Review: The Politics of Climate Change and the Global Crisis
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Review: The Politics of Climate Change and the Global Crisis

A book that rings the alarm bells over how the climate change politics spares the rich and responsible

books Updated: Feb 24, 2012 20:09 IST
Hartman de Souza, Hindustan Times

The Politics of Climate Change and the Global Crisis

Praful Bidwai

Orient blackswan

Rs 750 pp 367

For those who’ve seen him go from rebellious student to impassioned journalist, polished critic of the establishment to scholar activist focused on justice and equity, Praful Bidwai’s recent book was just round the corner.

It couldn’t have come at a better time for this troubled planet that elites of the world, India included, have come closer to destroying in the name of ‘development’ (read ‘luxurious lifestyle’), and ‘economic growth’ (read ‘even more money to consume even more’).

Bidwai does to climate change what Miles Davis did to modern jazz, leaving Thomas Friedman’s unduly optimistic, US-centred Hot, Flat, and Crowded atonally plonking the white keys. No one seized of the rapid damage to the environment, or the urgency of developing equitable policies and practices to protect increasingly disenfranchised peoples whose livelihoods depend on the earth, its forests and limited water and energy sources, can afford to not read this book.

The book, rigorously researched, is not an easy read. Bidwai goes from the larger geopolitics militating against the earth to the hard but demystified facts of the snow melting and the oceans rising. He exposes the ponziness of carbon credits, argues for renewable energy alternatives, damns the pro-nuclear energy lobby, and delivers a stinging critique of the unbridled growth that successive Indian governments have embraced.

While those with their head in sand parrot the imperatives of the free market, Bidwai reincarnates the earlier First World/Third World division to show how the battles to save the planet are not being fought. He gives us the new actors, the Global North, like the earlier First World, giving to the rest of the world with one hand while stealing with the other; the Global South (including Brazil, South Africa, India and China, which, now do to earlier Third World nations in Africa what was once done unto them); and the new pariahs on the block, the Alliance of Small Island States who are particularly vulnerable to the realities of climate change; and, the main focus of Bidwai’s attention, the Global Poor.

Reporting from Durban, soon after the book appeared, Bidwai chillingly noted: “Durban was the world’s last chance to make global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions peak this decade, and breathe new life into the world’s sole legally binding climate agreement, the Kyoto Protocol, beyond 2012, when its first phase ends...Durban has sealed climate apartheid, under which rich polluters evade responsibility, but underprivileged people suffer the worst effects of climate change for which they are least responsible”.

This is a haunting refrain in the book. Bidwai strips those in New Delhi — politicians, ministers, policy makers, advisors and bureaucrats — in no uncertain terms. Not only did they lose the plot in Durban, they’ve actually had no plan other than maintaining high growth rates and praying for a trickle-down effect. Strongly recommended reading for them. As also those in our media who beat the tom-toms heralding the success at Durban, or our new minister of environment and forests as she sits with templates of Rapid Environment Impact Assessment reports, gavel in her hand.

As Bidwai writes: “The global climate negotiations confront India with a huge challenge: reconciling the objectives of ‘development’ and poverty reduction with the global responsibility — and an obligation to its own citizens — to contribute to the fight against climate change. India has tried to rise to the challenge, somewhat reluctantly, and in ways that are awkward, inadequate, ambivalent, and even negative and obstructionist.”

Delivering the 11th ISRO-JNCASR Satish Dhawan Memorial Lecture in September 2010, Jairam Ramesh, former environment minister, asked us to accept the reality that there was a trade-off between growth and environment. When he reads Bidwai’s book, he may feel compelled to reassess that somewhat simplistic formulation.

Hartman de Souza is a Pune-based theatre veteran

First Published: Feb 24, 2012 20:09 IST