The idea of limitless growth is the most destructive myth of our times, began Dr. Vandana Shiva, in her inspiring plenary talk at “Climates of Change and a Therapy of Ideas,” Pacifica’s recent 40thanniversary conference held on the Ladera campus in Santa Barbara, CA.
Vandana Shiva, who trained as a physicist at the University of Western Ontario, Canada, is Founder and Director of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology, and Ecology and for Navdanya, the movement for seed saving and ecological agriculture. She is also the author of numerous books including Staying Alive, Ecofeminism, Seed Sovereignty and Food Security: Women in the Vanguard (Ed.), Soil Not Oil, Earth Democracy and Who Feeds the World.
In her moving lecture, Shiva reminded the hundreds of Pacifica students, alumni, and faculty—along with many members of the larger community who gathered in the Barrett center—that we are now living in an age recently dubbed the “Anthropocene,” the “age of man,” and pointed out some of the cultural and ecological issues that have led to the multitude of critical situations we now collectively face.
Shiva is a powerful voice for preserving the earth and healing culture and planet through conserving natural seeds, promoting biodiversity, and helping people connect to the land through organic gardening.
While some scientists are looking to implement geoengineering solutions to combat climate change, including launching chemicals or reflectors into the sky to reflect the sun and prevent warming (as if the sunlight were the problem, she wryly notes), organic gardening would allow us to pull 10 gigatons of carbon out of the atmosphere.
In fact, one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gases is farming, I learned. Industrial agriculture, in particular, results in disturbance of massive amounts of earth, releasing excess CO2 normally sequestered in the soil into the atmosphere. Fertilizers, also, are large contributors to carbon emissions, and the use of pesticides and insecticides containing deadly chemicals is widespread in most industrial farming.
In addition, the loss of biodiversity to large tracts of lands planted with acre after acre of so-called “monocrops” such as corn and soybeans completely obliterate ecosystems that provide nectar and pollen for bees, butterflies and other pollinators to survive. The word agriculture refers to the “culture of the land,” Shiva pointed out, yet today, due to the way we treat the land, agriculture has become like war.
More, Shiva contends, in large part due to our history of colonialism which infringed on the rights of indigenous individuals in many parts of the world, a few individuals and organizations have been enabled to take advantage of the situation, not only taking over land and property that belonged to the original inhabitants, but also by setting legal precedents that work to their advantage.
Specifically, some of those corporations that produce chemicals for the agricultural industry, such as fertilizer and pesticides, are misusing their power to create lucrative initiatives that she finds highly disturbing. Corporations such as Monsanto have created monopolies on gigantic tracts of land, planting them with specially engineered seeds that often integrate pesticides right into the seed.
In her book, Soil Not Oil[i] and elsewhere, Shiva discusses how a new class of insecticides called neonicotinoids, developed by Shell and Bayer and chemically related to nicotine, are killing the soil and the pollinators that provide us with food. Only 10% of butterflies remain because of the spraying of RoundUp, she suggests; most are emerging from their cocoons with deformed wings. My own doctoral research, which focused in part on Colony Collapse Disorder, the mass decimation of honeybee hives, revealed that “neonics” are also implicated in loss of honeybees.
When RoundUp and related pesticides are sprayed on the crops we ultimately eat, Shiva relays, it leads to the decimation of bacteria that make precursors to neurotransmitters, effectively killing much of the good bacteria in our guts, allowing pathogens to grow and take over. Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup, which is generously sprayed on genetically engineered crops, may indeed be a culprit in the process Shiva describes.[ii]
The rapid increase in rates of autism, which may be linked to pesticides, is also a growing concern. When I looked into Roundup specifically, I discovered that as of 2009, the line of RoundUp products, including genetically modified seeds, represented nearly 50% of Monsanto’s business.[iii]
Ultimately, Shiva contends, organic agriculture feeds the planet with more nourishing food and can sequester the carbon we need. Seed programs, like the movement she started with Navdanya to create seed banks, can ensure our collective future, too, and maintain the diversity desperately required for our future prosperity. Those individuals that have the capacity to destroy life on earth have an incapacity to understand how they are destroying it, Shiva insists, and we need more hands and love on the land to beatify the earth and help the land to heal. What is it we will do now?
Learn more about Vandana Shiva’s conference talk in Part Two of this report, coming soon.
[i] Vandana Shiva (2008). Soil Not Oil. Brooklyn, NY: South End Press.
[ii] Joseph Mercola. (June 9, 2013). “Monsanto’s Roundup Herbicide May Be Most Important Factor in Development of Autism and Other Chronic Disease”. Mercola.com: http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2013/06/09/monsanto-roundup-herbicide.aspx
[iii] Matt Cavallaro. (June 26, 2009). “The Seeds Of A Monsanto Short Play”. Forbes: http://www.forbes.com/2009/06/29/monsanto-potash-fertilizer-personal-finance-investing-ideas-agrium-mosaic.html
NOTE: This blog was originally posted on PacificaPost.com