Critical Reflective Statement #1

The town is Nosovka, a small domain of approximately 20 000. It is primitive by collection (as most regions in developing countries) but slowly undergoing westernization: There are cable networks, digital advertisements (in English!), and iPhones which connect its working-class inhabitants; grandparents reach across the ocean through social media to congratulate their grandchildren on graduating; shipments of medicine, construction tools, exotic fruit, and fashion magazines make their way into the workplace and household and paint an eccentric mosaic of neo-Slavic prosperity.
It is true: These technologies do bring prosperity to the economic and social climate of Nosovka, but to what extent? The houses still crumble, the factories from the Soviet era remain abandoned, and the people still grasp on the precipice of poverty. A hand emerges; on it, an Apple Watch (38mm Rose Gold Aluminum Case with Pink Sand Sport Band) and the word “Namaste” tattooed along the forearm. Its owner, a graduated electrical engineer with a six-digit savings account, claims that salvation can be found in a new deity: liberal democratic capitalist. The owner claims that the folk must be cleansed of their primitive habits through the adoption of modern technologies, namely consumer electronics, fracking, and yoga. An interesting parallel can be drawn between current Nosovka and the Aboriginal communities of 17th century North America. The Huron and Iroquois and many other tribes were bereft of the European mechanisms—rifles, religion, and steel—which would elevate them to a new degree of prosperity. Colonists took the initiative and converted them into civilized professionals in hopes that the New World would be enlightened. Today, the Aboriginal community suffers from centuries of assimilation. Poverty peppers the reserve lands, which they continue to battle for in court. As the Scientific Revolution dawned on humanity, European culture imposed itself on North America and slowly decimated the Aboriginal way of life. This is salvation turned sinister. What will happen to the people of Nosovka when the superiority of the Western supermarket crashes down on their way of life? Will they accrue its benefits and become civilized consumers, or forever plant potatoes, suffer malnourishment, dig holes for their outhouses, and eventually be wiped out? How sustainable is modernization to those people?
In 2015, I visited my extended family in Nosovka for one month. I saw the benefits of modernization in the streets. In fact, I was in the country because of modernization; because of the ubiquity of cars and airplanes, because of the simplicity of passports, because of the software which enabled our credit cards to purchase a travel ticket from our living rooms, I could celebrate another reunion with my grandparents. In Ukraine, I was also exposed the hazards of the modernized world. My uncle and grandfather slaughtered a pig a few weeks into our visit. I woke at dawn to hear its squeals, walked outside, watched its blood drain into the soil, and witnessed my family harvest its innards and make sausage (among other edibles). It was spectacular and grotesque and, most importantly, led me to deeply reflect on what sustainability means. In North America, over 50% of food waste comes from communal and municipal practice. In Nosovka, my grandparents utilized their freshly slaughtered livestock in ways I hadn’t even imagined. This is because in rural Ukraine survival is inversely proportional to the amount of waste produced. How is this idea portrayed in Canada? It is not. In Calgary, the landfill (which I occasionally worked in over the spring of 2016) is filled with reusable materials. An incredible amount of the content in the Shepherds Landfill could have been recycled. People generally lack the skill of waste-elimination. What does this say about our way of life, especially in contrast to the efficiency of my grandparents? Upon my return, I picked up cycling. For the rest of the summer I cycled everywhere I could, and I currently maintain the practice during spring, summer, and autumn. I find liberation in reducing my carbon footprint. Although it is not much in terms of “feeding 9 billion” or “ending poverty,” I have continued to pick up new habits which reduce waste in my immediate community.
Take time and consider these things and what prominence they have in your life. How big is your carbon footprint? If there were, say, 9 billion of you, how many Earths would it take to sustain your lifestyle? In the seventh grade, I measured mine to be 13.7 Earths, and that was for a minor 7 billion. It was a shocking experience. The moment slowly approaches when humans will reach carrying capacity; whether we survive that moment depends solely on whether we can transcend our gluttonous materialistic tendencies. There is nuclear energy, “precision farming,” public transport, and genetic modification. These are technologies which allow is to be more resourceful and to tackle the global challenge of feeding 9 billion, but the continued existence of hunger, thirst, and disease leads me to an interesting question: What is stopping us? I hope to answer that question as I progress through the course.

References

Godfray, H. C. J., and others, “Food Security: The Challenge of Feeding 9 Billion People,” Science, New Series, Vol. 327, No. 5967 (American Association for the Advancement of Science, 2010), pp. 812-818.