The Great Derangement: Climate change and the unthinkable

The importance of collectively addressing climate change in the arts at the Indian Summer Festival

Courtesy of Indian Summer Festival.

By: Aritro Mukhopadhyay, SFU Student

When I first noticed that the Indian Summer Festival had invited prolific author Amitav Ghosh for an evening of ideas and literature, I was over the moon. I remember a much younger me trying to tackle The Sea Of Poppies, his 2008 novel set during the opium wars, and failing to understand its significance. As a grown-up, I have come to understand him and his novels — and my mother’s passion when she vehemently talked about Ghosh being her single most favourite author.

Being a Bangali myself (belonging to the state of West Bengal, India), it was reassuring to see someone from the same community being listened to. The fact that I was able to exchange a few words with in after the event in our common mother tongue was the icing on the cake.

On July 9 at SFU Woodward’s, Ghosh lead a talk that dealt with the topic of climate change from a very unique perspective. His book, The Great Derangement, reflects upon our so-called “deranged” political and socio-economic decisions through the spectrum of literature, history, and politics. In the book, Ghosh highlights that human thought, literature, and writing have simply failed to address the impending danger of climate change. That, as a society, we have been postponing the inevitable without establishing appropriate precautions.

Ghosh is alarmed by the fact that climate change, even though imminent and omnipresent, is still treated with a sense of denial and as something that cannot be overturned. Ghosh also links events such as the wars in Syria and Turkey, as well as their subsequent migration crises, and even Brexit as proponents of climate change. It isn’t something from a distant future, and we aren’t just mere spectators to its growing impacts.

The almost voracious rise in sea levels in the Sundarbans (Bengal), the massive long lasting droughts in Chennai, and freak tornadoes are a few obvious signs of climate change that India has been experiencing in recent years. The Great Derangement is a reminder to all artists and writers that it is their responsibility to create mutual understanding and space for apocalyptic thinking. Climate awareness needs to have a place in their work as a document of change that has set in in the anthropocene. Ghosh calls for collective action rather than individual efforts to tackle the problem — if it is left up to individuals to decide, the gravity of the scenario will fizzle out.