Blaikie Lecture on Politics of the Environment 2016 Blaikie Lecture on Politics of the Environment 2016

Ramachandra Guha: The Three Waves of Environmentalism in India



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.


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Blaikie Lecture on Politics of the Environment 2015 Blaikie Lecture on Politics of the Environment 2015

Jakob von Uexkull

Global Environmental Challenges and Solutions: Building Future Justice

2014/15 Blaikie Prize for Best Masters Dissertation on the Politics of the Environment


Today there can be no doubt that we live at a crucial time in human history. Your decisions and actions – or your failure to act – will have an impact on future generations for centuries, possibly for millennia, or even for geological time periods.

Climate change is the defining issue of our time and the greatest challenge you will face wherever you live.

The fossil fuel lobbies, powered by over $500 billion in annual subsidies will not be easily defeated but the window of change is opening and the choice is yours. Do you escape into a conventional career and risk the angry questions of your children and grand-children: “Why did you not act when the climate war was still winnable?” – or do you dedicate yourself to this unique historical challenge?


The climate war will not be won by General Twitter or Admiral Facebook. Social media can mobilize but the actual changes will require our live presence and commitment. The famous economic bottom line depends on what we include in and exclude from the top line. Externalizing production costs is not only unfair competition but fraud and should be dealt with as such.


The World Future Council, which I founded in 2007, works to identify, spread and adapt the most effective laws and policies from around the world, which can provide the incentives required to change course. For, under the radar, such breakthrough policy solutions usually already exist somewhere and policy-makers elsewhere are keen to learn about them, but often do not have the information or capacity. We have now brought together the most important breakthrough policies in a Global Policy Action Plan (GPACT), providing a coherent response to the interlinked global crises.


You are now the most powerful generation in human history, for you are the Guardians of all future generations of life on Earth. The consequences of your decisions and actions will have longer-term effects than ever before. 

Blaikie Lecture on the Politics of the Environment 2014 Blaikie Lecture on the Politics of the Environment 2014



Is the Green Movement its Own Worst Enemy?

6.30pm on Tuesday 22nd July

Thomas Paine Lecture Theatre, University of East Anglia. 

The lecture will be followed by a drinks reception.

Free admission.

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There is no doubt that many of the central precepts of the Green Movement have entered into the political mainstream: the green economy, resource efficiency, low-carbon growth, natural capital and so on.  But the level of engagement by mainstream political parties is woefully superficial; ‘business as usual' growth at all costs still rules the day.  To what extent is that down to the Green Movement's own style of advocacy, its campaigning tactics, even the language it uses?  Knocking the Green Movement is all too easy, but is there not an obligation on all of us to rethink some of the ways in which we engage with voters, consumers, and decision-makers – and an equally important obligation on academics and educationalists to rethink their own role at such a critical time?



Jonathon Porritt is Founder Director of Forum for the Future

Jonathon Porritt, Co-Founder of Forum for the Future, is an eminent writer, broadcaster and commentator on sustainable development.  Established in 1996, Forum for the Future is now the UK's leading sustainable development charity, with 70 staff and over 100 partner organisations, including some of the world's leading companies. The Forum has a growing presence in the United States, and is doing more and more work in India, Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia.

In addition, he is Co-Founder of The Prince of Wales's Business and Sustainability Programme which runs Seminars for senior executives around the world.  He is a Non-Executive of Willmott Dixon Holdings, a Trustee of the Ashden Awards for Sustainable Energy, and is involved in the work of many NGOs and charities as Patron, Chair or Special Adviser.

He was formerly Director of Friends of the Earth (1984-90); co-chair of the Green Party (1980-83) of which he is still a member; chairman of UNED-UK (1993-96); chairman of Sustainability South West, the South West Round Table for Sustainable Development (1999-2001); a Trustee of WWF UK (1991-2005), a member of the Board of the South West Regional Development Agency (1999-2008).

He stood down as Chairman of the UK Sustainable Development Commission in July 2009 after nine years providing high-level advice to Government Ministers.

Jonathon was installed as the Chancellor of Keele University in February 2012. He is also Visiting Professor at Loughborough University. 

His latest books are Capitalism As If The World Matters (Earthscan, revised 2007), Globalism & Regionalism (Black Dog 2008) and Living Within Our Means (Forum for the Future 2009).  His latest book, The World We Made - an upbeat vision of our sustainable world in 2050, was published in October 2013.

Jonathon received a CBE in January 2000 for services to environmental protection.