This is a transcript of a program that aired on Alternative Radio, which I heard on NPR. I encourage you all to read it. It is a talk by Vandana Shiva on the topic of the environment, politics, bioengineering, trade, poverty, and hunger.
If you like what you’ve read, please consider making a donation to Alternative Radio by going to their website, http://www.alternativeradio.org/ . They have an exhaustive catalogue of programs which you can download as an MP3 for $5, buy a transcript of for $7, or order CDs of. I recommend buying either the MP3 or the CD of Vandana Shiva – she is a luminary.
(Talk given at the Metropolitan State College, Denver, CO 19 October 2009)
Vandana Shiva is an internationally renowned voice for sustainable development and social justice. A physicist, scholar, political activist and feminist, she is Director of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Natural Resource Policy in New Delhi. She’s the recipient of the Right Livelihood Award, the alternative Nobel Prize. She is the author of many books including “Water Wars,” “Earth Democracy,” and “Soil Not Oil.”
I hope the sharing of my ideas and my life with you today will build on the movements you’re all building out here, because we now live on a planet that’s threatened not for the planet’s life but for the life Gaia supports in terms of our lives. She’ll carry on at 5 degrees’ temperature rise. There will be just other species, not us humans, thriving.
We’re in the middle of an economic crisis. That’s not news anymore. It’s experienced in people’s daily lives. A huge food crisis. The FAO (the UN’s Food & Agriculture Organization) has just had a high-level meeting and announced that there are more hungry people in 2009 than there were in 2008. Of course, the FAO does not talk about the other malnutrition, which is the malnutrition that’s leading to diabetes, obesity, all the food-related diseases coming out of a food system which has broken out of that web of life, out of the food web. What’s moving in the food web is now toxics—in the soil, in the water, in our bodies, in the air. And there is no way they’re going to generate health for the planet or health for human beings.
How did we get into these multiple messes? Not just one, but every thing is falling apart. Right now it’s just being held up by a 3 trillion-dollar bailout here, a 400 billion-dollar subsidy to the agribusiness there. If you remove all that public money, which is our tax money, from the system, it would collapse tomorrow. That’s why we have to start having a bigger say in how the wealth that’s produced from our work shapes the lives and economies in which we live and participate. Our taxes cannot be used to take away our rights. They cannot be used anymore to take away our work and our livelihoods, because we are in a strange economic paradigm that assumes that everyone on this planet can be a consumer and nobody needs to be a producer.
The corporations don’t produce. Cargill doesn’t produce a thing. It just buys cheap grain from farmers, processes it, and then sells it expensive and collects subsidies in the middle to distort the prices. Monsanto doesn’t produce seed. It just owns the patents and does genetic modification. So today what you have is a world without production. We are living on the gifts of nature’s production and the gifts of earlier generations, who left us the food systems, who left us the houses, who left us some level of decency. We’re literally living on the interest of nature’s evolution and human history.
But that interest is being depleted very, very rapidly, and we need to build the capital for the future. That capital has to be the combined capital of nature and people. The idea of work at the cost of nature or conservation without livelihoods is obsolete. It won’t work. I think the biggest work now is rebuilding nature’s economy in order to have people’s economies, in order to have freedom and well¬being for all. It’s totally doable, if we can remove the falsehoods and the fictions that have been constructed over 500 years.
Why do I say 500 years? Because that’s when the first fiction was created: the idea that the earth was dead. She wasn’t an Earth Mother. She wasn’t Vasundhara or Gaia or Pachamama. She was terra nullius, empty earth. So the colonizers could come from Europe to America, they could go to Australia, they could come to Africa, they could come to Asia and say, “This is empty land, because the people here aren’t fully human.” That’s exactly what the assumption of terra nullius was, that non-Europeans, non-whites, non-Christians weren’t human beings. We were just part of the flora and fauna. The Encyclopedia Britannica had that about the aboriginals of Australia until a few years ago, that they are part of the fauna and flora. So of course their land could be taken away.
Then theories emerged, grand theories, to justify it—philosophies, laws, legal frameworks, and even science. It didn’t emerge immediately, but the colonizing of nature and other cultures provided the backdrop for people like Francis Bacon to say that nature can only yield her secrets if she is raped. That’s an interesting thing. For violence nature became alive, but for exploitation she was dead.
