Saturday, February 19, 2011

Meditation on a Developing Nation

*Disclaimer:  This post is whiny, opinionated, and not properly researched.  Read at your own risk*

I have a confession.  I have romantisized the lives of Southeastern Asians.  You see, back at home I am fairly concerned about issues of sustainability and environmental degredation, social collapse and the failure of our political system.  I have wrongly assumed that the disconnect between Canadians, their communities, and the environment is a product of a western mentality, a problem faced by Canadians, Americans, and a handful of other nations. 

In Canada, we are draining our natural resources, polluting our air and water, filling garbuge dumps, and burning petroleum at an unsustainable rate with no significant signs of slowing.  While people and polititians pay lip service to the concept of change, the fact is that things are getting worse faster than they're getting better.

The case in the coutries we've visited in the last few months is, I would say, much worse.  The cities are bursting at the seems with a population that isn't prepared to even talk about conserving energy or reducing waste. 

Our first encounter with this was in Bangkok.  We noticed right away that everything came in a plastic bag... or two.  Buy a shirt at a street vendor, plastic bag.  Buy a piece of meat on a stick, plastic bag.  Buy a handmade bag, it goes in a plastic bag.  Buy a coca-cola, they take a plastic bag, fill it with ice, pour the drink in, give you two straws, and then put it all in another plastic bag.  When you try to say that you'll just put something in your pack or you'll just eat it, they get so confused.  Last time I was in Asia, I ate from banana leaves.  Today, it is styrofoam containers.  These bags and containers go almost immediately onto the street where they join piles of rotting meat, engine oil, empty beverage containers, and animal feces among other things.  Some of these are picked up at night by the garbage crews, but much of it is washed into the open drains, to the river untreated, and right into the ocean.  There's a plastic garbage island out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean that is larger than the state of Texas and I'd be willing to bet that most of trash out there comes from developing nations as opposed to Canada and the States.

It seems that many of the city dwellers are completely disconnected from how their actions affect natural and urban environments.  The only focus is on making a living.  The immediate economic costs are the only costs considered.

The mentality has been the same wherever we have been.  When we took the slowboat down the Mekong river.  The crew would take garbage, tie it up in plastic bags, and then throw it overboard.  We could watch it float along beside us. 

The situtation in rural asia isn't much better.  Garbage lines even the lonely roads of secluded hill-top villages.  Farmers practise slash-and-burn farming where they burn down a chunk of rainforest and convert it to cropland or pasture.  After two or three years, the nutrients have been drained from the soil and another area of forest is cleared.  This practise might be alright if the forest recovered but it doesn't.  The landscape is forever scarred. 

There are so few corners of the world untouched by human development.  People live at the base of every cave, cling to the sides of every mountain, and build cities and farms in every valley.  If the mentality and practises of the people don't progress, the natural world doesn't stand a chance.

With this perspective, it seems like Canada is light years ahead on issues of sustainability.  The following are some attributes that I think have contributed to our advantage over developing nations: a relatively stable government and economic system, the resources to study our situation and propose solutions, the infrastructure to distribute information and educate the masses, and a large resource and land mass to population ratio.

I think I'm going to stop here because this is starting to sound like a really poorly researched paper.  I am not writing this to educate people or to instigate change.  I am writing this because it hurts me to see unhappy people killing themselves and their world when it is possible and in fact necessary to live harmoniously in the universe. 


   I have made two posts back to back and the previous one is all smiles.  Scroll down!


  1. Does this mean you feel better about how things are done here in Canada? Journeys such as this can open your eyes in such unexpected ways. Keep learning. :)

  2. I am definitely gaining an appreciation for how things are done in Canada. That said, I think that ít's important to keep moving forward.