Issue 14

Issue XIV: Editor’s Note

With the leaders of the world – most of whom chosen by us – preparing to meet at the critical Conference of Parties 26 (COP26) gathering in the first weeks of November, this axis of environment and politics, is one whose outlines are becoming increasingly apparent. Before we get to unpacking what may be in store there, maybe it is wise to take a glance at the politics of the environment at large. The new generation strives to demand more; we ask for accountability from our leaders, expect our institutions to be fairer, and recognise that the effect of climate change has not been equal on all. There is a politics to most things around us – by acknowledging this and by asking the right questions, we make our own politics more just. 

As student-journalists training for the world at OpenAxis, it is our responsibility to bring to you this spirit of inquiry in Issue XIV, the second of our several issues, entirely on environmental matters. 

2021 saw a historic federal election in Germany, with the country stepping into a post- Merkel world and climate change, becoming an influential marker. Aritro Sarkar explores how the ‘climate elections’ in Europe’s most powerful economy could shape the climate conversation for Germany and the EU. 

Cefil Joseph Soans connects the worlds of a ground up conservation movement in Kerala with the global shift in data modelling access and analyses why this could be significant.

Stepping into the cultural realm, Rishita Chaudhary celebrates Rachel Carson’s masterpiece Silent Spring, as it approaches 60 years of publication, by taking stock of contemporary climate literature. 

Ishita Ahuja speaks to three young Indian climate activists to understand their politics as individuals and as representatives of the Global Climate Strike movement, out in full force again on October 22, 2021.

Meera Anand in Open Axis Recommends speaks about a song and a web series and their connection with us and the changing natural world.

Manufacturers say bookings are up for electric scooters in India in October 2021. Is this disruptive enough to trigger mass market EV adoption? Cefil takes an analytical route to see if this is indeed the way to address pollution. 

With the recent release of Amitav Ghosh’s sequel to the Great Derangement, Mehak Bhargava reviews The Nutmeg’s Curse. What are the arguments it makes to demonstrate our fundamental dependence on the environment and its role in shaping human history?

What kind of power exists at the intersection of art as a medium and the street as a stage, set against a climate crisis backdrop? Devanshi Daga tries to find out by speaking with some artists.

The Skin of Chitwan, part of the “Indigenous Pasts, Sustainable Futures” project of the Nepal Picture Library, goes beyond the news tidbit to offer a visual history of dislocation, from a terai forest in Nepal.

With Beijing’s September declaration of ending its funding for new coal projects abroad, Anushree Pratap explores what this means for several developing nations.

-Anushree Pratap, Aritro Sarkar, Cefil Joseph Soans, Isha Pareek

Issue 14

The Commons: A Dystopian Science Fiction Series that does not Feel Like One

The Guardian called it, ‘eerily plausible and uncomfortably timely’, Australia gave its top sci-fi screenwriting award in 2020 to Shelley Birse, who wrote The Commons, an eight-part Australian TV series from 2019. Birse strongly felt the need to see“the climate opportunity rather than the climate emergency”, and make a show about “humanity’s chances of retaining our humanity in the face of those choices.” 

Set in an orange-skied, pollution-stricken, near-future Sydney, the story revolves around Eadie Boulay, played by Joanne Froggatt (also seen in the popular British series, Downton Abbey). A neuropsychologist in her mid-thirties, as determined to have a baby, as she is to help her patients and the refugees. The story feels personal, with climate change, ricocheting through it. 

Everyday life moves to the sudden rhythms of extreme weather events. The protagonist and her son are walking back from school and there is a quick spell of acid rain. Power outages are scheduled, because the city’s electric grid has been aligned to windstorms of a certain severity. When it crosses that danger mark, the system auto-shuts down and citizens are trained to seek shelter. A city’s government’s public address system alerts, in the face of an oncoming typhoon is so normalized. In different seasons throughout the series, nature’s particular fury has the most ordained responses, as if to show at once, how humans have adapted, can fall in line and remain somewhat maladjusted. And by seasons, I mean nature’s seasons because this is a one-season show in web series terms. Immigration features in the context of government capacity to take in refugees. With a headcount, so arbitrary that who you may know in the system, still counts. If you don’t, off you go, to the edge of town shelters, cramped, shared, but working. Yet in moments it can get so overwhelmed that all ID papers become iffy. The psychological astuteness of the creator of the series, is in the fact that she imagines the nervous tic such a life would have and then also offers it scope for humanity. To ask for help, to get help, to look out for someone you don’t know. Even as the richest one percent living in what is quite literally a bubble scamper to buy forest land in the Australian outdoors, far off from the city. In fact unlike the clichéd Hollywood trope of portraying an exciting future filled with state-of-the-art technology, transparent computer screens, and talking robot assistants, this show displays a future that seems a lot more plausible. Surreal and real.

What surprised me the most about this show though, was how unsurprised I was while watching horrifying outdoor events unfold in every episode. This near-future prediction does not look very different from our present, almost as if, with every subplot, the show highlights an effect of the climate crises we are already witnessing. As new diseases emerge because of increasing global temperatures, the scientists on screen work towards finding cures.

The climate track seems to walk in a lane parallel to the human one. Where Eadie’s own inner voice guides her actions, with a steel that acknowledges rust, but still walks stainlessly. Tough decisions, soft moments, ordinary kindness feature, intercut with each other, as normally as they do in life, but then nature weathers several characters and in a few they just get wrung out. The viewer might come away, feeling a little of what resilience can mean.Without giving too much away, let’s just say that Eadie’s desire to have a baby and her drive to be a responsible citizen for the commons can pull one in. The Commons, of course, is usually used as a shorthand reference, for the resources that belong to all and this series reminds you of the different ways people try and claim it.

Unlike our world leaders, writer Shelley Birse is not afraid to show things as they are, making this artfully directed drama series, a must-watch.

Meera Anand is a third year undergraduate student at Ashoka University, who is currently pursuing a major in Economics and a minor in Media Studies.

The featured image is from Best Movie Cast.

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