When we wonder why our scientific mode of thinking has brought us to the level where human ingenuity is being used to create sterile seeds, we need to go back to the roots of that thinking. One of Bacon’s books had a very interesting title: it was called The Masculine Birth of Time. The Royal Society in England, which was born in that period and was an organized structure of the new scientific revolution, very Eurocentric, very patriarchal—the secretary of the Royal Society said in 1664 that the objective of the society, the intention of the society was to raise a masculine philosophy whereby the mind of man may be ennobled with the knowledge of solid truths.
With that assumption all other knowledge was no more knowledge. Women’s knowledge didn’t count, indigenous knowledge disappeared. In fact, knowledgeable women became a new threat. They were witch-hunted. For example, England had an act in 1511, not just Spain, not just the Inquisition, which said “common artificers as smiths, weavers, and women who attempt great cures and things of great difficulties.” So suddenly it was decided that healing was too difficult; women couldn’t do it. Weaving was too difficult; the machines had to do it. Everything that we had done, our capacities now were firstly denied, and if they continued to exist, they were treated as dangerous and therefore had to be criminalized. And the witch hunts are the beginning of that criminalization.
It carries on today. I’ve just worked with farmers of the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu to defeat a law which would have made work like what we do in Navdanya, the nine-seed movement I started, illegal. The only service you could offer to farmers would be in biotechnology and chemical agriculture. Organic farming service would be treated as illegal. You just have to look around you to see how all creative, artisanal, hand-focused work is being criminalized in one way or the other. Food, of course, is where this is happening most.
I was in Gunnison, Colorado yesterday, and they drove me past these beautiful pastures, where there is free-range cattle. And I said, “My God, you’ve got a part of the United States where you don’t have CAFOs,” horrible concentrated animal farm operations. “You should be having a very important niche for very safe and healthy meat.” And they said, “No, because we are not allowed to slaughter this cattle here. It’s considered unsafe.” So the animals get shipped to factory farms in Denver, where in the last stage of their life these free cattle are imprisoned. These healthy animals are turned into disease-producing animals. And now it’s considered safe.
All food-safety laws make safe food illegal and impose unsafe food on the world. And it begins with the Sanitary and Phytosanitary Agreement of the World Trade Organization. It’s part of this new law that will deepen the hazardous foods—I can’t even remember the name; it’s HR something, something, something, —which will control the food all the way to the farmer’s fields and will leave no freedom for local food systems. It’s part of the European food safety law and part of an Indian food safety law that has been written as part of a new agreement between the U.S. and India.
Earth Mother gives everybody food. There has been no starvation for species in nature, not permanently. Maybe for a short while an instability takes place, but stability comes back. And yet we’ve built a food system in which a billion people starving and another 2 billion people unhealthy because of bad food—that’s half humanity—is a structural disease of every day.
How did we manage to turn nature’s economy of abundance into an economy of scarcity, where food is scarce, jobs are scarce, water is scarce, everything is scarce? Because scarcity is precisely where profits get manufactured. If I can save my seed on my farm, where on earth will Monsanto make profits? If clean water is in our streams and in our taps, how on earth will Pepsi and Coca-Cola sell us that 12 rupees a bottle every day? I’m talking rupees because that’s the price I know in India. Probably it’s $1 here, $2? But that’s not the real price.
By 2004, the courts of Kerala ruled that water is not a commodity, it cannot be owned by a company, it cannot be owned by the state; water is a commons, and the collective ownership lies with the community. The first rights to water are the community’s rights. If the government has to do anything with water, it must seek the community’s permission. Thank goodness we do actually have a constitution that recognizes that. The articles of the constitution are called the Panchayati Raj, which means the local governance. Local governance comes first. For some reason we’ve been made to believe local governance doesn’t matter and only decisions in Washington and Geneva will govern our lives at the level of WTO, at the level of the World Bank and IMF, especially for Third World countries. This ruling gave huge strength to the movement. It also helped spread the movement to other parts of the country. We built a wonderful campaign. It was called the Coke Pepsi Quit India campaign.
Why would you learn Indian history? We were forced to learn European history because Europe’s history was the world’s history. So we know everything about what happened in Europe.
