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How to Address Humanity's Global Crises? Challenge Corporate Power, Embrace True Democracy

The physicist, activist and author outlines the scope of the "triple threat" represented by the end of cheap oil, human-induced climate change, and resource scarcity.
 
 
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Editor's note: the following remarks were made this September at a conference on "Confronting the Global Triple Crisis -- Climate Change, Peak Oil, Global Resource Depletion & Extinction," in Washington DC. For more information, visit the International Forum on Globalization's website.

Before I came here I was very fortunate to join the group of scientists and religious leaders who made a trip to the Arctic to witness the melting of the icecaps. An entire way of life is being destroyed. You've seen the polar bears losing their ecological space, but the highest mobility in that part of the world is the dog sledge. And they can't use it. They're locked into their villages because the ice is now too thin to travel on it. But it's still there and therefore not good enough for them to use boats.

The same melting is making the Himalayan glaciers in my region, the Ganges glacier, recede by 30 meters a year. In twenty years time, the Himalayan glaciers will have reduced from 500,000 square kilometers to 100,000 square kilometers. And given our rainfall patterns, in the hot summer season when we have a drought, it's only the melting of the glaciers that brings us water. So we're talking about one-fifth of humanity, twenty to thirty years from now, having no water in the grand rivers around which the grand civilizations of Asia have been built.

And where did this start? All this feels so timeless, but it started with humanity getting at the fossil fuel, which was never supposed to be touched… But that model carries on. And globalization now is industrializing every activity of every human being's life across the planet. For me, globalization is really expanding the use of fossil fuel.

And so while on the one hand, when we talk climate change, we're talking about reducing emissions, the entire economic model is based on increasing emissions. It is based on increasing emissions by destroying small-scale peasant farming and introducing large-scale industrial agriculture. It's increasing emissions by making every one of us dependent on our everyday needs to come from China.

Everything today is being made where it can be made most cheaply, which means where sources can be exploited the fastest and workers can be exploited the highest. And at one level, that's what's being reflected in China's double-digit growth and India's nine percent growth. It's basically converting our resources into commodities, to be sold around the world.

But that conversion requires the wastage of human beings on a scale we've never seen. In India right now, the relocation of industry for example; industry like steel that's shutting down in Europe and America, is relocating to India. Automobile companies that are shutting down in the West are moving to India; they're talking about making 50 million cars in India annually. Only four percent of India will ever own them. The rest will either be exported or that four percent will have eight cars rather than two. Already my landlord has five in a family of three. Those cars need minerals, they need steel, they need iron ore mining, they need aluminum, they need bauxite mining. And every inch of the land in India is today serving a global, fossil fuel economy that's on fast forward.

It needs land; land grab is the biggest resource crisis. Land you can't create, you can only exhaust. But peasants are saying we will not move. That's what they said in Nandigram, 25 were shot dead and they refuse to move. In Dhandri, where women were raped and attacked and refused to move. In place after place, the tribals, the peasants in India are saying this our land, this is our mother, and this is where we will be. And when the money for compensation becomes bigger and bigger-- I love this action-- the Nandigram peasants sent a letter to the chief ministers to say, "How much is your mother for sale. How much will you take for her? Because this land is our mother."

And the globalization of agriculture has really become genocidal. It's hugely responsible for increasing greenhouse gases, whether it's from the nitrogen fertilizers of the fossil fuel in the mechanical energy that's used, or in the long distance transport and food miles. But on the ground it's killing people. Long before it will kill us through climate change, it's killing people, physically killing people.

150,000 farmers have been pushed to end their lives in India because of Monsanto seed monopolies. Monsanto was collecting 2,400 rupees as royalty for a kilogram of Bt cotton seed that they were selling for 3,200 rupees. They're in the courts right now; we've challenged them, we've joined one of the state governments. They're saying we have a right to this monopoly and we're saying our country has never given you this right. They assume they got it in the United States and therefore they have it everywhere, whether the law allows it or not.

Or Cargill, wanting to grab India's wheat market, having signed an agreement through the Bush Administration with…Right here in this city, decisions about agriculture are being made here, in Washington. A two-year old agriculture agreement. So Cargill eventually got India's wheat markets opened up. And the international wheat price is $400; Indian farmers are getting $200. And this double price is ultimately a subsidy that we are giving in addition to the subsidy your farm bill is providing to these corporations.

Retail: India is a huge, huge land of bazaars, of huts, of markets. Every street is a market. Hawkers come down in the morning, get us our vegetables to our doorstep. Of course, that's not very good for Wal-Mart so they're manipulating zoning laws, shutting down hawkers, shutting down businesses in town, so that we will have a Wal-Mart model. But that means 100 million people out of retail and we don't know how much more carbon emissions, while Wal-Mart talks about going green…

So here you have globalization adding to emissions and it needs to be a continued part of our work. And you've got false solutions that were laid out by Jerry [Mander]. But the false solution that I think we need to pay particular attention to is the dominant solution in terms of carbon trading. Because at the philosophical level, at the world-view level, it's the second privatization of the atmospheric commons. The first privatization was putting the pollution into the atmosphere beyond the earth's recycling capacity. Now with carbon trading, the rights to the earth's carbon cycling capacity are gravitating exactly into the arms of the polluters. The environmental principal used to be the polluter must pay. Carbon trading is transforming that into the polluter gets paid.

