arrangements too.”