In 1942, as part of our independence movement, the war had started and British had announced that India was part of the Allies. All our independence leaders said, But you never asked us if we want to be part of the war. We are for peace, and we will not be on any side. That’s when Gandhi gave the call, Quit India. He told the British, Quit India, get ready now to leave. It was also the year of the great Bengal famine, which had killed 2 million people. The great Bengal famine was a result not of having too little food but too much profits. The traders were taking out all the rice that was grown in India and leaving nothing for the growers themselves.
That’s exactly what’s happening today. The largest number of hungry people in the world today are the growers of food. In this country, partly because all the small farms and family farms have been decimated, there is a perception that most farmers of the world have disappeared. In this country most farmers have disappeared, and there are more people in prisons in America than on the land. I think that’s a symptom of a highly disproportionate role of people. Why should they be in jails? They should be farming, they should be having gardens, they should be celebrating. The population of farmers of the world, of farming people and rural people, is still half of humanity. And 60% to 70%, depending on the country you’re in, is women. So you always get Cargill, ADM saying, We need to have more genetically modified crops, we need to have more chemicals to feed the world. And I always reply, You aren’t feeding the world. All you’re doing is taking food away from people. You’re creating starvation in the world. The people feeding the world are the women and the small farmers. Because agribusiness is not producing food. Its only objective is to produce profits and put people out of work.
The food chain should be and could be the biggest place for employment, whether it’s as farmers or it’s in processing or it’s in distribution and in retailing. I did a rough calculation once when I had organized half a million farmers to protest against what was the precursor of the World Trade Organization, the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs. Just seeing the sea of farmers, I started to do a calculation. We still have a lot of farmers in India. Two-thirds of India is still farms, though we have a home minister (Chidambaram) who would like 80% of India to be in cities. India’s cities could not absorb those numbers, and India would starve without its farmers. Our average landholding is only 1 hectare. One hectare of land, and a country of 1.2 billion is fed. So the idea that small farms can’t feed the world is based on multiple manipulations.
The first manipulation takes place at the level of how do you measure how much a piece of land is producing, how productive your land is. As a scientist, I would say there is only one definition of productivity: output by unit input. So if your input is higher than your output, you have a negative efficiency, you don’t have a positive efficiency. The industrial system uses 10 units of energy as input to produce 1 unit of food as output in industrial farming. And then if you have factory farming, you take that 1 unit that was produced out of 10 units, and one-tenth of that gets converted to animal protein. So you give 100 times more input into the system than you get out as food. A highly wasteful system. Part of that waste is becoming the pollution in our river ways, with all of the waste that comes out of these factory farms. Part of it is going up in the air. The methane, that is one of the greenhouse gases, comes out of these factory farms. The diseases, that’s another cost. It comes out of these factory farms. So it’s very, very inefficient at the level of resources and energy.
But it’s also very inefficient at the level of production of food, because food is that which nourishes our bodies. That means it must have nutrition. It’s a very simple fact, but it was forgotten somewhere along the way. It was assumed that food is just this much quintiles of mass. It could be nutritionally empty mass. That’s very, very true. All industrially, chemically produced food is nutritionally empty food. Trace elements and minerals have just disappeared from the food. But another level at which the output is not measured in an honest way, besides ignoring the nutrition content, is you don’t measure food and nutrition anymore, you measure commodity production. So we have a system now where this is increasing soil being in the world and yet more people go hungry. The Amazon is being chopped down, Argentina has been sprayed to death with Roundup, for spreading Roundup-resistant soil. Children are being born deformed and maimed in Argentina as airplanes go over and spray Roundup. Small farms have disappeared. Fifty percent of the farmers have disappeared in Argentina in the last decade as Roundup took over, Roundup resistant soya.
So you have so much soya bean and still food scarcity, because the soya bean isn’t going to feed people. A large amount is going to feed cows. And the cows don’t want soya bean. Their stomachs weren’t designed for soya bean. They’re called herbaceous animals. The cows’ stomachs were designed for eating grass, and yet they’re being denied this staple food and being fed soya bean.
