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Monday, April 26, 2010

Unit 5

So between a wedding, a ton of homework and the need to pack in case we have an immediate, emergency evacuation to Laos, I have yet to find time to write about our final unit in the gold mining communities.

This unit was the right one to close with, because it brought all of our questions of development to a head. Whereas most of the natural things that we have destroyed for our development purposes can be somewhat restored, there is no way to put the top back on a mountain. People in Loei province rely on the mountains as the entirety of their sources of food, water, and livelihood. Without that mountain, people are no longer self-sufficient, must work as lottery sellers, and have to buy all their forms of sustenance.  At the same time, the things that are coming from these mountains, copper, gold, and other minerals and metals, are used in all of our every day products that we consider necessary, such as computers, cell phones, and cars. Even my Na Nong Bong family had two motorcycles, a pick-up truck, a computer with internet, three cell phones, and a digital camera. That's the dilemma that needs some complex solving. Besides reducing personal consumption, I don't really have an answer for you at this point in time.


The issue that is not at all complex and really quite obvious. If you are ruining people's entire livelihoods in order to mine some minerals, you should help them out a little bit. For example, try not to put your chemical tailing pond on top of their groundwater source, so all of their water is contaminated with cyanide and everyone gets seriously ill. Even if you're going to do that, provide people with clean drinking and bathing water so they don't have to pay for really expensive water, when they've already lost their income and their source of food. And then when people go to the city to protest for the water, you shouldn't make promises that you're going to give them some if you aren't planning on it, or just provide it for 2 months and then stop. This is all just mean and unjust.

People who Conserve their Hometown (PWCTH), the group that Na Nong Bong villagers formed to fight against the gold mine has amazing organizing and strategical techniques, and a really strong group of youth who are helping the adults in the communities and the NGOs conduct health research and spread awareness to other youth. So in previous semesters all the CIEE students would stay in PWCTH's strongest, most active community, so that we could get a sense for the activism that is already occurring. However, this time around, we were spread out in 6 different villages, one student per house, so that PWCTH could begin building relationships and spreading awareness with these other villagers that were previously not involved. On our last night in Loei province, we went to a baisee string tying festival. Little did we know it was really just an organizing strategy, bringing all the different villagers together to not only bond over having students stay with them, but to also listen to a very conveniently planned talk from the NGO and health representative. We were straight up used, but it was brilliant. 

So there's a community in which a copper mine is supposed to be built. We had an exchange with the villagers and a tour of the mountain. They've already started organizing and protesting, so that the mine isn't built. They did an interesting thing. In Buddhism, you cannot kill living things. That includes all the trees an animals that you would be blowing up for the creation of the mine. The ultimate sin would be to kill a monk, the most respected and holy men in the Buddhist religion. The villagers have begun ordaining all the trees on the mountain, bringing in an odd number of monks to do the ceremony, and wrapping the traditional orange material that monks wear around the trunks of the tree. If the company still wants to create the mine, they'd have to kill monks, and they would be consequently punished through kamma.
I've had an epiphany about development in an academic sense, in that I've finally found a way to combine environmental studies and psychology. After the last unit, I had to answer a question: "What does development mean to your major?" Well of course, this program, entitled Development and Globalization, has been teaching me about how development relates to Environmental Studies and looking at the pros/ cons of economic, political, and environmental global development. However, although I have learned about all these concepts in ES classes at Bowdoin, the only classes that have actually had the word "development" in the course title have been developmental psych. I know the definition of development is completely different in these two cases, but something is to be said for using the same word in both instances. This program really focuses on the downside of development, how political and economic development can really be harmful for communities who are perfectly happy and capable of being self- sufficient. However, this gets turned on its head once you think about human development. Everyone develops, our brains develop and change constantly, and humanity itself develops and evolves, and this must be taken into consideration when we consider development in terms of more political issues, as well. Human development is not stagnant and our constantly changing. There's a reason we are no longer a hunter and gatherer society and why the Ancient Roman empire fell. No one came down from the heavens and dictated a revolution. Humans changed. Like educational and other institutions change as one transitions from childhood to adulthood, as the human species develops, our politics and economics must develop with us. The global political and economic system needs to strike a balance between keeping up with human development and speeding past it. I don't know exactly what to do with this, or whether research comparing development in these terms has been completed before, or if it is even logical or worthwhile. But I've been searching for my psych/ ES connection all semester, and even if it's a dead end and I don't come back to Bowdoin with a clear research project connecting my two disciplines, I finally found it. I've been reading some crazy crack-pot evolutionary psychology articles and books, and as crazy as they are, I'm beginning to pull out connections between evolution, economics, and development. Maybe this will help us solve issues related to mining, electricity generation, and general consumption.



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