Humans are notorious for multiple behaviors in our short history: categorizing, assigning value, and declaring ownership of things both human and nonhuman. Borders, along with who and what resides within them, are distinct examples of the history of human interaction with each other and with their environment. The three pieces of discussion this week hinge on these human ideals. They center on the division of natural resources and discuss this issue through numerous storytelling techniques.
In the fictional novel Oil on Water, authored by Helon Habila, two Nigerian journalists set out on a mission to rescue the wife of a British oil engineer from her kidnappers, Nigerian militants. The theme of this story is power; who has the right to control their environment? In the famed Berlin Conference of 1885, leaders of European nations gathered to draw borders and allocate sections of Africa among themselves. Following this event, Great Britain officially colonized Nigeria. Many believe that the conference was the precursor for present day strife in areas such as Nigeria, where civilians fight for the right to keep their land, the government fights for the right to trade oil with other nations, and the environment suffers as a result of both sides. If native ethnic groups were able to draw their own borders, perhaps the conflict over oil and natural resources would have occurred anyways, but perhaps native people could have remained in symbiosis with their environment, such as the island community in the novel who continue to worship their environment.
Similarly, the short story The Petrol Pump by Italo Calvino discusses the rationing of oil. He creates a compelling tale through the use of poetic language woven into real-world events. Calvino personifies his automobile while also directly comparing it to the environment in the way that they are both running out of oil. I initially interpreted the story as set in the future, so with the price of crude oil at eleven dollars per barrel in the story, I couldn’t help but wonder what international crisis had led to the economy plummeting so steeply. This interpretation of the story is very pertinent to the state of oil today and how local prices and opinions about gas are directly impacted by the state of the international relations. Borders hereby impact not only countries in Africa affected by colonialism, but also has effects on the world in its increasing state of globalization.
Lastly, in the short film Pumzi I was struck by the lack of water present in a futuristic African territory. The film is set after a third World War entitled “The Water War”, and this setting supports an interpretation that nations began withholding water resources from one another. The concept of conflict over water rights is nothing new, and in many cases, land that contains the source of bodies of water is highly valued. Sources and their respective bodies of water that lie between man-made borders are in complete control of the nation that claims the source. The power that one country could have in the ability to decimate the environment and people living in another country is astonishing.
As a result of this discussion, I’m believe that we must continue to view the environment as part of one large ecosystem that we all thrive in. Victor Davis Hanson of the LA Times stated, “Borders are to distinct countries what fences are to neighbors: means of demarcating that something on one side is different from what lies on the other side.” However, this “demarcating” of people and resources is extremely harmful and confusing when it comes to environmental issues. As an increasing number of humanitarian organizations name themselves [Insert occupation] Without Borders, I can’t help to wonder, would it be more helpful in solving environmental issues to consider the environment to be beyond borders?
Calvino, Italo, and Tim Parks. “The Petrol Pump.” Numbers in the Dark: And Other Stories. New York: Pantheon, 1995. 170-75. Print.
Dodocutepoison. “Pumzi”. Youtube. Youtube, LLC. 2013.
Habila, Helon. Oil on Water: A Novel. New York: W.W. Norton, 2011. Print.
Hanson, Victor Davis. “Why Borders Matter — and a Borderless World Is a Fantasy.” Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 31 July 2016. Web. 10 Feb. 2017. <http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-hanson-borders-20160731-snap-story.html>.