Our understanding of climate change has not advanced after the recent climate negotiations, the CoP26, November 2021 in Glasgow. Climate change, being the most complex and lasting of the series of environmental challenges that humanity and the planet have faced over the past two and half centuries, has no easy solution. It eludes a commonly acceptable problem statement across nation states; it punishes and rewards emission innocents and criminals with no discernment or judgement. Yet, there are some in countries like India, who know to live and even prosper differently, even as we adapt to climate change and can possibly contribute to climate mitigation. It is this poignant pause in our ways of knowing the climate crisis that the Weather Report addresses. The book brings to us the key concerns, our knowledge of and possible responses to climate change, even as we begin to acknowledge the multiple and rapidly interacting vulnerabilities that we face today. It comes in the wake of a pandemic, one of nature’s ways of telling us that our rapid economic expansion over the past two hundred-odd years is unsustainable. This surreal moment in our history, in our evolution as a species, in our existence as individual nation states and state-centric responses to a planetary crisis, come alive in this collection of essays.
The Weather Report coming in the wake of predictions about the extinction of the human species1 presents to the reader the much-needed hope that there is still scope for correction. In this review, we present a summary of the book and point out why these findings and insights into knowledge and cultures for sustainability should not run into walls of apathy and ignorance.
Calling it ‘weather’, focusing on the everydayness of change in India, Agarwal’s brilliant introduction draws our attention to ways of being and re-learning to live within the nested circles of nature. The first part of this collection of essays (‘Broad Perspectives’) begins with the essay ‘New Imperatives for International and Domestic Climate Policy: Rethinking India’s Approach’ by Navroz K Dubash and Lavanya Rajamani on the quagmire of international and domestic climate policy. It feeds into the argument in ‘India’s Moment to Lead the World to Sustainability is Here’ by Wagaki Wischnewski, Barron Joseph Orr and Pradeep Kumar Monga that in combatting desertification, investing in the restoration of degraded lands and achieving land degradation neutrality, India has a great opportunity to lead the sustainability transition, and ‘move the world away from the self-destructive growth path we have followed until now’ (p. 19). But internationally, as the essay, ‘Disaster Management: Institutionalising Risk-Informed Planning’, by Janki Andharia, reminds us, it is the impossible targets like downscaling economic activities of the developed countries by 4-6 per cent per annum, as agreed in the Katowice Climate Package (of CoP24) that constrain the very formulation of effective climate policy. Given that the developed (early industrializing) countries will not downscale their own economic activities, risk-informed planning becomes central to developing countries: for survival and to ‘ensure that development gains are sustained at local and regional levels’ (p. 46). But Sagar Dhara in an essay aptly titled ‘Catch 22 and Double Whammy for South Asia in a Warming World’ tells us that regions like South Asia confront an increasingly limited Carbon space making it impossible for them to burn more fossil fuels to develop (like the developed West did) even if the entire remaining Carbon space of 500 GtCO2 is given to them. That South Asia has historically contributed less than 4 per cent of the global historical emissions, is home to over a quarter of the world’s population and is open to a series of climate disasters and consequent economic and political crises in this limited Carbon space is a double whammy indeed.
The second part, ‘Landscapes of Change’, shows us how our taken-for-granted daily rhythms and seasonal changes are shaped by and are already responding to climate change. There are ten essays here addressing climate crisis in specific ecosystems, ecosystem-based livelihoods and well-being. Academics and activists, Suman Sahai, Ghazala Shahabuddin, Nishant M Srinivasaiah and others, Madhuri Ramesh, KJ Joy and Veena Srinivasan highlight the problem, contexts, policies, technological and other solutions in their essays on agriculture, forestry, wildlife (human-elephant interactions, coastal ecosystems and drinking water). Addressing the oppressive and discriminating social and economic systems, specifically on gender, health care, energy, and waste, essays by Nitya Rao (‘Achieving Gender Equality in the Face of a Climate Crisis’), Soumya Swaminathan (‘The Future of Health in a Climate Crisis’), Kaveri K Iychethira (‘Rethinking Institutions for India’s Transitioning’) and Aravindhan Nagarajan (‘Bans May not Work’) explore how unequal means and impacts of climate change are likely to roll out in India. Finally, Uttam Kumar Sinha’s essay ‘Climate Change and Security’ discusses how in a biased and (weaponry) loaded international military and political order, the question of national security is inevitably one of environmental security. The ugly truth of loss and decay, of irreversible destruction and uncertainty that our powerful national governments knowingly inflict on our beloved children is captured in Sadr’s photo essay, ‘The Lost Home’; an agonizing contrast to the stable (Holocenesque) assurance and warmth of the homes in the stories we grew up on. The third part of this book is a treasure, hedonistically and aesthetically, and is off the beaten track of climate change literature. There are articles featuring transdisciplinary pedagogy, ‘A Transdisciplinary Conceptualisation of Climate Change: An Educator’s Journey’ by Vandana Singh, and ‘Climate Change and Beyond: A Holistic View’, by Bharat Dogra highlighting the ecological that is visceral to our daily lives, our very existence and relationships—material and personal, ‘Performativity and Ecology’ by Navtej Singh Johar. Three essays discussing climate justice, ‘From “Climate Change” to “Climate Justice”: “Civil Society” Movement(s)’ by Soumya Dutta, a dynamic and flexible re-presentation of climate change decision making featuring interactions between the main actors and their functions (by Paulina Lopez and Ravi Agarwal), and the plight of birds in Delhi, ‘The Air in Her Lungs is a Destitute Pigeon’ by Nitoo Das, force us to confront the multiple realities and everydayness of the climate crisis in our midst in our very bones.
