Greeting the New Year: 2018
Part 1/January 3, 2018
It would be pleasant to greet the New Year with a sense of joy and hope, full of positive energy and ready to make 2018 “the best year yet.”
Or, it would be nice to say hello by posting a list of “resolutions” that would check off all the great things I’m going to accomplish in the next twelve months—you know, lose weight, exercise more, get organized, spend more time with friends and family. All lovely ideas.
But this year my main goal is to find a way to challenge the Great Derangement. And what, you may ask, is THAT?
The Great Derangement by the Indian-American writer Amitav Ghosh was released in 2016 just a few months after the Accord de Paris, otherwise known as the Paris [Climate] Agreement. The Agreement, which was adopted by consensus on December 12, 2015, is intended to promote actions to mitigate global warming and to limit the global temperature rise to no more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. As of November 2017, 195 members of the United Nations had signed the agreement. In June 2017, President Donald Trump announced his intention to withdraw the United States of America from the accord.
As you might imagine by now, The Great Derangement addresses the issue of global warming and its outcome, global climate disruption. But Ghosh’s book isn’t just about the already familiar story of the early Anthropocene, Earth’s most recent geologic time period based on overwhelming global evidence that atmospheric, geologic, hydrologic, biospheric and other earth system processes are now altered by humans. It is more specifically about the cultural life of our present era and asks why, in a time when climate change should be one of, if not the largest, pressing concern, the topic has been largely ignored. Why do we seem so incapable of addressing something that we know is coming straight at us?
Ghosh looks at a wide range of “cultural landmarks” from the Vatican to the Internet, and finally concludes that just where you’d expect the greatest outcry—from writers and artists—there is a great silence. Serious fiction, he concludes, has been the least willing to deal with what is, in his opinion, humanity’s most serious concern. Why is this so?
According to the University of Chicago press, the publisher of The Great Derangement, Ghosh “examines our inability—at the level of literature, history, and politics—to grasp the scale and violence of climate change.
The extreme nature of today’s climate events, Ghosh asserts, make them peculiarly resistant to contemporary modes of thinking and imagining. This is particularly true of serious literary fiction: hundred-year storms and freakish tornadoes simply feel too improbable for the novel; they are automatically consigned to other genres. In the writing of history, too, the climate crisis has sometimes led to gross simplifications; Ghosh shows that the history of the carbon economy is a tangled global story with many contradictory and counterintuitive elements.
Ghosh ends by suggesting that politics, much like literature, has become a matter of personal moral reckoning rather than an arena of collective action. But to limit fiction and politics to individual moral adventure comes at a great cost. The climate crisis asks us to imagine other forms of human existence—a task to which fiction, Ghosh argues, is the best suited of all cultural forms. His book serves as a great writer’s summons to confront the most urgent task of our time.” (http://www.press.uchicago.edu/index.html)