I just learnt that archaeologist and writer Brian Fagan is visiting my campus this week – tomorrow (Mar 6) in fact – but I will miss his visit! I’ve been wanting to bring him to Fresno for some time now – and here I am stuck in Mumbai when he does actually arrive on campus! If you are on Fresno and reading this, please do go to his talk on the Fresno State campus tomorrow. Here’s more info on the event, which is open to the public:
Meanwhile, since I won’t be able to participate in the event, let me at least throw in my tuppence remotely, by sharing something I had written about him a few years ago. The following is a repost:
“This is a very serious issue, in fact…”
“… that’s why you’re on this show!”
That was perhaps the most ironic exchange between Brian Fagan
(who said the first part
) and Jon Stewart
(who came back with the swift self-deprecating retort
) tonight on The Daily Show
where Fagan came on to talk about his new book “The Great Warming: Climate Change and the Rise and Fall of Civilizations
“. The Daily Show’s promo blurb for today’s show had a link to Fagan’s blog
, where he wrote this interesting post
about the forecasts of prolonged droughts in some parts of the world being the silent elephants in the climate change discussion. And it was when he was discussing that very point when the above ironic exchange occurred during the interview (look for it @ 3:35 min in the video below the fold) – a double dose of irony if you will!
Meanwhile, I was touched by another post discussing the Indian monsoon in a historical context, with the opening making me ache for my favorite season of the year back home:
“The peacocks danced at eventide”, wrote the sixth-century Indian writer Subdandhu of the onset of the monsoon. The monsoon is much more than a matter of meteorology in India and Pakistan. The very fabric of human existence unfolds around two seasons–the wet and the dry. The wet season brings warm, moist conditions and heavy rain, carried by the monsoon winds blowing inland from the ocean. The other half of the year, the arid season, enjoys cool, dry air from the north. The coming of the monsoon is a highlight of the year to those who suffered through the buildup after the pleasant winter months–weeks of torrid heat. Colonel Edward Tennant of the British East India Company wrote in 1886: “The sly, instead of its brilliant blue, assumes the sullen tint of lead. . . . The days become overcast and hot, banks of clouds rise over the ocean to the west. . . . At last the sudden lightning flash among the hills, and shoot through the clouds that overhang the sea, and with a crash of thunder the monsoon bursts over the hungry land.” My father was a civil servant in the British Raj in the Punjab during the 1920s. Even in his extreme old age, he could vividly recall the most epochal day of the year, when India became cold and grey, like distant England.
Trust me, it is actually quite unlike England, being grey, yes, but definitely not cold – but rather invitingly cool after a blazing hot summer! Oh how I miss the march of those grey clouds across the Bombay coastline…
Fagan goes on to describe the discovery of correlations between the Indian monsoon and El Nìno
events in the Pacific…
Generations of meteorologists have tried to forecast monsoons, notable among them Sir Gilbert Walker, a brilliant statistician with a passion for flutes and atmospheric pressure, who is remembered for his discovery of the Southern Oscillation, the driving force behind El Nino and its opposite cousin, La Nina. There is now fairly general Agreement that monsoon failures sometimes, but not invariably, coincide with El Nino conditions in the Pacific, as was the case with the terrible famine and monsoon failure of 1875-6, which killed tens of thousands and ravaged at least a third of Bengal.
… before adding some strong words about the historical context of the famine and the culpability of the British empire:
While much of India starved, the British Raj was busy exporting grain to the world market. Meanwhile, the Viceroy, the eccentric and erratic Lord Lytton, who happened to be Queen Victoria’s favorite poet, was preoccupied with a gigantic durbar in Delhi, which included a week-long feast for 68,000 maharajahs and officials. An English journalist estimated that at least 100,000 rural farmers perished during the festivities, which were designed to be gaudy enough to impress the orientals”. Lytton’s shameful famine policy was one of laissez faire. The historian Mike Davis, whose book Late Victorian Holocausts should be required reading for every historian of the nineteenth century, estimates that at least 20-30 million tropical farmers perished during that century as a result of drought, famine, and famine-related diseases.
And as Fagan rounds off with an alarm bell about how future wars will be fought over water even as we waste our current resources on unnecessary wars while avoiding facing the real problems looming ahead, I’m reminded of the Indian journalist P. Sainath’s powerful book Everybody Loves a Good Drought: Stories from India’s Poorest Districts.