The Circle’s the Thing II

Amman, Jordan

Apparently, according to a conversation some of my colleagues were having on the bus this morning, traffic circles are preferable to traffic lights in Jordan because almost all the automobiles here are standards, and traffic circles require less shifting and produce fewer bad emissions than traffic lights.

This is one of the fascinating things about Jordan as a developing country, and perhaps it has to do, as Queen Noor says in her memoir Leap of Faith, with the nature of kings, who can better afford to aim for results fifty years down the road than can presidents or prime ministers, who have to produce results by the next election cycle. I had a student in the writing center at IU whose paper argued that GNP was an insufficient measure of a country’s potential, in part because GNP doesn’t factor sustainability or the global interconnectedness of ecosystems into its calculations. At the end of the paper, almost as an aside, he said that only rich nations and not developing nations could afford to consider sustainability, and I took real issue with this statement, on the basis of a single example: King Abdullah II of Jordan, in his National Plan and subsequent development initiatives, has proposed that all development in Jordan be based on environmentally safe and sustainable means, because if Jordan builds its economy at the expense of the environment, such results will be short-lived, and Jordan will be worse off in the long run. The March 2008 issue of National Geographic includes a story about the Kingdom of Bhutan, the king of which is pursuing development along a path of GNH (Gross National Happiness), and one pillar of GNH is sustainable development. I think this is part of what Fareed Zakaria means when he talks about “the rise of the rest,” the concept that the United States is no longer the driving force behind global markets and concerns; in the age of globalization and the Internet, the smaller, poorer, developed countries are just as capable of making significant contributions to global trends, and it is to the disadvantage of the United States to discount what was once dismissed as “the Third World.”

So here’s to the developing world, sustainable development, and the traffic circle! SiHa wa ‘aafiya!

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