Radical Meteorology

RM-1Source: Nabil Ahmed

This research aims at producing a contemporary political ecology of the Bengal delta as a form of spatial practice. It begins by uncovering the story of Bhola cyclone, which struck coastal frontiers of Bengal in 1970 as an overlooked event in the national liberation of Bangladesh. By claiming the delta as a constantly shifting sedimentary space historically the research develops two fields of inquiry. The first analyzes complex causalities of large-scale groundwater arsenic contamination linking geology, epidemiology, humanitarian development, activism and law. The second maps the territorial politics of the Bay of Bengal where the space of cyclone risks capture by capital since the discovery of vast quantities of natural gas. In researching the entanglement of cyclone, arsenic and deep-sea gas with environmental activism, the project brings to bear the agency of natural violence towards speculating a new political ecology for a region vulnerable to natural disasters and climate change.

The research takes a different position from normative environmentalist epistemologies of protecting a nature as a subject that is ‘out there’ autonomous and separate. Resonating with the work of ecological historians of the 18th and 19th century it invites speculation on how nature has been an active and historic participant in the protracted battle between majoritarian forces of the sovereign: empire-state-capital and anti-colonial, anti-capitalist struggles. The friction between hegemonic power and minoritarian resistance is present when nature itself becomes the object of capture. As in a twist of political economy, labour is subjugated with the capture of land. However what happens when nature itself acts as a violent force? When cyclones come in contact with human populations producing an ungovernable space that challenges the sovereign? When meteorology dramatically shifts into politics? When nature speaks through powerful spiralling winds and enters politics, humanist narratives of history are swept away: Radical meteorology.

Who bears responsibility in an underexposed, creeping death markedly different from a sudden, mediatized natural disaster? What kind of international frameworks for law can be mobilized in a case where attribution of responsibility is so complex? From an ecological perspective the question of environmental justice and activism becomes crucial in exposing the complexities around the transfer of infrastructure and scientific knowledge to the South in the service of the statist-global capitalist capture apparatus of ‘development’ and their non-commitment to legal accountability. However this has only been further intensified in the recent drive to extract natural gas from the Bay of Bengal and by the three states, India, Bangladesh and Myanmar where the space of disaster doubles as space for capital. Specific environmental activist practices and social movements are operating within flows of capital, technology and the law in response to the capture attempts. The vortex of the cyclone reappears entangled with the technical practice of resource extraction and the laws of the sea. This research (as part of a body of work consisting of exhibitions, seminars, and publications) develops the concept of radical meteorology in order to participate in the production of new forms of spatial activism.