Travelling through the portal: Imaginarium brings perspective on the climate crisis

Tucked in a corner of Granville Island, a literary reading and discussion event called Imaginarium took place on July 9 as part of Vancouver’s annual Indian Summer Festival. The event included critical discussions and literary readings which centred on the subtitle of the book The Nutmeg’s Curse: Parables of a Planet in Crisis, the most recent work of author Amitav Ghosh.

With conversations between Ghosh and other well-loved writers and eccentric music performances, the evening was thought-provoking and hopeful about collectively finding corrective measures to save the planet as well as ourselves in the process.

Musical performances made the event cohesive. “Solace,” a majestic piece performed by sitar player Mohamed Assani, set the tone for the event by grounding the audience in the moment. It is said that music is capable of activating all parts of the brain, and the carefully curated music performances did precisely that, by providing an emotional and embodied counterpoint to the intellectual literary discussions.

The event was hosted by Sirish Rao, co-founder of the festival, and Jarrett Martineau, an award-winning Indigenous broadcaster and creator. The first discussion was with Ghosh, a highly-acclaimed Indian writer known for his large body of historical fiction, and UBC geography professor Naomi Klein, whose popular books explore the relationship between economy and the climate crisis.

Although the conversation was prerecorded, it was intellectually provocative. The writers talked about how corporations often use disasters as opportunities to privatize land and extract resource in the chaotic aftermath, a process called disaster capitalism.

Ghosh mentioned that the climate crisis, which produces more frequent and severe disasters, may be accelerating disaster capitalism and its unjust impacts.

Klein mentioned Arundhati Roy’s famous piece ‘The pandemic is a portal’ to discuss the need for action in the ongoing climate crisis.

“[T]he portal means that we're not where we started, and we can't be on autopilot,” said Klein. “That doesn't mean we have to be in Hell, but it means we have to admit that we're somewhere different and what it demands of us is different.”

After an interval, the hosts welcomed the authors of the 2022 book Rehearsals of Living, Robyn Maynard and Dr. Leanne Betasamosake Simpson. They talked about their exchanges of letters on their own experiences and musings on racism which became the book.

The two speakers read out letters from their book, accompanied by instrumental music. The consonance created by Gordon Grdina's guitar and oud (a kind of mandolin) and Assani’s sitar made space for the audience to think about the readings, the moment in time and the planet.

“What does it mean for those of us who’ve already survived multiple apocalypses of slavery and settler colonialism to be poised at the front of [building] more liberatory worlds of abolitionist futures in a time of enormous danger and carceral crises of policing in prisons and ecocide?” noted Maynard.

Maynard and Betasamosake Simpson explained that the aim of the book was to explore what it means to create more liveable futures. Watching people help one another in times of political uprising, said Maynard, was like seeing an important rehearsal for the kinds of worlds that we want to be in.

Simpson pointed toward being “born into struggle … into the portal.” Just like her ancestors, her community must repeatedly organize resistance to constant crises.

While the four speakers come from different cultural backgrounds, they all recognized the difficulty of comprehending the climate crisis, and its imminent scale of loss and change. They reiterated that the crisis is here but that there is still hope.