Must We In The Third World Take Our Fair Share From This Planet Too?

Hills burn in California

‘Fair?’; an illustration by Winta Assefa; 2019

I just met a relative mom was told me about for years.

We knew each other by reputation: she was the aunt-figure who worked in Norway and I was her niece’s Saudi-born kid.

I didn’t expect to put a face to her four-syllabled first name today, and I didn’t know it was her I hugged until we sat down and started pouring out our stories.

She told me to finish my studies and find someone in my position to marry. She said this with regret and urgency, and even though I maintained eye contact, I didn’t want to respond until she repeated her words in Arabic. And there was no way out of that conversation.

I’ve reached the age where marriage is the ice-breaker in any meeting with a distant relative. But one thing that stood out in our conversation was how deeply concerned she seemed to be about climate change. I rarely hear anyone talk about it as though it were a personal matter, even though it is.

‘The air is being polluted’, she told me.

She may have thought that I had no concern for the environment.

What I didn’t tell her was that when I watched a Jazeera Children cartoon series about climate change as a child, I was so isolated in my concern, that I felt stupid for being concerned at all.

But my grand-aunt also told me about how cars are heavily taxed in Norway, and how common it is to see electric cars there. She seemed impressed when I mentioned Oslo, Norway’s capital city, and asked whether that’s where she lived. Her home is a forty-minute ride from where she works. So it turns out we both have to make long commutes.

She also told me that most of the food is imported, and that reminded me of one of the students who came to my campus as part of a program to design urban plans for Ethiopian villages.

He wasn’t from Norway; he was Czech. The only information I know about the Czech republic was from Milan Kundera’s miserable book, The Unbearable Lightness of Being.

Over lunch, the young man told us about what he believes is a strong correlation: the more North one goes, the blander and worse the food gets. He said that things were worse further North, where there is less of everything to make food out of, and so, people settle for fish guts.

So, I ask her about fish. She said that they do have a fishing industry, but they import a lot of what they catch. The remaining fish is sold at high prices in the local market.

But she doesn’t seem to mind the food anymore. Raw ingredients for food are unfairly distributed worldwide. But the changing global temperature is only making things worse for people living in natural global extremes.

It’s about salvaging whatever we have left that is keeping the earth bearable to exist in. More people may have to live as we do in the Global South.

More people may have to move in packed minibusses, use water from bottles in dorm washrooms, and even live with scheduled electricity cuts as we did here for some time.

But there was a time when people lived with no vehicles, running water, or electricity at all. A lot of the subsistence farmers here are already too familiar with that lifestyle.

So, more sharing and rationing is something that I think more of the world will have to live with when things inevitably get worse.

As Hank Green once said, it will probably feel like we’re our own enemies. There’s the familiar adage: we want our children to live ‘better lives’ than ours. But the American Suburban ideal which the rest of the world is still trying to emulate is wasteful and inefficient.

But the Czech guy I mentioned earlier didn’t come here to try better food.

He was part of the Tukul to Dachas (T2D) project which was about designing towns that combine rural and urban qualities in one place. This way, people can grow their food near where they live and still have basic healthcare and education services for fueling other forms of economies in a self-sustaining town.

This project wasn’t just about designing sustainable rural-urban towns within different cultural contexts in this country. The project was also born from the necessity caused by climate change and population growth.

The farmland here isn’t the same anymore. Plots have been divided into too many times, fields are being overgrazed and rainfall is becoming even more unpredictable. At this rate, any extreme change in weather can cause another disastrous famine. Rural Ethiopia is one of many places where the effects of climate change are immediate.

Places in Scandinavia are already witnessing the immediate effects of the melting icecaps, and elsewhere, islands are being completely submerged underwater, people can no more afford to talk about what-ifs. It’s too immediate for that.

No wonder the woman was concerned. With the internet’s thorough reach, those concerns are a lot tougher to ignore now.

It still feels like we’re doing our assignments last minute, on the morning when they’re due.

-w

3/9/19

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Winta Assefa

Winta Assefa

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Architect, storyteller, & cat-mom from Ethiopia ~ I’m open to visually capturing the ‘soul’ of your stories through illustrations: bookwormdigging@gmail.com