Climate change is no longer the international or global phenomenon that we can push ‘away’ like the West did when they built taller chimneys in response to acid rains, and outsourced dirty production, waste treatment and recycling to the developing countries (along with much desired Foreign Direct Investment (FDI)) when their water bodies were almost dead (‘Lake Eerie is a cesspool’…as Boulding (1966) remarks).2 But, as the Weather Report reminds us, let us not rely too heavily on governments; their indifference to the plight of our own tribal populations displaced from their home grounds for carbon trading (with monetary inflows from (high GHG emitting) developed countries), ignorance and decisions to ignore probabilities of climate events and magnitudes of loss, are enough illustrations. Internationally, what has changed with CoP26 is open acceptance of the failure of climate action by nation states and consequently, increasing faith in non-state actors as the major hope to take on the climate action challenges. With all the state-centric climate negotiations and bargaining for more climate mitigation and adaptation funds and technologies, it is ultimately the local and regional actors and their deliberative capacities that hold the biggest promise for resilience and sustainability. The unfortunate part is that it is unlikely that the developed West or our own consumption-engorged middle and upper classes, will even begin to understand the spectre of extinction of the human species that they have created and refuse to account for. Even more tragic is the opportunity that India is losing today, to lead by example, to create an ecologically just, diverse, equitable and prosperous society.
For us in India, the perspectives in Part One highlight the need to curtail prevalent economic activities of and for the developed West. They reveal how important it is to seek regional, sector-specific and local problem statements, risk assessments and informed planning. The essays in Part Two point to the critical constructive engagement of community-based local solutions. For instance, in forest management, for conservation as well as for sustainable livelihoods with a massive increase in the constituencies and diversity of approaches for eco-restoration, as highlighted in the essay by Shahabuddin. We find communities knowing and governing themselves in their local ecosystems with information or norms of mitigation and adaptation that complement each other; this is what Sinha asks nation-states competing for economic growth and political power to do.
These essays and the painfully real photo essay bring home the richest legacy of the 20th century: the legacy of self-reflection and democratic deliberation. It takes us beyond our ability to explore what we know and ask if there are better ways of knowing and acting on what we know. It makes us ask why some industrialists, academics and politicians in Europe thought about the ‘Limits to Growth’ in 1972, and how economic growth was clearly marked as the key driver of the unsustainable planet. We have the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with us today, promising a development process and results that may help address the climate crisis. But we should ask why and how understanding of the 1970s of economic growth as a prime driver of unsustainability, got reversed by the Brundtland Commission in 1987, making economic growth one of the key solutions (along with ecological and social sustainability) for sustainable development. Ecological economists have told us that economic activity is essentially entropic; there is a constant build-up of waste and heat. Given this thermodynamic reality, ‘thermal pollution could prove to be a more crucial obstacle to growth than the finiteness of accessible resources’ (Georgescu-Roegen 1975, p. 358).3 Our governments, desperate to grow like the West did in the past, had decided against learning and change several decades ago!
When the editors of this book remark about learning processes and the organization of knowledge that must change now, we recall the Global Risk Report (WEF 2021)4 listing ‘climate action failure’ by nation-states as one of the five biggest risks. The inability to organize knowledge around real biophysical problems even as we know how our economic activities worsen these problems is a political problem. As Singh reminds us here, this is just plain wrong and must be corrected; especially when we have the ability to conduct trans-disciplinary research which brings us more accurate problem statements, and more plausible solutions in an uncertain and complex reality. That nation-states can learn from local communities, from their institutions or norms governing their ecological and social systems, holds promise and hope.
- Henry Gee 2021. A (Very) Short History of Life on Earth, St. Martin’s Press: New York.
- Boulding, K. E. 1966. ‘The Economics of the Coming Spaceship Earth’, in Henry Jarrett (Ed.) Environmental Quality in a Growing Economy, Johns Hopkins University Press: Baltimore, pp. 3-14.
- Georgescu-Roegen, N. 1975. ‘Energy and Economic Myths’, Southern Economic Journal, Vol. 41 (3): 347-381
- World Economic Forum 2021. The Global Risks Report 2021, 16th Edition. WEF.
Rajeswari S Raina, Professor, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Shiv Nadar University, Uttar Pradesh, is co-author with Keshab Das, ‘Whither Rural India? The Developmental State and Labour at the Margins’, in Padmini Swaminathan and Uma Rani (Eds) State Capital Nexus: Implications for Labour, Anveshi Broadsheet on Contemporary Politics, 2021; co-editor with Keshab Das of Inclusive Innovation: Evidence and Options in Rural India (Springer: Heidelberg/Delhi); and co-author with Debanjana Dey, ‘How We Know Biodiversity: Institutions and Knowledge-Policy Relationships’, Sustainability Science (online)