The North-South Divide

Earth at night with light visible more from the Northern half of the hemisphere

By Brad Stocker.

Context is everything. Context shapes the meaning of our words and thoughts. Recently I attended a workshop called “What’s Missing (and Needed) Post COP26?” hosted by the Quaker United Nations Office and the Quaker Council for European Affairs. During this event, the “North” and the “South” referred to a global context. It is a context for which the privileged North has limited comprehension. 

To make a global movement, we must consider the divide between the global North and South, but many of us are out of our context, our experiences, and are distortedly filtering. When I was young, the “South” meant below the Mason-Dixon Line because I was inculcated with narratives associated with that context in schools and society. 

Please, pause here and look at the photograph above, courtesy of NASA (You can see a larger version here). Take a full minute to look, and notice what it shows. This is an important context for understanding the global North and South divide. The lights show power. The lights are representative of other powers. Notice where there are more lights. Discounting dark areas that are still wild and less populated by our species, it is clear where the power is not.  

The global South says to the North that the North has an obligation to support the South’s reduction of anthropocentric causes of climate change. For example, burning coal is a major contributor to climate change, yet coal is a major source for energy production in the impoverished South. For the South to eliminate coal use and transition to alternative energy sources calls for financial support from the wealthy North. This seemingly simple request has been contentious, and the North’s abusive imperial/colonial past only exacerbates the harm; thus, another insight into the divide. 

Where are defenders being killed?
Screenshot of Global Witness' interactive report. Courtesy of Global Witness:

Typically, aid from the North has been top down. The North determines which businesses should receive the money and for what purposes. It does not rise from the people. It is not solidarity.

The inevitable question arises: “What can we do?” Non-violent protesting is action, though even this suggestion illustrates the North-South division. Non-violent protesting is a luxury in the North for most people. The global South has a very different risk level when protesting. Please click on the link to find the image above, “Where are defenders being killed?”

If you pass your cursor over a dot a small window pops up with a short bio of the person killed. Personalizing deaths is essential to contextualization. The number of death dots again illustrates the global South and North divide.

Defenders everywhere are often threatened for their lives but there are far more killings in the South. The organization Global Witness tracks murdered land and environmental defenders around the world. According to Global Witness, 1,540 land and environmental defenders were killed between 2012 and 2020. Their research also shows that the industries most linked to the killings include mining and extractives, poaching, logging, water and dams, and agribusiness. We should wonder if those industries are likely to have received aid or done business with the North.

Perhaps this has helped to place the struggle between the global South and North in a more useful context as we work for global climate change solutions.

Brad Stocker, Ed.D., has been an educator for many years, in every level between graduate and preschool, in many subjects, including Earthcare and Earth literacy. His family is bilingual/bicultural and he and his wife, Tere Campos, write, play, and care for their elders and grandchildren.