ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Climate Change and the Human Condition

The Climate of History in a Planetary Age by Dipesh Chakrabarty, New Delhi: Primus Books, 2021; pp 290, `995 (hardcover).

The inimitable auteur Satyajit Ray in one of his well-known films, Jana Aranya (The Middleman, 1975), captures a poignant moment in a young man’s life when he is interviewing for a job in a restless Calcutta in the mid-1970s. Faced with a series of questions, such as, “what is the speed of light?” and “who wrote Bande Mataram?” the protagonist Somnath (played by Pradip Mukherjee) is finally stumped by the question “what is the weight of the moon?” Utterly flummoxed, Somnath responds by asking, Chand-er ojon? (moon’s weight?).1 While in the immediate context of the movie, Ray’s depiction of Somnath’s incomprehension at the seem­ingly absurd question portrays the harsh conditions of seeking employment in a rapidly growing Calcutta. In light of reading Dipesh Chakrabarty’s illuminating book The Climate of History in a Planetary Age, we can say that Ray unwi­ttingly captured the deep epistemic and philosophical chasm that existed bet­ween the worldly and the planetary, a distinction that lies at the heart of the book. The current crisis of climate change, Chakrabarty argues, calls for viewing the two together—the human-centric world that we have created for ourselves and the planetary in which the human is only an incidental presence—in order to seriously confront the challenges that climate change poses to our conventional understanding of the planet that we call ours.

Climate change, occurring mainly due to humans having become a geological force, has been widely recognised as one of the major existential crises of our contemporary times (pp 25–26). While various solutions have been proposed and countries have periodically issued statements to collectively combat the crisis, in the scholarly world, few have reflected on the impact of the science behind the explanation of climate change for disciplines in the social sciences and humanities that conventionally focused on understanding the “human condition” as it has evolved for the last few hundred or at best a few thousand years.2 Indeed, as the novelist Amitav Ghosh pointed out, climate change rarely made a significant presence in works of fiction too, including in his own previous works.3 The nature and impact of climate change, then, remained largely invisible even as there was an increasing recognition among the scientific commu­nity about the deleterious impact of human action due to increased carbon emissions, among other causes, on earth’s atmosphere and in the oceans (pp 24, 158).

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Updated On : 31st Jul, 2021
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