I work for an Italian firm that produces and sells world globes. Nothing seems more harmless than a globe, but human geographies are the result of war conflicts, thirst for dominion, economic interests, hopes and points of view, subjective and collective visions, which are all but innocent and universal.
There are plenty of examples. The Antarctic Treaty System halts any type of territorial claim over the extreme southern portion of the Earth, but even so many states demand that the globe displays their sovereignty in that area. Argentina and Great Britain compete for the Falkland archipelago down south in the Atlantic Ocean, that was the scenario of a bloody war during the 1980’s. The most contemporary dispute involves Crimea, displaying different connotations according to Russian and Ukrainian cartography, while other battles have deeper roots: Cyprus, Kashmir, Western Sahara, Tibet, the sea belt between Korea and Japan, the Kuril Islands and many others. Some years ago we sent to Saudi Arabia some samples of globes meant for a local fair: they were sent back, at our expense, rejected by the customs; where the words Israel and Tel Aviv appeared, and for the government of that country they shouldn’t have, some wholes were made and probably with a pointy object.
Physical geography is less subjective: a lake, a river, a mountain range, a desert. It is complicated to question the existence of these facts of reality. In other words a tree, until it remains just a tree, may feel fairly at safe. The moment it becomes an Austrian tree, Chechen or Guatemalan, it may end up in flames due to some conflict.
These observations urge to consider how much, even as we define ourselves in a progressive way and detailing our identities, we do take part in these conflictual geographies. Can we be something more than simple human animals, without the establishment of a potentially competitive, hostile separation in contrast with all the other beings? In what measure an identity is already defined by the social, cultural and economic conditions that one find oneself to live, without having chose or deserved them?
Recently I met a community of vegan people that follow the raw-diet, living in the mountains in Valchiusella. They chose to live in the mountains so to raise their children in a healthy and unsullied environment, growing their own food, minimizing the ecological footprint, respecting the other animals and feeding mainly on food cooked at maximum 42 °C: life – they claim – produces and reproduces naturally only within certain temperatures. They sustain the importance of energies, and cooking at high temperatures tires the body down, annihilating the food’s energetic properties. The families of Valchiusella carry out a catering activity based on the raw-diet, a type of nutrition that arises a growing interest, probably because of concerns on food scandals and because of the number of diseases related to the consumption of industrial food. To work as less as possible and having free time to dedicate to the family, to reading and other activities are all part of the community values of this group.
To be an active and peaceful part of the larger family of living creatures, overpassing the boundary of species, not feeling separated from the other animals, having care of the future generations reducing the dissipation of non-renewable resources, being the change we desire for the world in first person, all this can also be an answer to the ecological and spiritual emergencies of our time. Free from provincialism, traditionalism and individualism, the identity of this group of families is able, with simplicity, to dialogue with modernity, with information, with the global issues of our time, with the rest of society, even the ones that are geographically distant.
Back to the geography of the tangible and the intangible, how could we position on a globe the low environmental impact community of Valchiusella? Maybe we could imagine them physically in Piemonte, but spiritually and politically spread out. Probably the people that are living that experience aren’t aware of it, but from those mountains they are dialoguing with the inhabitants on the run from the Kiribati archipelago in Micronesia, threatened by the rise of the Ocean level, probably the first environmental refugees of the planet.
Many cosmopolitan citizens physically fly to the touristic megastructures in those atolls, while blissfully unaware of the tragedies that are provoked (also) by the fuel that is needed for their holidays. In this sense, conjugating local identity and global issues seems not only possible but necessary.