“The Nationalism of Hate Is a Partner of Corporate Neoliberalism”


Pablo Castaño and Adrià Rodríguez interview Vandana Shiva | Revista Contexto - TRANSCEND Media Service


Prof. Vandana Shiva – Photo by Adrià Rodriguez/Ctxt

Vandana Shiva (Dehradun, 1952) is one of the most renowned ecofeminist activists and intellectuals of our time. A PhD in quantum physics, she was one of the founders of the World Social Forum, a pioneer in opening up the debate on agroecology and seed control, and the author of more than 15 books. Since 1987, she has run the agroecological farm and seed bank Navdanya in northern India and helped organize peasant struggles around the world.

20 Jun 2024 – CTXT meets Shiva at the former Fabra I Coats industrial complex in Barcelona, where she is attending the Fira Literal de Barcelona, a meeting of critical publishers. There, the Indian activist and intellectual was the star of a conversation with Yayo Herrero in front of an audience of around 700 people.

-You and Yayo Herrero share a diagnosis of the ecological crisis. How would you describe it?

-The first element in understanding the ecological crisis is that it is happening because of unlimited extraction. It happens because corporate and colonial rights have been granted and rewarded with absolute power. Presenting extractive activity as progress hides exploitation, hides the violation of the self-organization of systems, how trees are connected to rivers, how soil is connected to agriculture, and how plant biodiversity is connected to insect biodiversity. All these relationships are fundamental.

Francisco Varela and Humberto Maturana talked about autopoiesis and proposed a total paradigm shift by making us see that living systems are self-organizing. Extractivism destroys the internal organization of living organisms and their relationships with everything else that is living. In this way, all destruction is seen as an externality. You destroy, but you hide the destruction.

Part of this comes from Cartesian thinking and the mechanical thinking of Francis Bacon. Mechanical thinking takes things apart and gives life to each separate part. People trained in such mechanical thinking find it difficult to see relationships. Relationships have been destroyed in an economy of death.

-How would you define the ecofeminist perspective about Yayo Herrero and other thinkers like Maria Mies?

-Ecofeminism means saying that the earth is alive, that the earth supports and sustains life. And it means saying that women are not a passive second sex. They are not an object to be owned and controlled. Women sustain society. Their care, their invisible work, is the real economy because they take care of the reproduction and regeneration of society. But they are also the caretakers of the earth. Because women have been given the real work [of care], which is not counted as work, they have to work with nature. In India, for example, women are the main providers of water. They know when a well dries up when a river dries up. Because they work with nature, they are the first to respond to the ecological crisis.

-One of the debates about the relationship between technology and the green transition is that of renewable energy. The IPCC and others say that one of the things we need to do to tackle climate change is to promote renewables, but they require large amounts of minerals and land. How can we promote renewables without creating a new wave of extractivism and colonialism?

My first criticism of the reductionism of renewables has to do with forgetting that there are many kinds of energy in the world. Every living system is an energy producer. Schrödinger, a quantum physicist, wrote that the difference between machines and living systems is that machines require external energy and produce entropy, which is wasted energy in the form of emissions, whereas living systems do not require external energy. A seed becomes a tree with its energy and the energy of the sun, and that is negative entropy. The whole issue of positive and negative entropy has been obscured, but it is at the heart of the energy and climate debate.

To look only at energy consumption and say that we will continue to use the same amount of energy through renewables is to ignore the debate on energy production and to hide the demand for resources and land. It is reductionist in every sense of the word. It is problematic how the climate issue has been reduced to energy consumption, to the search for renewables, and a question of temperature. To think that climate phenomena come from the atmosphere alone, without looking at what is happening to the earth, is to separate what is connected. We cannot solve an ecological problem, which is a problem of the dismantling of life, by maintaining the industrial, engineering, and mechanical mentality. As Einstein said, you cannot solve a problem with the same mentality that created it.

-Another focus of your work, also linked to the question of technology, is pesticides. In recent months there have been many protests in Europe by farmers and agricultural workers. One of the reasons for the protests was the European regulation restricting the use of pesticides in agriculture. In response, the European Commission has lowered the standards of the regulation. How can we protect agriculture and the family economy and at the same time protect the environment?

-The protest started as an economic issue, the protests against the free trade agreement with Mercosur. Free trade ends up destroying all economies while allowing corporations to flourish. Free trade does not pit Europe and the Global South against each other, it is the working people of Europe and the Global South who suffer.

The globalized agribusiness system is a recipe for rising production costs and collapsing farm incomes; it is negative economics. That is why farmers are in crisis. Around the world, wherever free trade and further industrialization are being pushed, farmers are reacting.

The protests are because farmers understand that there is an attempt to get rid of them, that they have become expendable: we are moving towards a farmerless agriculture.

