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Ramachandra Guha- Blaikie Lecture on Politics of the Environment 2016

Ramachandra Guha: The Three Waves of Environmentalism in India

Thursday 6th October 2016

Julian Study Centre 0.01 at 6pm

Free drinks reception to follow

Free admission but booking recommended. Email to register:


The School of International Development is delighted to welcome Ramachandra Guha as speaker to our 2016 Blaikie Lecture on Politics of the Environment. This lecture shall outline the history of the environmental movement in India, the world's largest democracy. It shall begin with precocious thinkers in the colonial period, such as Mahatma Gandhi and the economist J. C. Kumarappa, who warned that were India to industrialize in the manner of the West, it would, in Gandhi’s words, "strip the world bare like locusts". These warnings went unheeded and, after independence, India followed an energy-intensive, capital-intensive model of economic development, which led to widespread environmental degradation. Then, from the 1970s, commenced a second wave of environmentalism, this time not as intellectual critique but as a popular social movement. Struggles like the Chipko Andolan to protect the Himalayan forests and the Narmada Bachao Andolan (Save the Narmada Movement) formed part of what scholars came to call a new ‘environmentalism of the poor’, which closely integrated ecological sustainability with social justice.  

The struggles of the 1970s had a profound impact on popular consciousness and public policy. The sustainable management of forests, water, soil etc. were widely discussed and debated. However, from the 1990s there was an anti-environmental backlash. India was now entering the global economy, and the enthusiasm for market-led growth now drowned out all talk of ecological restraint.

For almost two decades environmentalists were on the defensive, their voice unheard or even derided. Only in recent years, with the evidence of world-record breaking air pollution in Indian cities, the death of India's rivers and the contamination of the soil, has there once more emerged an audience for those who advocate responsibility and restraint. A third wave of environmentalism is  therefore now emerging. The lecture will end with outlining what forms this new wave could and might take.



Ramachandra Guha is a historian and biographer based in Bangalore. He has taught at the universities of Yale and Stanford, held the Arné Naess Chair at the University of Oslo, and been the Indo-American Community Visiting Professor at the University of California at Berkeley. In the academic year 2011-2 he served as the Philippe Roman Professor of History and International Affairs at the London School of Economics.

Guha’s books include a pioneering environmental history, The Unquiet Woods (University of California Press, 1989), and an award-winning social history of cricket, A Corner of a Foreign Field (Picador, 2002). India after Gandhi (Macmillan/Ecco Press, 2007) was chosen as a book of the year by the Economist, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the San Francisco Chronicle, Time Out, and Outlook, and as a book of the decade in the Times of India, the Times of London and The Hindu. His most recent book is Gandhi Before India (Knopf, 2014), which was chosen as a notable book of the year by the New York Times.

Apart from his books, Guha also writes a syndicated column, that appears in six languages in newspapers with a combined readership of some twenty mllion. Guha’s books and essays have been translated into more than twenty languages. The New York Times has referred to him as ‘perhaps the best among India’s non fiction writers’; Time Magazine has called him ‘Indian democracy’s pre-eminent chronicler’.

Ramachandra Guha’s awards include the Leopold-Hidy Prize of the American Society of Environmental History, the Daily Telegraph/Cricket Society prize, the Malcolm Adideshiah Award for excellence in social science research, the Ramnath Goenka Prize for excellence in journalism, the Sahitya Akademi Award, and the R. K. Narayan Prize. In 2009, he was awarded the Padma Bhushan, the Republic of India’s third highest civilian honour. In 2008, and again in 2013, Prospect magazine nominated Guha as one of the world’s most influential intellectuals. In 2014, he was awarded a honorary doctorate in the humanities by Yale University. In 2015, he was awarded the Fukuoka Prize for contributions to Asian studies.