chapter
24 Pages

Introduction

In April 2000, the American magazine Time published a commemorative Earth Day issue. Featuring a beaming Bill Clinton in Botswana and, more sinisterly, a series of double-page spreads advertising Ford Motor Company’s commitment to the environment, the magazine duly joined the millennial rallying cry to save the planet, issued on behalf of a country that has done far less than one might reasonably expect to protect the global environment but far more than it could possibly have hoped to ‘reinvent the imperial tradition for the twenty-first century’ (Lazarus 2006: 20) – a country that has actively and aggressively contributed to what many now acknowledge to be the chronic endangerment of the contemporary late-capitalist world. In a very different vein, the same year also saw a re-issue of The

Unquiet Woods, the Indian historian Ramachandra Guha’s classic account of the Chipko movement – a 1970s peasant revolt against commercial forestry practices in the Northern Indian Himalayan region which is often considered to be a paradigmatic example of those grassroots, often Third World-based, resistance movements that are sometimes bracketed under the capacious heading: the ‘environmentalism of the poor’ (Guha and Martinez-Alier 1997). Taking its cue from one of the movement’s populist leaders, Sunderlal Bahaguna, Guha’s book suggests that ‘the ecological crisis in Himalaya is not an isolated event [but] has its roots in the [modern] materialistic civilization [that] makes man the butcher of Earth’ (Bahaguna, quoted in Guha 2000: 179). For all that, Guha’s aim is not to show how modernity per se has contributed to ecological destruction in twentieth-century India – still less to suggest that peasant movements like Chipko are doomed remnants of a superseded pre-modern era – but rather to outline some of the ways in which state-planned industrialisation in postcolonial India, even while it claims to practise one version or other of sustainable development, has only succeeded in ‘pauperizing millions of people in the agrarian sector and

diminishing the stock of plant, water and soil resources at a terrifying rate’ (196). Is there any way of reconciling the Northern environmentalisms of the

rich (always potentially vainglorious and hypocritical) and the Southern environmentalisms of the poor (often genuinely heroic and authentic)? Is there any way of narrowing the ecological gap between coloniser and colonised, each of them locked into their seemingly incommensurable worlds? The opposing terms seem at once necessary and overblown, starkly distinct yet hopelessly entangled.1 After all, in their different ways, Time magazine and Guha’s book are both arguing the need to bring postcolonial and ecological issues together as a means of challenging continuing imperialist modes of social and environmental dominance; while both are suggesting, at the same time, that allegedly egalitarian terms like ‘postcolonial’ and ‘ecological’ are eminently cooptable for a variety of often far-from-egalitarian (national) state interests and (transnational) corporate-capitalist concerns. How are we to read the burgeoning alliance between postcolonial and

environmental studies, the increasing convergence of postcolonialism and ecocriticism, in such conflicted, even contradictory, contexts? In one sense, the case for ‘green postcolonialism’ (Huggan and Tiffin 2007) or ‘postcolonial ecocriticism’ (Cilano and DeLoughrey 2007) is painfully obvious.2 As Pablo Mukherjee (2006) puts it:

Surely, any field purporting to theorise the global conditions of colonialism and imperialism (let us call it postcolonial studies) cannot but consider the complex interplay of environmental categories such as water, land, energy, habitat, migration with political or cultural categories such as state, society, conflict, literature, theatre, visual arts. Equally, any field purporting to attach interpretative importance to environment (let us call it eco/environmental studies) must be able to trace the social, historical and material co-ordinates of categories such as forests, rivers, bio-regions and species.