Of course, in between, the industry thought it would do even better. Instead of cheap soya bean, just do cheap meat of dead cattle. And they created this interesting word called “rendering.” When I see a transitive verb of that kind without something before and something after, I’m very suspicious. They didn’t tell you what was being rendered. They just said rendered meat. It was cattle that had been killed by disease. They ground it up, turned it into little pellets, fed it to animals. So the animals started to get mad cow disease. When the animals died, they said, Okay, let’s grind it up and feed it to people as hamburgers. And people started to get BSE, the bovine spongiform disease. It was when 12 people died and it could be proven that it was linked to cattle that had died of BSE that the U.K. government was forced to stop this rendering. But the same term was used for anonymous arrests of people at Guantánamo Bay. They were rendered.
India is among the oldest continuous living civilizations on this planet. The older civilizations came and went, but India has carried on as a civilization. Suddenly we are being defined as an emerging economy. We are just emerging. We didn’t exist. Again, it’s a bit like that Masculine Birth of Time, that strange illusion of creation, that suddenly, when a Bacon takes a hold of knowledge, time is born. It didn’t exist before that. When the global corporations take control of our economy now, we emerge. It is a top-down monopolistic masculinist mindset that cannot see the richness of diversity in the world, cannot see the beauty of that diversity, cannot see the capacities of people. The ecological challenge and the economic challenge are not separate challenges. Nor is the technological challenge and the challenge society faces in terms of lack of democracy right now.
Again, the roots go back to that amazing period when a whole new intellectual architecture was being built to shape our common thoughts of the future. One was this idea that nature is dead matter: you can manipulate it as you want, and there will be no consequence. Another was the idea of property. I found this very interesting. I’m a physicist. I read all this in my old age. I think it’s good when you read these things in your old age, because you’ve got experience to let you read and interpret. I never read any of the classics of social science as a student, because you can go through life as a physicist having no class in social sciences, at least in India you can. At the time when the commons were being enclosed in England, John Locke was writing his treatise on government. But he wasn’t addressing the situation in England. He was using the situation in the U.S. and basically justifying that these native Americans do nothing with their land, so it’s good we take it away, because you have to improve it. Improving land basically means making it more productive. Productive means using it not to grow sustenance but to grow commodities for the market. As he said, property is created by the mixing of human labor with nature.
Then he goes on to say, But not the labor of your slave or the woman or the animal. They don’t count. The labor that has to be counted in creating property is the non-labor of the non-working person who controls the capital. Locke justifies it in a brilliant way, saying, Because it’s all spiritual, it comes from the skies above. So you sit back, control money, make others work for you, take over the wealth they create, and use that wealth to then take over more property and more resources.
Very simply put, we’re in a global economy where global capital can appropriate all the wealth of nature, all the commons of nature, which produce livelihoods and provide for needs. They provide water, they provide food, they provide jobs, they provide livelihoods. I always say the earth is still the biggest employer on this planet. At the best of times, the giant corporations offer 3% employment. And yet they want all the resources and all the economy and all the production. Just as at that time you collected rents out of owning land and turned the original workers on the land into your serfs, now you collect rent from life. So you’ve got a transition from landlords to lifelords. So when Coca-Cola just goes into a community and starts mining the water, and then gives you a $1 bottle, it’s collecting a rent for life for giving you water. Of course, what has shaped my work so much is the idea that corporations can own and patent seed and life forms and collect rents from life.
What is special about life? That life lives, that life produces life. Earlier today we were in this wonderful restaurant called the Same Cafe. On the wall they have, “Life loves to be taken by the lapel and told, ‘I’m with you, kid. Let’s go.’Ó Therefore, in life there is no scarcity. I take a tiny seed and I put it into the soil. That one seed will give me sometimes a million seeds in one plant.
And the millets? The reason millets are called millets is because they give a million seeds. You think millets are just for feeding birds. Millets are the most nutritious grains on the planet. But because they could not be globally commodified, they were treated as coarse grains, backward grains, inferior grains, and wiped out. One of our big campaigns is to bring back the millets, because they use 10 times less water than rice and give you 40 times more nutrition.
The problem is, they’re a little dark, and the breads they make and the rotis and chapatis they make are dark. And in food, as in everything else, racism is an underlying way of thought. So white is beautiful, even though it’s poison. White sugar, horrible white sugar. White bread. They call it refined bread. Nothing refined about it. Killer bread it should be called. And white rice, polished rice, where all the nutrients of the rice are polished away. Of course, Cargill now has a brilliant way of making money twice: they give you empty starch and then they sell you the germ at hundreds of times more, rather than just give you whole wheat. And they call their giant mills in which they can do this improved technology and the mills in which the whole grain comes out as backward.
