Acclaimed Writer Amitav Ghosh Ties the Climate Crisis to Colonialism

Acclaimed Writer Amitav Ghosh Ties the Climate Crisis to Colonialism

The celebrated Indian author Amitav Ghosh is best known for his intricate works of historical fiction, but climate change has driven him to write nonfiction now. In The Nutmeg's Curse, released in 2021, Ghosh traces the roots of the climate crisis -- from the discovery of the New World and the sea route to the Indian Ocean to the broader, geopolitical order established by Western colonialism. In the book, the history of nutmeg becomes a vehicle to detail systems of exploitation and conquest transforming it into a parable for our environmental crisis.

Ghosh tells the Guardian that the climate crisis is very much the result of "viewing nature and land as something inert to be conquered and consumed without limits and the indigenous people as savages whose knowledge of nature was worthless and who needed to be erased."

NDTV: "A Climate Emergency," Author Amitav Ghosh, October 23, 2021.

Why This Matters

Ghosh, named as one of the most important global thinkers of the decade by Foreign Policy in 2019, has long been concerned with climate change. Thematically, his new book explores excessive consumption as a byproduct of colonization -- and blames this point-of-view as being a leading factor in the climate crisis. In writing his most recent release during 2020, Ghosh says "the pandemic more than anything else made it perfectly clear that [climate change] is a crisis you can't hide from. Money will not protect you, power will not protect you, we're in the midst of it already. It gave it a terrific sense of urgency."

Ghosh sets an example by centering climate change in his work, no longer ignoring what is arguably the most important problem facing human life on Earth. Through Ghosh's approach to inquiry in his own writing, the vocal literary figure both invites and urges others in the arts to grapple with the climate crisis in their own work.

Reclaiming Indigenous Knowledge

In the US, indigenous scholars and activists have long stressed the importance of reorienting our relationship to nature. The book Red Alert! by Daniel Wildcat, a scholar and Yuchi member of the Muscogee Nation of Oklahoma, makes the case that the environmental movement would benefit from a dose of indigenous knowledge, emphasizing the need for reestablishing a spiritual connection to the land.

In her 2015 book Braiding Sweetgrass, scientist and Potawatomi Nation citizen Robin Wall Kimmerer, calls for an ecological consciousness that acknowledges and celebrates the entanglement and dependence of human beings with the rest of the living world.

Authors like Wildcat and Kimmerer seek a pluralist ecology built on reciprocity and care rather than pursuing human dominion over nature. Ghosh echoes that sentiment in The Nutmeg's Curse. As summarized by the Guardian, "it is not of billionaires or technology that will save us, but instead a 'vitalist mass movement,' driven by human spirit, that 'may actually be magical enough to change hearts and minds across the world.'"

Further Reading

In 2016, Ghosh published The Great Derangement, an investigation into the imaginative failure in literature, history, and politics to grasp the scale and ferocity of climate change.

Center For American Progress: Transitioning to a Nature-Centered Global Economy, October 25, 2021.