2018 was India’s Big Year for Green Literature


If the quality and quantity of books published in a year are an indicator of healthy discourse about the current state of India’s environmental movement, 2018 has been a very good year for Indian green literature. The mix weighs, as it should be, towards how to address India’s seemingly unsurmountable problems, and interestingly, in uniquely Indian ways. They are written by the very best in business which ensures greater credibility, an important factor in the post truth world.

Although launched at the end of December 2017, Sunita Narain sets the tone for 2018 with her Conflict of Interest: My Journey Through India’s Green Movement. It’s a personal account of her battles in raising the level of debate and environmental consciousness among the policy makers, businesses and common citizens. Narain, unlike most authors, doesn’t mince her words and goes for the jugular.

It’s because of her and a handful of activists, public policy in India is not being easily hijacked by interest groups. Her NGO Centre for Science & Environment and Down to Earth magazine are by far the most aggressive and informative on India’s struggle for balancing convenient political and business interests against that of the citizens and the environment.

The much delayed and anticipated Aruna Roy’s book – The RTI Story: Power to the People – is a heart-wrenching story of people’s struggle for their basic human rights. While her phenomenal story of influencing the Right to Information legislation is well known, the book is about how the movement unfolded which every Indian should read. It unfolds the drama of a long-fought grueling movement. Despite recent attempts to dilute, RTI is still the single most effective weapon in the hands of a citizen against brazen politicians and bureaucrats.     

She has been one of the big influencers on the new bunch of leaders leading several recent movements by farmers and underprivileged caste and classes. Her book is a big motivator for young rebels to stay in the fight for social and economic justice despite harsh conditions.

Mridula Ramesh’s The Climate Solution: India’s Climate-Change Crisis and What We Can Do about Itis a book of hope as she writes stories of ‘warriors’ who are able to use acumen and business sense to change the world around them. She shows how climate warriors, from the cotton fields of Punjab and eco start-ups in Bengaluru, to a forest guardian in Assam and the Johads of Rajasthan, have employed ingenuity and initiative to adapt to the changing conditions – and sometimes reverse their shattering effects. 

This book is an urgent call to action – and an essential manifesto for policy makers, investors and entrepreneurs. It should inspire graduate students to take up entrepreneurship as a calling and as the best way to make a positive impact.

Naina Lal Kidwai’s Survive or Sink: An Action Agenda for Sanitation, Water, Pollution and Green Finance is another call-to-action book. She argues for a collaborative approach to solve India’s massive problem of sanitation and pollution. Being a star banker, Naina delves into the world of green finance quite intricately and shows how finance is not a challenge for India if it’s serious about mitigating climate induced challenges. She shows how, if done well, climate change is a big opportunity for massive employment and inclusive growth.

Prem Shankar Jha’s Dawn of the Solar Age – An End to Global Warming and to Fear is one of the most convincing books I’ve read on climate change. He has made compelling argument in favour of India changing its fuel mix urgently and resorting to proven alternative fuels like methanol and ethanol. He shows how this policy, if implemented seriously, will have a wide positive impact on rural economies and sustainability of agri-business. This strategy not only addresses climate change problems but has the potential of turning India into a climate positive nation by 2030.

This Book is Not Rubbish: 50 Ways to Ditch Plastic, Reduce Rubbish and Save the World! By Isabel Thomas is a very timely book about how citizens can make a major difference to their lives and their surroundings by adopting simple tools.

The good news is that there are loads of easy ways one can make a difference without waiting for big projects or policies. Even while covering serious issues like plastics, pollution, global warming and endangered animals, this book is a nice guide to people who want to become eco-warriors, not eco-worriers. It challenges consumers to take control of their future and thereby help clear the world of all the rubbish.

Top scientist Raghunath Mashelkar’s book Leap Frogging to Pole-Vaulting: Creating the Magic of Radical Yet Sustainable Transformation just made it to the 2018 list. This too is a ‘to do’ book. It tries to convince readers to make a shift from reactive leapfrogging to proactive pole-vaulting to solve what appears to be daunting problems.

Two books published in 2016 need mention for their sheer force of ideas. One is Prof. Anil Gupta’s Grassroots Innovation: Minds On the Margin Are Not Marginal Minds. He forcefully and pragmatically shows how the economically poor are not poor of ideas. His Honey Bee Network brought together thousands of grassroots innovators who went on to become successful entrepreneurs. With examples like Mitti Cool Refrigerator to the Footbridge at Meghalaya he insists that to fight the largest and most persistent problems of the world we must eschew expensive research labs and instead look towards ordinary folk.

India was such a place until colonialism and socialism changed them into waiting for someone to solve their problems. It’s time to go back. It’s being realized that the model local solutions to global problems works better than the other way around.   

The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable, published in 2016, by Amitav Ghosh, is perhaps the most provocative. He is appalled at the indifference and casualness of people to what’s happening to the Earth’s climate.

He partly blames fiction writers for the current mess. Ghosh examines the inability of literature, history and politics to  grasp the scale and violence of climate change. In fiction, he writes, hundred-year storms and freakish tornadoes simply feel too improbable for the novel and are automatically consigned to other genres.

What’s interesting is that all these books were published by prominent publishing houses. Goes to show that issues about climate, ecology and environment are finally coming into the mainstream. Hope these books do well and inspire more such work.

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