The industry used these protests as an opportunity because they distributed the phytochemicals through the big farmers’ unions. They got some of them to talk about rolling back pesticide regulations, but that is the voice of the corporations, the poison cartel. It is not the voice of small independent farmers.

-The issue of pesticides has a lot to do with seed control, a battle you have been involved in since 1987. How has the issue developed in the last 30 years? Is it still relevant?

-Life will always be relevant. The renewal of living systems by their means will always be the basis for freedom in nature and society. Why did I become involved in the seed issue? Because in 1987 I was invited to a meeting to discuss new biotechnologies. At that time, there were no genetically modified organisms in the world; the first genetically modified organism was commercialized in 1992.

The industry had set its course and said that its main objective was to generate patents for seeds. Now a patent is a monopoly that you get because you have invented something new. So, the first thing to do was to change the nature of seeds in people’s minds. Seed had to stop being something that made itself and become a product invented by Monsanto.

-A commodity?

-More than a commodity: a creation. A commodity recognizes that the farmer has a role and that the land has a role.

When we talk about intellectual property in seeds, Monsanto is God. They have taken the role of creation and turned something that is self-renewing and self-propagating into something that they have made. But a seed is not a machine.

So, I decided to start community seed banks, like Navdanya. Secondly, I decided to work with the Indian government and parliament to write laws that respect the integrity of life on earth. We wrote laws saying that plants, animals, and seeds are not man-made entities and therefore cannot be patented. These laws are still on the books in India. The third thing I decided to do was to take the seed companies to court for seed theft. It was what I call “the second coming of Columbus”. They just steal and say ‘It’s my intellectual property’. And we said to them, ‘No, you stole it and that’s why it’s biopiracy.

-Another key issue in the ecological crisis is water. The Mediterranean region, where we are located, is currently suffering from drought and more water shortages are predicted for the future. This is a cross-cutting issue, with social, environmental, and political dimensions. How can we look at the water problem from all these different angles?

-We need to bring together not only the multiple dimensions of water but the multiple dimensions of an interconnected planet. The climate crisis and the biodiversity crisis are one crisis. If we forget and destroy biodiversity, we destabilize the climate, because biodiversity regulates the climate. In the Chipko movement, women realized that if you destroy the forest, you have drought, you have floods. So, managing water means managing the regeneration of biodiversity, of forests, of plants, of land, of pastures. These are all water management systems, as is the climate issue.

Climate devastation has to do with destabilized hydrological systems, which are the real killers in the global south. Every disaster in India where people have died is a water disaster. When a cyclone hits, people die. When a glacial lake melts and there is a flood, people die.

You have to link all the dimensions of water. If the government builds a dam for the rich farmers in the valley, the others will lose access to water. Because all resources are interconnected, they must be managed as common goods for the benefit of the whole community. They cannot be carved up for extractive use by the most powerful. Right now, water privatization and the water futures market are major issues that people are resisting. Delhi’s water was going to be privatized and we managed to stop it.

The ultra-nationalist Narendra Modi of the BJP is likely to be re-elected as India’s prime minister, while the far-right is likely to grow in Europe. What these parties have in common is that they combine nationalism with neoliberalism. How can we explain their rise in the context of the ecological crisis?

-In 1991 I wrote the Manifesto for an Earth Democracy. In 1999 we blocked the WTO summit in Seattle. During this period, neo-liberalism, the deregulation of trade and the economy, and the death of democracy developed. This new culture of death and destruction began. Samuel Huntington’s book The Clash of Civilizations is the key to this moment. He says that I can only know who I am if I know who I hate. Hate has been created as the currency of identity. Now all the spiritual traditions have said something different: knowing who you are has to do with how you relate to the earth and your community. You exist in the community and as a community, you are part of nature and you produce with nature. There has been a shift from that to a negative identity, a culture of destruction, violence, and death. What exists today is the culture of pesticides, of poison: “Know who you have to exterminate”. This agenda, knowing who your enemy is, has become the national agenda.

But a nation is about how the rivers flow, how healthy the forests are, how healthy the citizens are, how organized they are to look after the commons… These are the issues that define a community.

Today, however, cultures, economies, and democracies have been emptied of community and have become the property of corporations. In this way, cultural nationalism has become a partner of corporate neoliberalism.

-At one point you talked about the need to create a G7. What kind of democratic institutions do we need to defend a global democracy?

-True democracy is possible together with other beings who inhabit planet Earth. Growing food ecologically is a practice of earth democracy, it has to do with the freedom of all forms of life and their interconnectedness. For example, saving seeds is not just about saving people, it is also about saving pollinators. We need to reclaim that.


TRANSCEND Member Prof. Vandana Shiva is a physicist, ecofeminist, philosopher, activist, and author of more than 20 books and 500 papers. She is the founder of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, and has campaigned for biodiversity, conservation and farmers’ rights, winning the Right Livelihood Award [Alternative Nobel Prize] in 1993. She is executive director of the Navdanya Trust.

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