Elizabeth Chatterjee, Assistant Professor of Environmental History, University of Chicago

One year before the famous Arab oil embargo of 1973, the global South was struck by a very different kind of energy crisis. A series of interlocking climate shocks ravaged agricultural heartlands around the planet, precipitating famines and electricity shortages just as oil prices began to spike. This early 1970s polycrisis briefly unlocked a radically new horizon of energetic possibilities that played out differently across the globe. Especially hard hit were poor oil-importing nations, still largely overlooked in the decade’s burgeoning historiography. In India, the largest of such nations, the combined climate-food-energy crisis brought a twinned set of fateful changes. By June 1975 Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had resorted to imposing a constitutional dictatorship – the Emergency – for the first and only time in independent India’s existence, one amongst a series of coups and authoritarian takeovers that swept the postcolonial South. Less noticed was a second transformation with planetary ramifications. Rising popular expectations collided with the energy crisis to impel a state-led embrace of coal, despite elite reservations about the environmental damage that would follow. Analyzing these dynamics is crucial to understand India’s rapidly rising carbon emissions, and offers evidence on the complex and troubling societal consequences of climate shocks.

This event is part of the Social Life of Climate Change Seminar Series. These research seminars are interdisciplinary discussions around contemporary debates in the humanistic social sciences of climate change and the environment. Events take multiple formats, including standard seminar format as well as more engaged discussions of relevant readings and works in progress.

If you are interested in joining this online event please contact geog.comms@lse.ac.uk.

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