River Life, Climate Change, Bangladesh

My second project took shape in the shadow of the UN sponsored conference on climate change in Durban, South Africa in 2011 in which Bangladesh played a significant role, or at least that was what was reported in the newspapers in Bangladesh. A general skepticism characterized Bangladesh's bid for such attention, which was seen by the educated elite back home as an effort to secure more development funding to line the coffers of politicians. From my field site of silt islands or chars in Northern Bangladesh, I explored how the discourse of climate change entered into and framed the perceptions of disaster among those who dwelt on the chars, and also how climate change, an abstract reality buttressed by a large scientific infrastructure, found footing within the textures and rhythms of river life.  My preoccupation with trying to understand how climate operates across more scales and has more scope than can be readily conceived and experienced by humans, even as they live with it, has spawned three manuscripts on this topic.

Accounting for an Uncertain Future: The Paris Agreement and the Global South

 In this manuscript I provide a first hand account of my learning to navigate the sprawling UN sponsored annual conferences to  negotiate global and binding climate policy ongoing since 1992, which I started attending as a civil society observer since 2015.  My effort is to give a sense of the intentional communities that have arisen to tackle climate change for whom the adversities posed by such change is already assumed but who still engage this seemingly interminable negotiation process.  Their understanding that they do so to help create the template for a world order for which climate change will be a standing reality, a world beyond the known one, is an imagination that I plumb through my focus on activists and other members of civil society, treaties, delegates from the global South (with a focus on Bangladesh) and the negotiation process. 

 River Life and the Upspring of Nature

I was drawn to the chars in Northern Bangladesh because of the sheer dynamism of the place, characterized by the actions of a braided river, the Brahmaputra/Jamuna, movements of sediment, extensive rains, intermittent droughts and floods, movements of people, plants and animals and the movements of physical infrastructure with them.  This was not simply an invitation to catalog different kinds of movements but an invitation to contemplate movement as such. Reading German nature philosophy with its interest in nature as activity, alongside living among char dwellers in different arcs of movement led me to explore the possibility of a conversation between this somewhat minor tradition within Western Enlightenment thought and this marginal reality within the context of the global South in my forthcoming book. Eschewing a possible historical link between the two or the scholarly retrofitting of concepts to empirical situations, I propose a deeper relationship of intellectual conviviality between the two.  In other words, they animate each others thinking and propose resources for thinking of nature otherwise.

      Householding on a Warming Earth

Climate change social science has evolved an extensive tool kit of concepts and indices by which to study the effects of climate change on human societies, such as those of adaptation, resilience, loss and damage, etc. But do we know in advance how the extremes of climate change are going to impact humans, as individuals, communities or in other relations and formations? How might climate change emerge through cracks within the self or within the sinews of the social?  How is it going to manifest in first an individual or two leaving a locale to full fledged displacement and resettlement of communities?  With a focus on households as a historical artifact, an economic unit, a space of consociation marked by disruptions and limits, I explore the lives of char dwellers in Northern Bangladesh as they come to terms with a warming earth.  This project is premised on returning a full ten plus years from the start of this project to see how climate change registers within the indices provided by climate science and within the registers of the unconscious, individual, and the social.