Should we continue to use the term “developing world”?

This post is in response to me being about two years behind the times as I just came across the World Bank’s article from 2015: Should we continue to use the term “developing world”?

In a word, No! But it’s a good question to ask.

Two decades ago, geographers ditched the term “Third World” due to its negative connotations. Unfortunately, people still use it; even my Grade 7s said their Grade 6 teacher had used it last year. Now it’s time to move on from “Developing World”.

But is this just “political correctness” as some claim? I hate that term. It instantly categorizes empathetic, inclusive clear-minded thinking as something from the fringe that we only use because we’re supposed to, like kissing Aunt Edna’s furry cheek against our wishes.  Speaking to people and writing about them in ways that are not offensive should be our default position, especially for educators. We’re trying to improve things, not simply revert to lowest common denominator wordsmithing.

So, now that “Developing World” is out, how do we refer to countries that are struggling with development? After all, terms such as “failed states” are still in use. I like the term “emerging” markets, but that’s a very economics-based descriptor. Or, perhaps this notion of dividing the world into discreet groups of countries is no longer valid. As the article points out, the now late Hans Rosling quite correctly argued that the world’s nations are now far more similar than they were 50 years ago when the world was “conveniently” divided into two or three worlds. Even then, “the North” and “the South” (or the Haves and Have Nots, the West and the Rest, etc.) seemed not only inappropriate, but completely artificial. Perhaps the time has come for us to stop tossing ¾s of the world into one bucket.

We’re dealing with a continuum now. There’s no room for the “us and them” attitude that pervades development geography. At the same time, perhaps we also need to look at re-branding at least some of the “most developed” countries as being “over-developed”. You see, we’ve always taken for granted that more development is better than less development. What about those “highly developed” nations that have obscenely high GNIs per capita, yet treat their people with indifference? Or the “developed” countries that have overweight and obesity rates of 30%?

I just had a look at the most recent data for HDI and I was struck (as I always am) by the last column: GNI per capita rank minus HDI rank. countries with low numbers rank about the same in GNI per capita and HDI, which is somewhat expected given the correlation between wealth and development. But countries with high positive numbers rank much better in HDI than they do in GNI per capita, meaning they are doing much better development-wise than their GNI would otherwise indicate – like making silk purses out of sow’s ears.

Australia, New Zealand and Iceland have either 19 or 20 which means they rank considerably higher in HDI than in GNI. I would argue that’s a good thing – it’s these countries that should be applauded. Look at Cuba: it has a difference of 48. That is truly significant! They are making greater strides in human development than their per capita GNI would indicate. At the same time, though, the UAE has a difference of –35, Qatar is –32 and Saudi Arabia is –26. So, who really is “developed”? Who most has their s—t together? Perhaps a bigger shift is needed in how we categorize development and how well governments really look after their people. But that’s for another post.


Unsustainable supermarkets

The next time you bite into that seemingly luscious red strawberry – in January – think about this article…

Are supermarkets facing the beginning of the end?

We, in the West, really do face a number of hypocritical decisions and actions on a daily basis. Many of us recycle, but then we go buy more “stuff”; we love our “self-propelled” activities, but then drive our cars to enjoy them; we eat healthy diets, but demand unquestionably unsustainable fruits & veg all winter long.

For most North Americans, it’s possible to have virtually the same health benefits by purchasing locally-grown fruit and veg in season – even through the winter – especially the veg because eating vegetables is far healthier than eating fruit. But let’s face it, selling beets, carrots and cabbages is not as sexy as strawberries, kiwis, avocados, mangos, etc. And lettuce in January is, perhaps, the least sustainable of all. Imagine transporting a truckload of plants from Mexico or California that are 96% water, all this way, just to add a few micronutrients to our table.

Head in the clouds

  It’s summer, and I’m looking up at the brilliantly blue sky, marvelling at the huge billowy white clouds forming this afternoon. The last few days we’ve some spectacular storms with violent winds, a small tornado and too is-sized hail in some places here in Ontario.

 How can one not spend at least part of a day (or even a few moments) looking up at the clouds? They have been written about (Shelley’s The Cloud: “I bring fresh showers for the thirsting flowers…”) and sung about ( Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides, Now: “Rows and flows of angel hair, And ice cream castles in the air…”), and photographed (take a look at Ansel Adam’s work!) Often, we’re trying to figure out how soon we’ll need to run for cover. Or perhaps you’re out canoeing on a lake wondering if you’ll make it to shore before the tempest begins.

  Or maybe you’re with an eight-year-old, lying down on a grassy knoll looking for shapes in the cottony white clouds above. What a great way to spend an afternoon! But where do you start. Inevitably, the questions arise: “But, how do clouds form?” and “what kind of cloud is that?” While there just might be an app for that, I’ve found another, very comprehensive source for all your cloud knowledge at the UK’s Met Office simply called Clouds, or, more specifically, National Meteorological Library and Archive Fact sheet 1 – an Introduction to clouds. It’s a 59-page PDF with a full description and explanation of cloud formation, complete with graphs and illustrations, and, more importantly, pages devoted to pictures and descriptions of each of the dozens of cloud types. It’s the kind of source one can easily get lost in for a few hours.

Clouds is also an ideal background document for the student who wants to extend their learning further. Have a look!

On Hiatus

I’ll be on hiatus from regularly adding articles to the blog for at least the next few weeks. In addition to my regular teaching and co-curricular requirements, I have two “projects” that will occupy extra chunks of time.

A week from today, I (along with my wife and a teaching colleague) will be taking 23 SJK students to the Galápagos Islands for 12 days on a conservation service trip. Aside from experiencing the unique wildlife of Galápagos close-up, we will be working with National Park officials to survey bird species within and outside the park to compare species and numbers. As well, we will be involved with the more mundane task of clearing invasive plant species to expand the habitable area for the Galápagos Tortoise population. The service work will be balanced with boating, snorkelling, biking and hiking excursions. After all, when travelling with primarily Gr 8s and 9s, those 5:30am wake up calls for birding need to be offset with some fun-based learning! For me, the trip will be the fulfillment of work I did all those years ago in university whilst in the BSc programme studying zoology, biogeography, evolution and world ecosystems.

The second project requiring more of my time is a little more mundane: I am the Faculty Advisor for our Yearbook crew and much has to be done to meet looming deadlines!

I will do my best to post, but it will be rather sporadic. However, I will take the time to add a trip report and photos from the Galápagos.

Thanks for reading.

World’s Biggest Fracking Quake?

An excellent article on fracking, providing clarity of an issue mired in politics, innuendo and misinformation.

The Mountain Mystery

“Did Alberta Just Break a Fracking Earthquake World Record?” This is the headline in The Tyee, an online independent magazine focused on western Canada, and it seems the paper thinks so. The Tyee’s coverage of a big fracking earthquake in northern Alberta is mostly accurate, although a larger quake was reported in Oklahoma in September 2014. The Canadian shake measured 4.4 while the Sooner State’s quake was 4.5. An even larger one is alleged and implicated in an injury lawsuit in Oklahoma. I’ll have more about that in a moment.

Readers of this blog are aware of fracking. Hydraulic fracturing forces reluctant oil and gas out of the ground. The technology was invented half a century ago (1947, actually) but grew out of much earlier fracturing schemes, dating back to at least 1865 when nitroglycerin torpedoes were dropped into shallow Pennsylvania wells to “loosen up” the rocks, encouraging oil…

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