The Great Derangement

Author: Amitav Ghosh
Title: The Great Derangement: Climate change and the unthinkable Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Year: 2016 Link: The Great Derangement: Climate change and the unthinkable

We need to un-learn many things to make progress on climate change, but my imagination can be limited by what I know. As Amitav Ghosh writes in The Great Derangement (p.20), "... one of modernity's most effective weapons: the insistence that it has rendered other forms of knowledge obsolete."

p. 130: As Timothy Mitchell has shown, the flow of oil is radically unlike the movement of coal. The nature of coal, as a material, is such that its transportation creates multiple choke points where organized labor can exert pressure on corporations and the state. This is not the case with oil, which flows through pipelines that can bypass concentrations of labor. The was exactly why British and American political elites began to encourage the use of oil over coal after the First World War.


p. 133: .... state the obvious: that the scale of climate change is such that individual choices will make little difference unless certain collective decisions are taken and acted upon. Sincerity has nothing to do with rationing water during a drought, as in today's California: this is not a measure that can be left to the individual conscience. To think in those terms is to accept neo-liberal premises.


p. 135: Climate change is often described as a "wicked problem." One of its wickedest aspects is that it may require us to abandon some of our most treasured ideas about political virtue: for example, "be the change you want to see." What we need instead is to find a way out of the individualizing imaginary in which we are trapped.


p. 138: There is an excess to denialist attitudes that suggests that the climate crisis threatens to unravel something deeper, without which large numbers of people would be at a loss to find meaning in their history and indeed their existence in the world.

In other words, the climate crisis has given the lie to Max Weber's contention that modernity brings about the disenchantment of the world. Bruno Latour has long argued that this disenchantment never happened and this is now plain for all to see. The "everyday political philosophy of the nineteenth century" is, as Keynes understood very well, an enchantment just as powerful as any dithyrambic mythology. And it is perhaps even harder to disavow because it comes disguised as a truthful description of the world; as fact, not fantasy.


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