By Chris Lang
Arundhati Roy is one of my favourite writers. Over Christmas, I’ve been reading her book Azadi. The book is a series of essays about Hindu nationalism, India’s occupation of Kashmir, and the coronavirus pandemic. As far as I’m aware, she hasn’t (yet) written specifically about carbon markets or REDD. But in a chapter in Azadi titled “The Language of Literature” she explains perfectly what’s wrong with REDD.
The chapter is a lecture she gave at the PEN America World Voices Festival in 2019. You can listen to the full talk here:
And here’s the part where she explains what’s wrong with REDD and why it is a dangerous distraction from addressing both the climate crisis and the crisis of deforestation. REDD is not a mechanism to stop the corporations that are developing mining and infrastructure projects that are displacing tens of thousands from their lands and homes. Yet in country after country after country REDD projects have impacted the livelihoods of some of the poorest people in the world.
The Language of Literature
By Arundhati Roy, a lecture at the PEN America World Voices Festival, 12 May 2019.
[ . . . ]
A few years ago, I was in a railway station, reading the papers while I waited for my train. On an inside page, I spotted a small news report about two men who had been arrested and charged with being couriers for the banned, underground Communist Party of India (Maoist). Among the “items” recovered from the men, the report said, were “some books by Arundhati Roy.” Not long after that, I met a college lecturer who spent much of her time organizing legal defence for jailed activists, many of them young students and villagers in prison for “anti-national activities”. For the most part this meant protesting corporate mining and infrastructure projects that were displacing tens of thousands from their lands and homes. She told me that in several of the prisoners’ “confessions” – usually extracted under coercion – my writing often merited a reference as a factor that led them down what the police call “the wrong path.”
“They’re laying a trail – building a case against you,” she said.
The books in question were not my novels (at that point I had written only one – The God of Small Things). These were books of nonfiction – although in a sense they were stories, too, different kinds of stories, but stories nevertheless. Stories about the massive corporate attack on forests, rivers, crops, seeds, on land, on farmers, labour laws, on policy making itself. And yes, on the post 9/11 US and Nato attacks on country after country. Most were stories about people who have fought against these attacks – specific stories, about specific rivers, specific mountains, specific corporations, specific peoples’ movements, all of them being specifically crushed in specific ways. These were the real climate warriors, local people with a global message, who had understood the crisis before it was recognized as one. And yet, they were consistently portrayed as villains — the anti-national impediments to progress and development. The former Prime Minister of India, a free-market evangelist, called the guerrillas, mostly indigenous people, adivasis, fighting corporate mining projects in the forests of central India the “Single Largest Internal Security Challenge”. A war called “Operation Green Hunt” was declared on them. The forests were flooded with soldiers whose enemies were the poorest people in the world. It’s been no different elsewhere – in Africa, Australia, Latin America.
And now, irony of ironies, a consensus is building that climate change is the world’s single largest security challenge. Increasingly the vocabulary around it is being militarized. And no doubt very soon its victims will become the “enemies” in the new war without end. Calls for a climate “emergency”, although well meaning, could hasten the process that has already begun. The pressure is already on to move the debate from the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) to the United Nations Security Council, in other words, to exclude most of the world and place decision making straight back into the den of the same old suspects. Once again, the Global North, the creators of the problem, will see to it that they profit from the solution that they propose. A solution whose genius will, no doubt, lie deep in the heart of the “market” and involve more selling and buying, more consuming, and more profiteering by fewer and fewer people. In other words, more capitalism.
[ . . . ]