[Sir Nicholas] Stern, who did the Stern Review, has clearly said it is an allocation of a full set of property rights to the atmosphere. And PricewaterhouseCoopers -- who was very notorious in trying to privatize, with the World Bank's help, Delhi's water supply, and we defeated them two years ago in that project -- has said that trade in carbon emissions is equated with the transfer of similar rights such as copyrights, patents, licensing rights, commercial and industrial standards.

One of the things we have always said in [the International Forum on Globalization] is that the enclosures of the commons is one of the deep crises of resource depletion. Once resources move out of common management and public care, they will get further degraded. And if you really look at the clean development mechanism, it's all about dirty industry; it's about HCFC plants being accelerated, new plants being set up in China and India. The biggest recipients of CDM credits in China and India are plants that are depleting the ozone layer. Sponge iron plants coming up in the tribal belts of India, in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, and Orissa. And clean seems to have become such a confusing word. We would have thought that we know what clean is. And suddenly, everything dirty is clean.

Including nuclear. Nuclear, not just as nuclear power, but nuclear as strategic use of nuclear power. I don't know how many of you have followed that the United States signed an agreement with India. Now it isn't really that United States signed an agreement with India because you did not sign that agreement and I did not sign that agreement. Our Prime Minister came at the same time that they handed over our agriculture. Monsanto, Cargill, and Wal-Mart, who sit on the board of the agriculture agreement, they also signed this nuclear agreement.

Which has led to the Hyde Act; section 103 of the Hyde Act calls for securing India's full and active participation in U.S. efforts to dissuade, isolate, and if necessary, sanction and contain Iran if it proceeds with its nuclear program. Iran has been mentioned 15 times in a bilateral agreement.

So the nuclear agreement with India is definitely not about clean energy; it is about something bigger. And in India, right now while I'm here, we are having the biggest democratic mobilization against this agreement. First of all because Parliament did not clear it and second, because we don't want to be a client state of the empire -- we want our non-alignment defended -- and thirdly we don't want $100 billion market created for the defense industry in the United States. After all, you are going to have a big mobilization tomorrow against the war. And we don't want to be a part of U.S.'s wars without end. We are, after all, the land of Gandhi, the land of nonviolence, the land of peace, the land of ahimsa.

We have to begin with solutions where we are, while we defend our democratic rights. I work primarily on agriculture. The globalized, industrialized agriculture is a very big part of the pollution that we are dealing with, a very big part of the crisis we are facing. But ecological, bio-diverse, local agriculture is part of the solution. Both in reducing emissions, in increasing absorption of carbon, and most importantly, providing the adaptive capacity to deal with climate chaos. This year in Navdanya, the movement I started for seed saving, we started saving seeds that can deal with the drought, that can deal with the floods. We've been saving seeds that can deal with the cyclones and hurricanes and distributed those seeds after the tsunami. Those seeds are available, they merely have to be saved and distributed rapidly enough before Monsanto comes up with yet another false solution; that without genetic engineering and seed patents we will not be able to respond to climate change ...

I just want to end by saying that we have basically two options. We have the option of letting the remaining resources of the planet be fought over viciously through militarized power or we can move rapidly to the ability to rebuild our ecosystems, share the limited resources the planet can provide us, and create good lives while doing it. But to do that, we'll have to get out of many reductionisms.

The first reductionism being the reductionism of energy. We've suddenly moved to thinking of energy as something we can consume, not as something we generate. And I think that generative concept of energy -- we call it shakti in India -- is something we have to reclaim, because the solution to pollution and wasted people is bringing people back -- deep into the equation of how we produce things, how we work the land, how we shape community, and how we exercise our democratic rights and rebuild our freedoms.

And of course, we'll have to get out of the mindsets that treat the laws manufactured by the market as immutable and unchanging. And the three concepts that are constantly referred to as something that can't be touched are: economic growth. You can't make any change that will touch the nine percent growth in India, the ten percent growth in China. You cannot interfere in the unregulated market -- even though every step of trade liberalization is an interference in the market, every step of creating an opportunity for Cargill and Monsanto, is an interference in the market. And the third false sacred, is unbridled consumerism ...

The problem of climate chaos to me and the problem of appropriating the resources of those who need those resources for ecological security and economic security, is ultimately a question of ethics and justice. And that issue of ethics and justice can only be addressed if we recognize some very basic facts and reorient our practices of what we eat, what we do on our farms, our homes, our towns, our planet.

We need to reinvent our eating and drinking, our moving and working, in our local ecosystems and local cultures. Enriching our lives by lowering our consumption, without impoverishing others. And above all, we need to subject the laws that govern production and consumption to the laws of Gaia; the laws of the planet. The laws of a planet that can give forever in abundance for our needs if we do not allow the narrow minded, mechanistic, reductionist, greed based system of industrialism, capitalism, globalization to make us imagine that to be inhuman is the definition of being human.

Activist and physicist Vandana Shiva is founder and director of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology, and Natural Resource Policy in New Delhi. She is author of more than three hundred papers in leading journals and numerous books, including "Monocultures of the Mind: Biodiversity, Biotechnology, and the Third World and Earth Democracy." Shiva is a founding director of International Forum on Globalization .