The racism in food has left a lot of poverty. We’ve moved from 8,500 plants as the base of human nutrition to eight commodities that are being traded around the world. Of these, four are growing at the fastest rate: soya bean, corn, canola, and cotton. And if you want to know why it’s growing so fast, it’s because these are the four crops that are genetically engineered. For every additional acreage, there is a royalty payment to Monsanto.
In the 1980s, when I first came to know how big industry wanted to own life, collect royalties and own life to foster genetic engineering by saying, We’ve made something new, and have so-called free trade treaties by which they could take our freedoms away, my spirit rebelled. My spirit said, This is the future dictatorship, not just over all people in the world, but a dictatorship over all life on earth. I’m not exaggerating. I’ll give you a few phrases that get used. Monsanto says for farmers who are saving seed, they are now intellectual property criminals, because once a seed is patented and becomes intellectual property, then saving seed becomes a crime. I believe saving seed is our ecological, ethical duty. That is why, when I started Navdanya, which means nine seeds, I started it with two inspirations from Gandhi.
The first inspiration was the spinning wheel. Gandhi had spun. He didn’t take a gun and start shooting all these British who ruled us. He just spun cloth and said, You want to rule us by making us dependent, by taking our cotton and our indigo, forcing us to grow raw material for you, and then selling us the textiles and banning our own clothing? We will make our own clothing. We will be free. And that’s why he pulled out the spinning wheel. I took inspiration from that and said, If what the industry is seeking is a global dictatorship over life, then we will start saving seeds one seed at a time and defend the freedom of life on earth, the freedom of our farmers, and the freedom of society to have food democracy.
But Gandhi also taught us something else in the way he worked for our country’s freedom. When we were forced to grow indigo by the British, which used to be the blue dye—before it was made chemically, it came from a plant, indigo—farmers in Bengal and Bihar were not allowed to grow food for themselves. They had to grow indigo. They starved while the industry got cheap raw material. When Gandhi came back to India from South Africa, one of our independence freedom fighters told him to come and look at what was happening in the indigo areas. He went to Champaran and spent two years out there. Three times they burned his hut and wouldn’t let him work. But he didn’t give up. They interviewed every peasant, and farmer after farmer would say, “I’d rather die than grow indigo.” And then Gandhi, with the others, said, “We will not grow indigo anymore. We will grow food.” It was called the indigo satyagraha. Satya means truth. With agraha, it means the force of truth, the power of truth, the passion for truth.
He used that again and again against unjust laws. He used it against the salt laws, which would have made it illegal for Indians to make salt. We live in a tropical country. You perspire a lot. You need to replenish your salt a lot. And to make salt a monopoly for the British meant you collect royalties on salt making. Gandhi walked to the beach in 1930, picked up the salt from the sea, and said,” Nature gives it for free. We need it for our survival. We will continue to make salt. We will not obey your salt laws.” Of course, he was imprisoned, people were beaten. But the British were forced to withdraw the salt laws.
We’ve taken inspiration from that and had the seed satyagraha. Nature gives it for free. Our ancestors had saved it and selected it and shared it, primarily women farmers who have been the seed keepers of every society, and we will continue to save and share seed as our moral duty to the future and, sorry, we will not recognize your patents. And we will not be criminalized under your intellectual property laws. And even more, we will not recognize laws that make it illegal for us to have our own seeds.
In 2004, the government did try and introduce the law which would have made indigenous seed illegal. Everything indigenous is always illegal, because it has variety, and the dominant world view wants monocultures. It can only think through uniformity. So if there is a chicken who is red and another chicken who is brown, that’s a problem. They should all be white. And if one chicken is in your front yard and the other is in the backyard, that’s also a problem. They should all be in prisons. So uniformity is the way of governance. I have called it the monoculture of the mind. But the monoculture of the mind is not just a way of thinking; it’s a way of controlling the world. The monoculture of the mind robs from nature her capacity, because it doesn’t see her diversity. It robs from people their capacities, because it doesn’t see their diversity.
