The Nutmeg’s Curse

Glasgow on the Clyde is not the end of the story, but you can see the end from Glasgow: it’ll be more “blah, blah, blah,” says Greta Thunberg, the merciless teenage critic the world has come to love, and trust. Glasgow this week, Greta said, is about “people in power pretending to take our future seriously.” It’s Glasgow’s history that the rich world is having to live down. Once upon a time, Glasgow was the shipbuilding powerhouse of Britain’s coal-and-oil-fired ocean empire. It  was a fixture of the Age of all that carbon that came to clog the air.  And now “the future is on the line in Glasgow,” the New York Times says on page one. John Kerry calls it “the last best hope for the world to get its act together.”

Banda Api, one of the Banda Islands, in 1846.

What the Indian writer Amitav Ghosh brings to the climate crisis is an origin story. The downfall of the human habitat can be traced directly, he’ll tell you, to a deliberate massacre on a tiny island in the South Pacific exactly 400 years ago. Behind the massacre was a mindset: it held that quite literally anything (mass slaughter and slavery included) was justified to extend monopoly trading and imperial power in the Dutch spice trade of the early seventeenth century. There’s a parable here from real life, and 400 years of history to be rooted out of our heads and our habitual ways in the world.

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Amitav Ghosh
Author of The Nutmeg's Curse.

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