It did not take much time for eminent author Amitav Ghosh to come up with his latest book ‘The Great Derangement’ last year after the last installment in his Ibis Trilogy was released in 2015. Ghosh believes there is not much time to lose to prepare for the impending catastrophe as an outcome of climate change that may come up sooner than imagined, if at all.
The writer was in Bhubaneswar for the Tata Steel Bhubaneswar Literary Meet when he spoke about climate change and its unthinkable impacts and much more in a tête-à-tête with pragativadi.com.
Q: From an epic fiction on Opium Wars to switch to a non fiction book on climate change, it did not take long?
A: yes, it indeed did not take long to complete ‘The Great Derangement’ because even as I was writing ‘The Flood of Fire’, I was simultaneosuly paying attention to the issue of climate change. The realisation about climate change had begun with visits to Sunderbans for The Hungry Tide but then I couldn’t understand the enormity of the subject. The more I paid attention the more evident the urgency and disastrous nature of the crisis became. In fact, nothing else is as urgent.
Q: You have stressed on the lack and need of books on climate change by writers of fiction. But isn’t there a lot of discussion in literature as well as all forms of debate about environmental issues?
A: First of all, environment is not same as climate change. Environment is more place specific and limited to a certain area. But climate change is a global phenomena when environment is changing at a much larger scale. And there is also no such separation between us and nature. Together, we form the environment.
Coming to climate change in fiction, probably being a writer of fiction myself, I feel we as writers cannot turn our backs on it. After all, fiction gives us a sense to interpret our world.
Q: There is mention of some shocking statistics in the context of Anthropocene in ‘The Great Derangement’. Could you explain?
A: Indeed the findings of researchers are shocking. For example, in Bay of Bengal, on which 200 million people depend, including those in Odisha and Bengal, and where one in four people on earth lives, last December scietists had found a huge dead zone of around 60,000 square kms that cannot support ant form of life apart from some micro organisms. This patch is not suitable for fish to live. This is causing an enormous internal migration of sea people to various other sea zones like Goa, Sri Lanka and so on. Also, another example is the devastation of the Mergui archipelago that has been destroyed by dynamite and cyanide fishing.
Q: Natural disasters and catastrophe have been witnessed by humans on Earth in earlier ages also. Why then is climate change being thought about so seriously now?
A: True there have been huge natural disasters that have led to extinction of many species. But the last time this happened was in the Ice Age about 10,000 years ago. But there after the climate on Earth has been more stable and we humans are in that context a recent civilization. But this time the catastrophe could be much bigger and is sure to affect more lives.
Q: What kind of impact do you predict for coastal states like Odisha or Bengal?
A: We are a sea people and obviously in grave danger with the change in sea levels. That apart, the human made climate change in the geological records has mostly been caused by corporate industries like mining. In fact, some forms of mining should be stopped altogether like bauxite mining that uses enormous amount of water and also with the deep cuts in mountains, destroys the water levels of the various layers under forests. Also, the toxic waste produced by these mines is huge and is dumped carelessly. The scene in Odisha interiors is different to its coastal area but due to mining can be very bad.
Q: What are the solutions you suggest? Is the Paris Agreement enough?
A: Probably, there is no simple solution to the issue of climate change but government’s should enact towards saving people. Those living near sea should be displaced while being provided all support for adapting to the shift. people in Mumbai for example, are in great danger since the rise in sea level means a major portion of Mumbai will go back to the sea and if it submerges, the impact on the rest of the country will be massive.
No. The Paris Agreement is not at all enough. Rather, like China, we should try to get rid of the carbon economy that has led to this situation in the first place. We must depend on more ingenious and may be traditional forms of energy. Climate change is happening now and we have outrun our capacity to adapt to it!