If you look at the brand-new buildings coming up in most fancy universities—they could be anywhere in the world: in Africa, India, Europe, the United States—there are only three departments that are being planned with big money. One will be a school for biotechnology, another will be a school for information technology, and the third will be a school for business management. Can you imagine a world where we have no other skills but managing big business, doing genetic engineering, and working to generate software programs? Can you imagine having no skills to cook food? Can you imagine having no skills to make clothing, to darn clothing, no skills to recycle? In the Same Cafe they said they put out only one garbage bag every day, because they don’t allow waste. Half of the food of the industrial system is today wasted, which is why I love this new movement in this country. At least three of the meals I’ve had prepared by students on my lecture tour were prepared through this absolutely new innovation called dumpster diving.
This masculinist mind that over 300 years knows nothing else but how to control and dominate and exploit and kill, it cannot stop itself. They’ve got into the habit of destruction, they’ve got into the habit of violence, they’ve got into the habit of thinking of life as war. So we have to create another world. We can’t wait for them to change. They can’t. It’s too long a habit, too old a habit. That other world has to be created by ordinary people in their lives. Part of it will be doing what Gandhi did. He said, No, we won’t grow indigo, we’ll grow food. Young kids saying, We won’t let you waste good food. We’ll cook it. Every one of those tiny little steps is a major revolution. Every community garden that comes up, every seed-saving movement that comes up.
In India there is a part of the country where the Bt cotton, the genetically engineered cotton, has been spread. Two hundred thousand farmers have been pushed to suicide because of the debt caused by this cotton. It’s costly seed, costly chemicals. Farmers just can’t pay it back. And the credit now is not from traditional moneylenders; it’s from the agents of the seed companies. I call this new corporate feudalism, where the global corporations use feudal structures to maintain and expand their power.
Three years ago, I did a seed pilgrimage through these areas where the suicides were very high and found out that the farmers had no seed. I would say, “If it’s failing, why aren’t you using your own seed?” They said, “The companies took the old seed away.” It’s called “seed replacement” in the seed industry jargon, as if seed is dirty socks that need throwing away. In fact, one of our ministers said—I was doing a seed exhibition. The chief minister of my state said, “But Vandanaji, why are you saving these old seeds? Seeds are like cars. We must have new models all the time.” I said, “No, they’re not like cars. Because you don’t live from cars. They don’t give you life.” They might give you a kick if you have that macho element in you. I find cars highly oppressive. But I’ve worked with our government. And that same chief minister then was forced to declare our state an organic state, the same chief minister who at one point was thinking it was crazy to do organic farming and save old seeds.
This year India has had a tremendous drought. More than half of India didn’t get their monsoon. I traveled in different parts. Wherever farmers had grown the Green Revolution seeds, they were still waiting for planting their nurseries into the field. Wherever farmers were using old varieties and diversity of crops, like the millets, even though we had very little rain, they had a crop.
Climate change is creating a new imperative. Climate change has been created by an industrialized world based on fossil fuels. It’s been contributed to by an industrial agriculture based on fossil fuels. My book Soil Not Oil works through how at least 35% to 40% of all greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and methane, are coming from an industrial form of agriculture. But this form of agriculture is not only giving you climate change, it’s also giving you food crises, it’s giving you unemployment.
The solution is very clear—you need to grow more living carbon. The earth has wonderful ways of recycling. It’s just that we’ve broken out of the cycles. We were never supposed to touch the fossil fuels She had buried underground. That’s why She put them underground. She didn’t put them on the surface. She put food on the surface, She put plants on the surface. And She said, Thrive on this. The carbon cycle can be repaired through small farms, ecological farms, and biodiversity. The calculations are now very clear. Thirty to 40% of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere can be removed by what I call biodiverse, intensive farming. What has been called intensive farming is chemically intensive farming. What we now need is life-intensive farming: putting more life to produce more life. But to do that, our life has to join with the life of nature.
Our life cannot join with the killing economy that kills the farmers, kills the land, kills the atmosphere. Every agricultural input is an input out of war. Pesticides came out of war; they were designed to kill people. Herbicides came out of warfare: they were designed to kill. Forests where the Viet Cong, for example, were hiding, Agent Orange became famous in history because of that. They’re still doing the same thing in Latin America. The images from Vietnam then, where there was a real war that was recognized, and the images of Latin America today, where you think there isn’t a war but there is a war, are absolutely the same.
