Book Review—The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable by Amitav Ghosh

By Ashish Manav

Amitav Ghosh’s 2016 masterpiece The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable is a phenomenal work that showcases the drastic impacts of human ignorance on climate change. The book aims at indulging the readers to question mankind’s everlasting unwillingness to accept climate change. It explicitly talks about how such ignorance could indeed result in callous, never before seen circumstances that, when put together, could very well be no less than an Apocalypse. Throughout the book, Ghosh puts forth a number of theories positing why there is a dearth of serious attention and acknowledgement by the social and political organizations on Climate change, especially at a time when natural resources and fossil fuels are being carelessly extracted vast amounts. He says that if this issue doesn’t get resolved, then the time is not very far away when Earth will be exactly resembling the deserted and gruesome reality of Venus.

Ghosh’s book is divided into three parts; Stories, History, and Politics wherein he writes about the causes that have led to a derangement of the global climate. The narrative goes from the harsh realities of his ancestors, who witnessed the destructive nature of the climate, to the present day scenario. This narrative is accompanied by shocking statistics that make the readers dejected and somewhat guilty of not heeding it at some point in time. Furthermore, Ghosh’s attempt to talk about such a topic is one of the first in the literary genre that also attracts the readers to give the book a go.

The book indulges in a variety of views and themes ranging from the Capitalistic world we are living in, to the Politics that shape the very world, and from the climate to its change and its sustainability. The book’s three parts talk largely about a potential climate crisis that unfortunately we are living in. In the first part, Amitav essentially narrates a vivid and surprisingly odd anecdote, one that he feels is “the first of its kind.” The incident is of a tornado that hit the Indian capital of Delhi on 18th March 1978 that at first started as rain, turned into a hailstorm and eventually took the shape of a disastrous tornado killing thirty-two people in the area. Ghosh writes, “It was a tornado that hit northern parts of the Capital yesterday—the first of its kind… According to the Indian Meteorological Department, the tornado was about 50 meters wide and covered a distance of about five kilometers in the space of two or three minutes.” “I saw an extraordinary panoply of objects flying past—bicycles, scooters, lamp posts, sheets of corrugated iron, even entire tea stalls. In that instant, gravity itself seemed to have been transformed into a wheel spinning upon the fingertip of some unknown power.” The author remembers the horrors of the incident, all the while diverting to New York and Mumbai, the two cities on different sides of the world but equally prone to the danger climate change poses. He describes the position in which Mumbai, a city with nearly 20 million people is. He says that it is at great risk of being devastated by the threatening cyclonic activities that the change in climate could lead to. He also describes the similar problems with New York City, which sits on the shore of the Atlantic Ocean being on the verge of similar catastrophic events should the problem of climate change not get addressed and tackled.

Throughout the book, many arguments are brought about by the writer that talks about why there is havoc in the climate. One of the most fascinating of them is how the distribution of Power has been executed in the World. It is no hidden fact that Europeans colonized almost the entire world at a time during the late eighteenth century, up till the mid twentieth century. One of the key facets of colonization came in the face of Industrialisation. And it was industrialisation that marked the onset of the phase that has led to such a change in climate as we see today.  The use of machines over human labor proved beneficial, in the sense that goods were now being produced at a faster rate and in bulk. However, what the Europeans did not take into consideration was the fact that machines, over time, required more fuel to operate. And this, in turn, led to the process of exploitation of fossil fuels which caused a staggering amount of pollution in the environment. Many European countries have recently come up with solutions to protect the climate. Some of them include, as the book mentions,  relocating the industries and factories to other regions such as Asia and Africa. However, this would only be preventing their own skies from getting polluted and would still cause climate change in other parts of the world. Furthermore, these regions already suffer from a lack of inequality in terms of income and standards of living, and this only adds as a major cause of climate change.

The book is a serious attempt to portray the malign that climate change is, and the threats it poses. What’s worse is that these threats and the climate change at large are hardly talked about and taken seriously by the world leaders. They simply counter-argue that the world is much much better than it was in the past, backing their claims through economic growth. They even go on and claim that the world is going to be much better with the current status quo. What they fail to accept is that the world has seen the devastating effects of climate change over the past two centuries. And if ignored like this, the future generation will have to bear the cost. They will have to live in the constant grips of pollution, pandemics, and poor living standards. And the situation will be even more gruesome in the developing parts of the world. All in all, the book is a must read for all those who are either facing the similar problems that the book discusses or are yet to experience them.

Ashish Manav is a rising 4th-year student at Ashoka University pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in History and International Relations.

Image credits – Mint

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