Amitav Ghosh says centuries of human practices exploiting nature have devastated the environment.

How is a 17th century massacre in the Banda Islands connected to climate change? It’s an example of how the longstanding geopolitical order and exploitation of nature have brought the world to this point, according to prominent author Amitav Ghosh.

University of Hawaii Student Stories project badge

Ghosh discussed his most recent work “The Nutmeg’s Curse: Parables for a Planet in Crisis” during a lecture Tuesday at the University of Hawaii Manoa.

“Usually climate change is thought of as something that lies in the future, but the way I conceive of it, it’s very much a product of the past,” Ghosh said.

His speech, which was followed by a question-and-answer session, was part of the university’s “Better Tomorrow” speaker series.

He suggested that for centuries humans have succumbed to a mindset of extraction, taking from the planet while failing to consider what the end result might be.

Ghosh focused on the idea that people have for too long ignored what he refers to as the non-humans, saying animals and plants should be seen viewed independently. The devastation of the environment is one of the repercussions of that exploitation.

Ghosh became inspired to dig into issues related to climate change when he visited the Banda Islands, a volcanic archipelago in Indonesia, in 2016. His experience while exploring these islands opened his eyes to what was going on around him and made him feel obligated to write on this crucial topic. 

Amitav Ghosh environment author UH Beat
Author and environmentalist Amitav Ghosh shared his perspective during a lecture at the University of Hawaii. (Trevor Reed/Civil Beat/2023)

Ghosh began his lecture by describing the violent 17th century Dutch conquest of the islands, which were sought for the prevalence of nutmeg trees that were highly valued in the spice trade. He argues that people need to stop seeing the environment as an entity disconnected from humanity.

He believes that fighting climate change is not only about ending humankind’s destructive environmental habits, but also reconsidering connections to plants, animals and geological features. 

He disputed the idea that climate change is “all about mathematical formulae.”

“It’s in the end, rooted in relations between human beings, and these relations always have a history,” he said.

  • Stories By University Of Hawaii Students

UH South Asian Studies librarian Monica Ghosh, a long-time fan of Ghosh’s work, has been trying for years to bring him to speak at the university.

She said it is important for people living in Hawaii to hear Amitav Ghosh’s global perspective on environmental issues. 

“I thought it would be relevant for our audience here, community, students, et cetera, to hear what he has to say, and to reflect on what it means for them,” she said.

She hopes that people will be open to sharing ideas to take one step at a time toward environmental change. “I am optimistic about hope, but not about reality,” she said.

With climate change being such a relevant topic, especially among college students, there was a large turnout for the lecture by the award-winning author and environmentalist. 

Paul Gabriel Cosme, a graduate student studying music composition, thinks that people his age should have discussions on climate change more often so they can better understand the situation and do something about it.

“It is crucial for college students to understand the intricacies of the problems that we have, that they’re so intertwined,” Cosme said.

Cosme said that Ghosh’s work and ideas help expand people’s knowledge on climate issues. 

“It’s all connected in a way and his words show us that. That’s why I think it’s really important for him to be here,” Cosme said.

Ghosh feels that if people focus on storytelling and having conversations around climate issues and better analyzing the environment, the voices of the ‘non-humans’ can be restored.

“This is the great burden that now rests upon writers, artists, filmmakers, and everyone who is involved in telling these stories. To us falls the task of imaginatively restoring agency and voice to non-humans,” Ghosh said. “ If we don’t do it, who’s going to do it? Nobody else.”

Support Civil Beat during the season of giving.

As a small nonprofit newsroom, our mission is powered by readers like you. But did you know that less than 1% of readers donate to Civil Beat?

Give today and support local journalism that helps to inform, empower and connect.

About the Author