Vandana Shiva is a member of the World Future Council, holder of the 1993 Right Livelihood Award, and a 2003 Time Environmental Hero. In her speech at Deutsche Welle’s Global Media Forum in Bonn two weeks ago, she said, “Sadly greed has become the value of our times. We are witnessing what it is costing us. How ecosystem after ecosystem is under collapse, how societies are on such a fragile edge, in Turkey, it takes protection of one park to create a crisis, in Egypt a piece of bread, in Tunisia a vegetable vendor. Syria wasn’t a religious conflict; it was a protest by farmers around a drought.” She spoke to Debra Yatim of Tempo English after the session. Excerpts:
Why do you think ordinary people would tell us how to save ourselves from global warming?
Forty years ago, peasant women told us something we had forgotten: that somehow forests were connected to water. My country exploited forests. Forests were just that much square foot of timber. They were timber mines. Then in 1972, we had a horrible flood. Women came out and said, “These trees protect us. They prevent landslides and flooding. They give us food. They are our mothers, and you can’t cut them!” That became my university of ecology. I did a PhD in the foundations of quantum theory in Canada, but my real PhD is with women who never went to school.
Did that change anything?
It took 10 years for my government to realize what they said was true, because when floods came again in 1978, the government was putting out more money for flood relief than they were getting out of the timber revenues. After, a logging ban was put in the catchments of the Ganges and the Yamuna. Then came the frenzy of globalization, of building super-highways, dams, in the fragile Himalayas, saying electricity was the biggest product of the mountains, not the water of the rivers.
Is this why you became an environmentalist?
Dams, roads stole ecological space from the rivers. When there’s no space in the riverbed, obviously it’s going to flood. When instead of space for water, all you have is mud and rocks and boulders, rivers will find a way.
You have strong views about the field of economics.
I hope in this conference people are reminded that ecology and economy come from the same root word: ‘oikos’ our home. Yet we don’t treat our planet home as home. We treat it as just raw material dead, inert. Mechanistic science couldn’t have risen without declaring nature dead. The economy has gone rogue when elephants go rogue, they leave the herd and just destroy. The economy, globalization, has come up with this strange idea of limitless growth on a limited planet. It’s ecologically false, socially unjust. When you allow greed to be a virtue, it doesn’t just reward bankers and CEOs. It changes society. Economic values become social values, that everything is an object, a commodity to be controlled.
Can you expand a little on what you think about GMOs?
What is a GMO? It’s basically shooting a gene largely a toxic gene into the cells of an existing plant. But the plant evolved over millennia. The soybean came to the world from Asia, but now its patented, and they sued a farmer who bought soybean in the open market and planted the seeds on his farm. The courts ruled the patent holder the seed owner. So I’ve created a slogan: “GMO must now mean God Move Over”.
Your opinion about food waste?
On World Food Day, FAO released a report on food waste. They said that bad food cost the world US$4.3 trillion. Sometimes it’s not really food. I think we need a new labeling: of ‘food’ and ‘non-food’, because so much of what’s being eaten is not worthy of being eaten.
And what about a country like Indonesia?
You tell your people to take care of the mountains and the forests, because that’s where the water comes from, what regulates the weather. You tell people to take care of the water. And who better people to take care of it than women?
Again, why women?
Subconsciously, women realize we are of the earth. Human rights are a derivative of the rights of the Earth. That’s the democracy we need to create.