Last week I got to hear one of my heroes speak: Dr. Vandana Shiva. As she took the stage, Reverend Arnold Thomas of Riverside Church introduced her as the “world-renowned environmentalist.” To many she is best known for her interviews in movies such as The Corporation. To the growing community of food activists, she is the pioneer who delivers the precision cut message. The international effort to fix our food is an emerging movement; new ideas come fast and fervent. Dr. Shiva is the steadfast voice, now decades in progress, that deeply resonates.
In her words, she started her organization, Navdanya, in 1987 once “I realized seeds were being patented.” The main corporation to patent seeds is, of course, Monsanto. They do a good job of telling the world that they are up to good deeds — potentially ending famine, for example, by creating drought-resistant crops. Dr. Shiva, however, explained the danger at hand in an analogy to the BP oil spill. Consider her words:
In the Gulf of Mexico…I keep thinking, ‘This is supposed to be a high tech industry in a high tech society. And they can’t figure out how to stop that leak’….Just as BP doesn’t know how to shut down the oil spill, Monsanto doesn’t really know how to control pests…Every season, you have new pests….The consequences are a 30-40 times increase in pesticides. And this technology was supposed to replace pesticides. In your country, the herbicide-resistant crops have created superweeds to such a large extent that 5.4 million acres have been overtaken by superweeds.
For the past four months, the world has watched unending amounts of oil being unleashed into the Gulf. At the risk of sounding alarmist, imagine if such a disaster hit our food supply. We know now that BP was not ready for its worst-case scenario. Is Monsanto? Do we really want to wait and see?
At another point in her talk, Dr. Shiva told the story of a 1983 Indian court case that halted destructive limestone mining in that country. The judge in the case ruled, “If commerce starts to destroy life support systems, commerce must stop because life must carry on.”
Yes, this landmark case in India occurred prior to our current era of intense globalization. Yet it’s basic premise has not changed. It’s not tree hugging; it’s common sense. “We are first and foremost still citizens,” said Dr. Shiva, “And our highest duty is to maintain the living systems of the Earth that support our life.”