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Delhi Smog: Smog turns Delhi into a gas chamber

Writers call to confront the smog.

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Delhi smog
Delhi turns into a gas chamber as smog covers the city. wikimedia commons

New Delhi, Nov 8: When acclaimed novelist Amitav Ghosh was writing “The Great Derangement”, a work of nonfiction on the burning issue of climate change, many in literary circles asked him: “Why would you write about something so boring?”

Some two years down the line, as the eyes burn and lungs choke in the “gas chamber” that residents of Delhi find themselves in, his book is a fitting examination of the scale and dangers of climate change.

It was not just a few in literary circles who failed to recognise the problem of climate change; for most of us, it remained something vague. in an interview to this correspondent just ahead the launch of “The Great Derangement”, Ghosh had abruptly asked: “Did you notice the smog that had filled the air just before the onset of winter?”

“I think I did,” I replied. “Well what did you do about it,” he immediately retorted.

Ghosh’s book, however, was a timely response to climate change and deserved much more attention than what it received then.

“Are we deranged,” asks Ghosh in the book and argues that future generations may well think so. “How else to explain our imaginative failure in the face of global warming?” It was his first major book of nonfiction since “In an Antique Land”, and in its pages Ghosh examines our inability — at the level of literature, history and politics — to grasp the scale of climate change.

“In a substantially altered world, when sea-level rise has swallowed the Sundarbans and made cities like Kolkata, New York and Bangkok uninhabitable, when readers and museum-goers turn to the art and literature of our time, will they not look, first, and most urgently, for traces and portents of the altered world of their inheritance? And when they fail to find them, what should they — what can they — do other than to conclude that ours was a time when most forms of art and literature were drawn into the modes of concealment that prevented people from recognizing the realities of their plight? Quite possibly then, this era, which so congratulates itself on its self-awareness, will come to be known as the time of the Great Derangement,” he writes in the book.

Ghosh had added in the interview that, at first, his concerns were about the damage that we are doing to the environment — but climate change is something much bigger.

“When we are talking about environmental impacts, we are talking about specific ecological systems, about specific environments and the ways in which human beings have impacted them. But climate change is something much bigger.

“We are talking about an inter-connected earth’s system, which is changing in ways that after a certain point human beings can’t actually control what is going to happen and that seems to be a situation that we are already in. These changes are occurring in ways that we can no longer impact them. If you look around the world and see what writers are writing about, very few are actually confronting this issue,” he had said.

He also pointed out that, in his opinion, there were no simple or easy solutions.

“What has actually happened is that we have lost the tools, and the ways of thinking, which allow us to understand or even to register what is happening around us. Even if we sometimes find ourselves in the midst of some of these changes, either we are unable to connect it to wider issues of climate change that are occurring or we are unable to think of it in an imaginative way.

“Something is happening, which is going to be, in the long run, catastrophic and yet we are unable to find some story for it,” he maintained.

The fundamental point that Ghosh raised in that interview was that artists, writers and filmmakers have not really given climate change the attention it needs.

He had said that he is “not in the business of finding solutions” but pointed out that one good way to finding a solution is to “understand the gravity and magnitude of the situation we are all in”.

Ghosh suggests 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.

A few weeks from now, the smog may fade away and the perils of today may disappear both from the headlines and our minds. But Ghosh’s book will continue to serve as a great writer’s call to confront the most urgent task of our time.( IANS.)

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This Bamboo Entrepreneur from Philippines Aims at Tackling Poverty and Climate Change

Philippines Bamboo Entrepreneur Digs In on Poverty and Climate Threats

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Bamboo
Bambuhay, a company in Philippines has sold nearly 400,000 reuseable bamboo straws. Lifetime Stock

Mark Sultan Gersava grew up in poverty, one of 12 children of a slash-and-burn subsistence farmer in the Philippines province of Sultan Kudarat.

Today he is the “chief executive farmer” of a company aimed at tackling that same poverty, and combating climate change at the same time.

His firm Bambuhay helps farmers shift from slash-and-burn agriculture – which accounts for about a third of deforestation in the Philippines – to growing bamboo, now in demand as an alternative material to throw-away plastic.

The company, now in its second year of operation, makes popular bamboo straws, toothbrushes, tumblers, and bamboo-based charcoal briquettes, to replace those made from wood.

So far Bambuhay has sold nearly 400,000 reuseable bamboo straws, Gersava said.

In late October, wearing a bamboo salakót, a traditional farmers hat, he told delegates to the One Young World conference of youth leaders in London what drove him to launch his company.

“In the span of one year, I experienced two super typhoons (and) the hottest measured temperature in Philippines history,” Gersava said.

Bamboo forest
A bamboo forest is pictured behind Suntory Holdings’ Yamazaki Distillery in Shimamoto town, Osaka prefecture, near Kyoto. VOA

“This was the first time I had faced the direct consequences of climate change,” he said.

Less Poverty, Fewer Emissions

Gersava settled on bamboo – a fast-growing plant that absorbs large amounts of climate-changing carbon dioxide and can help prevent soil erosion – as a way of taking action on both climate change and poverty.

The Philippines climate, he said, is perfect for growing the giant grass and has helped poor farmers “become agri-preneurs.”

The effort has helped cut extreme poverty for thousands of farmers so far, he says.

“Bamboo is a symbol of poverty in the Philippines. If you live in a bamboo house, you’re very poor – that’s basically how it was before,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“But bamboo now has gained a lot of good attention since I started the company,” he said.

Bambuhay has partnered with the Philippines government and farmers to replant 540 hectares (1,340 acres) of deforested land through the company’s Bamboo AgroForestry Program, Gersava said.

Just how versatile bamboo fibre can be was evident in the entrepreneur’s own attire at the conference, including a sleek bamboo wallet and his cone-shaped hat, a golden salakót.

Such hats are usually made from reeds, but his was produced by farmers from bamboo – a gift in gratitude for his help in pulling them out of poverty, he said.

“When I wear this hat, I feel connected to the farmers. They are the one who are left behind,” Gersava said.

“They are the most important people that we that we need to protect. … We need to value these people more.”

Bamboo Business

Plastic bamboo
Bamboo straws stored in a jar on a table at the Copacabana restaurant on Yoff Virage beach in Dakar. VOA

Last year, Gersava sold his condominium, quit his job and with no formal business training and just $2,000 in start-up funds launched Bambuhay, his social enterprise.

“It’s very hard to start a business in the Philippines,” he said.

“There’s no support from the government, you have very limited funding. … I started with only one person.”

Now Gersava employs 17 full-time staff. He says as CEO his aim is not to become rich but to ensure much of what the company earns passes to its farmers.

Still, in addition to helping farmers, he’s been able to help pay college fees for his two nieces and support his siblings and parents, he said.

He says his work is far from done. By 2030, he aims for his company to have helped establish 1 billion bamboo plants and to have lifted 100,000 farmers out of poverty, especially in extremely poor areas such as his hometown and the province of Sulu.

Growing up in an impoverished family in Sultan Kudarat, he said, has given him a deep understanding of who pays the highest price as climate change impacts, from floods and droughts to heatwaves and storms, intensify.

“The wealthy CEOs and politicians are not the ones suffering the most from the consequences of climate change. It is the rural villager,” he said.

“It is the struggling farmers who are suffering from severe water shortages and droughts that will be the worst hit by food insecurity,” he predicted.

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To battle both poverty and climate change, “we cannot continue with business as usual,” he said.

“We must continue to innovate, to protest and to hold government and companies’ feet to the fire,” he said in a speech at the conference. (VOA)