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Learning Journey: Exploring Sustainability and Ethics

Updated: May 29

As I gradually transit between disciplines in my study within the sustainability discourse, one thing continually strikes me every time I consider “inventions” in sustainability related to climate change. I mentioned earlier on a social media post that my grannies already knew what is identified as “climate-friendly living or inventions” in this era. The only thing was that my grannies, like everyone in their period, especially those in the typical village settings, possibly had a different name for the concept. For them, it was about managing limited resources to get things done and making deliberate choices to avoid waste.

a group of wind turbines
Wind Farm

As I read a paper by Gurminder K. Bhambra titled “Sociology after Postcolonialism: Provincialized Cosmopolitanism and Connected Sociologies”, my instincts or perhaps feelings toward the “greenish” inventions in this SDG era became very clear. Somehow, I connected with her words as she explained the continued erasure of the rest and the deliberate effort to detach European modernity from its colonial past as if it did not matter. The transformation of particularism (the strong attachment one feels towards a party, nation or group) to universalism within the development of sociological theories is situated within assumptions that conflate Europe with modernity (the grand patrons of action). The “the other” (who must follow the grand patron to arrive) is reinforced. 

An Electric Car beside a Charging Pump
An Electric Car

Remarkably, she mentions that “This is evident in the historiography of the industrial revolution whereby all achievements within the geographical space of Europe as seen to have emerged as a consequence of the endogenous efforts of Europeans alone. The British production of cotton textiles is one such instance and is often considered a leading example of the success of the emerging factory mode of production. Yet, what is missing from this narrative is the simultaneous destruction of the cotton textile industry elsewhere which opened up external markets to export British goods. The impact of industrialization at ‘home’ and de-industrialization elsewhere upon the subsequent success of British industry is rarely discussed”. 

As the world races towards the 2030 deadline and efforts for concrete climate action, too many things get lost in transition in the bid to seek consensus. Much remains unclear; a lot of aggrieved parties and deeper unresolved issues rooted in colonialism have already perfected the status quo such that poorer countries will be forever disadvantaged. As a Nigerian, my biggest issue is not even racism but being able to survive in a deliberately confined society within the circle of multidimensional poverty. Everything about being a Nigerian is complicated these days, both at home and abroad. When black people in places like the United States of America talk about racism, I cannot fully relate. I am from a country presently ruled by black people on every level, who should do every citizen right by providing the most basic needs. Not to digress, but for Africa, as far as climate change is concerned, battling poverty (real economic empowerment) is the biggest issue. Until that is fixed, the erasure and the dignity we desperately seek will be a slow drag.

Similar to the ongoing issue of the recent travel ban. There is racism and the economic angle, but I would lean towards the financial side of the argument. Africans will cry possibly unto deaf ears, and we continue to bear our grievances but what is clear is the reality of economic power in the drama. Poor people are always at the receiving end and the stake of global economic power; Africa has barely any leverage.  How then can we fight erasure, and continued colonialism with no economic leverage?  

Ecofriendly inventions within the circular economy have long existed in African communities. Studies have proven this to be true. The lack of something I would call “deliberate strong economic will” by leaders constantly plagued by the issue of corruption, and abuse of power does not help in establishing this fact and the push for preserving what is left, which could be a form of leverage. 

When China was put on the hot seat for its “monopolistic” approach to tariffs and supply of rare-earth metals, and active ingredients in technological gadgets, China simply reinforced the importance of the resources to the growth of its economy upon which the welfare of citizens are dependent upon. A strong defense against extraterritorial application of competition law from big Western governments.

A hand on a sieve

Look at places like The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) Congo in Africa, which should give China a run for its money on rare metals. Instead, like many countries in Africa, the more you try to understand what exactly happens in those mines and other forms of natural resources, the less you see because it is an absolute quagmire.

I guess I gradually understand my deepest feelings about the erasure of African history in my study of sustainability. It is easy to say “Africans who continue eating meat” or “flying across the Atlantic” is what is killing the planet while they onlook how much their colonial history continues to give them the advantage to stay on top of their sustainability lifestyle game. There are no hard feelings in this reality; people who have the power, resources and the most significant platforms to push their narratives continue to shine while the rest of us struggle to be heard. Erasure is absolute; efforts to distort history can no longer be denied, but how do you fight back? When you are up against a mighty opponent, what armory are you bringing to the fight? How can an army of people constantly challenged by multidimensional poverty progressively in this long-standing battle? 

Economic power is the name of the game; it is the leverage you need to push your narrative, to constantly try and elevate your culture. Otherwise, someone else would. 

We often talk about morality and ethics in describing the injustice of this world but really, do people even care these days? We talk about disasters like floods, the destruction of farmlands by banditry, and ethnic and religious fights; how many people care if they are not directly affected?


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