Amitav Ghosh, who is about equally known as a novelist and an essayist, begins this terrifying book--really a "cri du coeur"-- by asking why anthropogenic climate change, the central crisis of our time, is nearly absent from contemporary fiction. This question initially struck me as odd and narrowly-focused and poorly reflective of the broader societal response to the problem. But he devotes most of the rest of the book to showing that the absence of climate change from fiction is indeed reflective of society's unwillingness to confront it at all. Why? Because of its scale, its pervasiveness, its dreadful implications for the future; the perfect conditions to trigger denial. Ghosh compares the texts of the 2016 Paris Agreement and Pope Francis' environmental encyclical "Laudato Si." Of the first, he writes: "The Agreement's rhetoric serves to clarify much that it leaves unsaid; namely, that its intention and the essence of what it has achieved, is to create yet another neo-liberal
frontier where corporations, entrepreneurs, and public officials will be able to join forces in enriching each other." He is much more sanguine about the encyclical, seeing it as a moral guidepost to effective action, if not a directly applicable one. But to what extent can moral force overcome entrenched interests, short-term vision, and institutionalized hypocrisy?
Two more observations: (1) This display of Ghosh's wide-ranging erudition encompasses many allusions unfamiliar to American readers. Because I teach tropical ecology I am familiar with the Sundurbans. I am not familiar with many of the South Asian writers and thinkers referenced here. I hope other readers will be motivated, as I am, to learn more about them. (2) On page 5 Ghosh refers to the Lake Nyos outgassing disaster, in which some 1700 people died. He says Lake Nyos is in the Congo. It's in Cameroon. The error has no impact on the message of the book, but it's annoying that it got through the editing process.