From The Guardian (Hannah Ellis-Petersen South):
Amitav Ghosh can clearly remember his first interaction with the climate crisis. It was the early 2000s, and Ghosh, now one of India’s most celebrated authors and winner of its highest literary prize, was researching a novel set in the Sundarbans, a network of islands around the mouth of the Ganges Delta in the Bay of Bengal, which is home to the world’s largest mangrove forest.
Climate change had barely entered into public consciousness back then, but Ghosh clearly remembers “visible signs that something wasn’t right”.
“People spoke of their homes disappearing, of sea water levels rising and salt water erosion, but no one knew what was happening,” he said. “So I began researching. And as the years went on the signs became clearer and clearer.”
Twenty years on, the Sundarbans are widely acknowledged to be one of the world’s most vulnerable areas to the climate crisis. Rising sea levels are eating away at the islands while extreme weather events have decimated the ecology and made the land salty and arid. Drilling for groundwater has only exacerbated the problem as it causes the islands to sink faster. Some predict that in less than a century, the unique biosphere will disappear entirely.
Spanning horrific incidents of European settler colonial violence carried out across Asia, America, Australia, New Zealand and Africa, Ghosh maps out how the pillaging of those lands hundreds of years ago – and the systematic extermination of their indigenous people – laid the foundation for the climate crisis that threatens the world today.
“Why has this crisis come about?” said Ghosh. “Because for two centuries, European colonists tore across the world, viewing nature and land as something inert to be conquered and consumed without limits and the indigenous people as savages whose knowledge of nature was worthless and who needed to be erased. It was this settler colonial worldview – of just accumulate, accumulate, accumulate, consume, consume, consume – that has got us where we are now.”
Yet as Ghosh sat down to write the book in March 2020, he had no idea that the ideas that had begun to take shape in his head would begin to manifest so dramatically off the page. Suddenly the pandemic hit and New York, where he lives, was one of its hardest-hit cities. “That experience really shaped the book, because the pandemic is the most visible aspect of the planetary crisis that’s unfolding us around us,” said Ghosh. “I think the pandemic more than anything else made it perfectly clear that this is a crisis you can’t hide from. Money will not protect you, power will not protect you, we’re in the midst of it already. It gave it a terrific sense of urgency.”
For Ghosh, the survival of our planet hinges on returning to interacting with Earth as a living being to be listened to, understood and respected. “The indigenous peoples of the Americas have been saying for decades that our past is your future and now that’s exactly what’s proving to be the case,” he said.