In India we don’t spray herbicides, because we don’t have Roundup-resistant crops because we don’t have Roundup in our economy in a big way. But we do have the Bt cotton, which has pushed 200,000 farmers to suicide. So when I found the farmers had no seed, we started seed banks in that area. Once the farmers had non-GM seed, they could start to do organic farming. The farmers doing organic farming are earning 10 times more than the farmers doing Bt cotton. But we are always told that you will get richer if you follow the path which makes us poorer. That illusion I think is the illusion we have to get out of. Another trap—and it’s a vicious cycle—public money is used to artificially make something very costly look cheap. So there is cheap food, there is cheap clothing. But if you actually add all the costs of cheap food, it’s too costly. We wouldn’t be able to afford it. You add the costs of cheap clothing—the farmer suicides in India, the exploitation of labor in China and Bangladesh—you wouldn’t be able to pick up a shirt on a store shelf.
So whether it is for the sake of the planet, whether it is for livelihoods and our productive capacity, whether it is for our health to live in a way that gives us well-being, we definitely need to start playing a role in something we have been told again and again and again people don’t have a role in—and that’s the economy. The economy has been left to the banks, who will gamble with our money. That’s part of the problem with what happened in Wall Street, that it is still an issue of how the senior managers and CEOs walk away with bigger paychecks. It’s a scandal that, again, tax money was used to bail out the banks that had looted the people. Our tax money is being used to constantly bail out a failing globally organized food industry.
People ask me, What’s the one thing that needs to be done? I say, Withdraw the subsidies. We need campaigns to not allow such giant subsidies to allow these companies to manipulate the prices so that they make the costly look cheap and the affordable, the sustainable, the just look too costly to participate in.
The falsehoods and the fictions that are ruling us have become life-threatening. Reclaiming life, celebrating life is the economic movement of our times, it’s the freedom movement of our times, it’s the equity movement of our times, it’s the peace movement of our times. Because whatever is destroying the planet is based on wars, whatever is becoming profitable is based on exploitation. And nobody except a few giant corporations are winning at this game: five in the water sector, five in the seed sector, five in the agribusiness sector. That, in my view, is a dictatorship.
We have 300 million species on this planet. Imagine a world in which every one of these was a subject. We have 6 billion people. Imagine a world in which every one of them was a subject, every one was an agent who could change, every one of them could unleash their energies. The word for energy these days is Exxon and Shell. The word for energy in our language is shakti, power in feminine creative form. We need to unleash that shakti. The shakti is in every one of us.
It’s not just in our culture. I love the 12th century abbess and musician, Sister Hildegard of Bingen. She’s writing an ecological text. “I am the supreme and the fiery force who kindles every living spark. And I breathe forth no deadly thing, yet I permit them to beÉ.And I am the fiery life of the essence of God: I flame above the beauty of the fields; I shine in the waters; I burn in the sun, the moon, and the stars. And, with the airy wind, I quicken all things vitally by an unseen, all-sustaining life. For the air is alive in the flowers; the waters flow as if they lived; the sun lives in its light; and when the moon wanes, it is rekindled by the light of the sun as if it lived anew.”
That worldview of life is ours to shape. That worldview of life can be shaped by each of us regaining our autonomy to think, to act, to transform. We have to do it, because those powerful people with too many mirrors and too many blinkers are giving us crazy solutions. They want to maintain the overpopulation on the planet and now turn food into biofuels, even if people starve. That’s the main reason we had the price rise last year. They think they can have GMOs to solve the problem. Roundup is being offered as a solution to climate change even though Roundup is a large part of the problem. A new solution out of the same Royal Science Academy in England: create artificial volcanoes. Blow up the planet. There will be dust all over. The sun can’t shine. We’ll have global cooling for 10 years. Nobody asked, And what will those artificial volcanoes do? And in those 10 years, what’s going to happen to agriculture? What’s going to happen to those wonderful solar panels outside the airport that were designed to generate solar energy? It’s as if the sun is the problem, not irresponsible human action. President Bush wanted mirrors in the sky, to tell the sun, Go away. Don’t shine on us. We want the sun to shine, we want each of us to be a sunshine.