Amitav Ghosh: Products of Folly


An interview with Emily Mkrtichian:

Guernica: In a recent speech for the European Cultural Foundation, you addressed migration and climate change as factors contributing to the “crisis” and “catastrophe” our earth is now facing. You also said, “Nationalism is indeed one of the most pernicious threads in this helix of disaster.” How does nationalism contribute to our current situation? Is this the same patriotism that Captain Mukheriji spit in the face of?

Amitav Ghosh: Yes, I think it is in many ways a perfect example of that. If you take two examples, the US and Australia, both have made perfectly clear that they will make no move on climate change. At all costs they want to preserve their own standard of living if it be at the expense of destroying the whole world. It is nationalism carried to its greatest and most absurd extreme. Essentially what we are seeing is an absolute refusal to address any of the issues, to reach any kind of compromise geared toward the world community and absolute insistence on maintaining their own standards of living which are unbelievably wasteful and which have really essentially created the problem in the first place.

Guernica: Right. We know that if everybody in in the world were to live by the same environmental standards as people in the United States or Australia, it would be completely unsustainable. You mentioned in your speech that collective ideals and sacrifice for the greater good are values that have really disappeared from the US or Australia in that sense.

Amitav Ghosh: The US and Australia are good examples—what happened was that European populations arrived in continents that were relatively underpopulated and had enormous resources. Basically, they created these extremely wealthy, but also extremely spend-thrift civilizations that are just big predators; just sucking everything up. There has been incredible resource extraction, to a point where now their own ecosystems are collapsing. Most of all in the US, where the aquifers have been drained and they are no longer able to sustain agriculture. It all grew out of this idea that everyone should pursue their own profit at all costs and no value is attached to the common good. The common good is a principle that literally doesn’t exist in the US discourse anymore.