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Climate Change, Pandemic & more: The Great Derangement

How does Amitav Ghosh’s 2016 book The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable fare in the context of the past year?

The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable

“Who can forget those moments when something that seems inanimate turns out to be vitally, dangerously alive?” The first words of acclaimed Indian novelist Amitav Ghosh’s latest book force visuals from 2020 to flood a post-pandemic mind.

The question feels personal. How else do you explain its chilling precision? It holds not only metaphorically, but also very literally. The past year has been a series of events that has emphasized, time and again, that our environment is not stagnant; it controls us, and when needed, destroys us. And it is framed like a striking description of a virus: they stay dead until they are inside a host’s body, after which they are ‘dangerous alive’.

The past year-and-a-half has changed us—mentally, physically, and politically. It has cast an altered—if not grim—lens on our worldview and reminded us of our agonizing vulnerability. In such a year, Ghosh’s 2016 release feels like a necessary reminder. In his non-fiction book, Ghosh examines our collective inability to think about the “unthinkable”, even in the face of a rapidly advancing climate disaster. Through an insightful three sections—story, history, and politics—he outlines our inability to grasp the scale and brutality of climate change. He argues that our age would be defined as the age of derangement. After all, we continue to hurtle towards an apocalyptic end head-first, ignoring blazing red flags.

Ghosh’s narration reads like a foreboding of the pandemic: “… it appears that we are in an era that will be defined precisely by events that appear, by our current standards of normality, highly improbable”. And for anyone who is looking to understand our current environment from a different lens, it is a highly recommended read.


In India, human life has always been very intricately associated with the environment. From realms of religion to livelihood to education and more, environment and nature have always featured heavily: Agriculture is the primary source of living for about 58 percent of people in India; festivals in many parts of the country celebrate the arrival of rain—the natural phenomenon so many lives depend on; for many others, especially people who were primary school students from mid-2000s to mid-2010s, the ‘Save the Earth’ campaign has been a significant part of their elementary education.

More commonly, the weather is perhaps the most exploited talking