Is Globalization Killing the Environment?

An Interview with Vandana Shiva


By Frederick Noronha



PANAJI (Goa): When she visited a beach in South Goa recently, she
could not miss noticing the shrinking catch fishermen were
drawing in. Dr Vandana Shiva -- an eminent physicist, philosopher
and ecofeminist -- is the recipient of the Right Livelihood
Award, also called the Alternative Nobel Peace Prize.
She's seriously worried about the impact of globalisation on
countries like India, and the manner in which the common man who's
dependent on nature for a living is getting squeezed everywhere.
Dr. Shiva argues that the fact that most of our people depend
directly on resources for their survival -- and those resources are
depleting so quickly -- means we really have a very, very major
crisis of survival at hand.
Shiva strongly argues for the need of a green-red alliance,
between environmentalists and trade unions and workers or
farmers. She points out how farmers in India, like the BKU and Karnataka's
KRRS, have joined hands with the greens on biodiversity issues
already. Chattisgarh Mukti Morcha, the traditional fishermen's
movement, and the like can be taken as other examples of such an
alliance being forged.
"If enough work is done on both sides, there will be (enough
space for industrial workers too in a green scheme of things),"
she says. But, for this, both sides must "reach out", she feels.
Shiva points to the confusion in India's scientific community.
"They've been told earn your own money, you won't get government
grants. Instead of saying you jolly well have to support a
research or university system, since every society needs
knowledge systems. They're fumbling around trying to see how they
can fit into corporate culture."
Dr Vandana Shiva also was awarded the Golden Plant Award, the
international award of ecology. She is currently director of the
Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology which is
involved in research, advocacy and action for the protection of
biodiversity, indigenous knowledge and people's rights.
She has authored several celebrated publications, including
"Staying Alive", "The Violence of the Green Revolution",
"Monocultures of the Mind", and "Captive Minds Captive Lives".
Dr. Shiva is also known for her active association with Chipko
and the World Rainforest Movement. She is also a consultant with
the UN University at Tokyo. During her recent visit to Goa, she
spoke on a number of issues to Frederick Noronha. Extracts from
the interview:


Q: What do you think are the major challenges facing the country

today on this front?


Globalisation is quite clearly the biggest environmental problem.

Globalisation requires that we start to export things that we've

never exported before, and start to import things we've never

imported before.

For instance, exporting our biodiversity, our livestock wealth,

products of our coastal ecosystem like shrimp, flowers produced

through intensive irrigation in low-rainfall zones (so that we're

exporting our water). Importing things like toxic wastes.


Q: So, what...


Globalisation is about liberalised imports and exports, which

makes India export our best natural wealth and import the junk

and wasted pollution of international production, including of

the Western economies.

This means India provides an environmental subsidy to global

economic growth, precisely by not counting that destruction.

Because the destruction is borne by local communities, and by the

destruction of local livelihoods. That, in a global economic

system has no place to enter.


Q: Is there some reason why this is happening just now?


Related very much to this, is a second crisis. We're going

through a very major rewriting of the Social Contract, or the

contract between governments and people.

What we're getting is a whole series of new policies that is

turning the government from being an instrument that people can

use, into being an instrument that only foreign corporations use

against the Indian people.


Behind this restructuring of the social contract, is a rewriting

of the rights of people. According to our Constitution, we have a

right to life, which means we have a right to water. We should

have a right to shelter. We should have a right to food.

Both under the World Bank structural adjustment, and from the

Finance Ministry -- it's feet might be in India, but it's head is

in Washington -- and then under the World Trade Organisation

obligations, we're basically getting a fundamental destruction of

notions of the rights of citizens.


Q:But how would you trace the impact of this on the commonpeople,

and also on the environment?


Very vital resources we need both for survival -- drinking water,

all the resources people need for livelihoods -- are just

disappearing so rapidly that life is becoming impossible.

This morning I was down on a South Goa beach, and I waited for

one hour to see the fishermen come back. They must have been 24

of them at work, and their catch was just one basketful of fish.

Not enough even to feed themselves. But they've got to go, sell

it, and buy something for their families who are waiting at home.

This fact that most of our people depend directly on resources

for their survival, and those resources are depleting so quickly,

we really have a very, very major crisis of survival at hand....


Q: Surely, there's another India being promised. Quite a few seem

to believe that more prosperous days are around the corner....


I think the big challenge is that you've got a vested interest of

the new investors, the new lackeys, the new mafias with them --

involved in granite mining, the acquaculture industry or lobbying

or selling of sand or whatever.

That whole group is trying to spread the rumour that

environmental protection is a luxury in this country. And the

environmentlists are a vested interest group. Really, you don't

have that many voices to talk about the survival rights of the

large majority of the people.


Q: Do you feel corruption has a big impact on the environment?


A tremendous impact. In 1991, when the economy was being so-

called opened up, this was justified as something which would put

an end to corruption. But corruption has not ended with

globalisation; it has actually increased.

Corruption is another force of environmental destruction. You

look at it in the acquaculture case. The Supreme Court judgement

put an end to the acquaculture industry.

By dishonest means now, the acquaculture industry is trying to

undo that judgement. It's not just corrupting science -- by

fabricating scientific research to counter the scientific figures

fed into the case -- but they're trying to corrupt our judicial

system by making it toothless.

They're definitely trying to corrupt the entire administrative

system by making every administrator, every politician, every MLA

get an interest in this industry. They feel if they're party to

it, they support and defend it. It's a tremendous threat to the



Q: Would you agree that as the environmental crisis gets worse,

the people are also getting more assertive and active about it.

It's no longer a small group of environmentalists who are

concerned about such issues?


Absolutely. That's precisely because it is a crisis for survival.

Any movement that can keep its focus on how seriously

environmental protection is related to the survival rights of the

poorest people -- 70 per cent -- of this country, that that is

a basic democracy movement. I see tremendous hope in that.


Q: What are the signs of hope you could point to?


I'm currently doing a five year evaluation since Rio. For

instance some of the major changes around natural resources that

happened since.

Look at it it: fisheries, they tried to give foreign licences.

Movements. The National Fisheries Federation had strikes.

Licences withdrawn or no more issued. Acquaculture, they tried to

totally open up the coastal region to fish exports. There's a

Supreme Court ban. Animal livestocks and meat exports, the

Supreme Court is still heaving the case. DuPont in Goa has shown

the way on how you can throw a corporation out.

Everywhere where there's a major investment -- Enron, Cogentrix,

Gopalpur Steel Plant -- people are saying 'no, we won't move'.


Q: What is the message are you trying to get across in your latest book, "The Enclosure and Recovery the Commons"?


Very simply, at the very philosphical issue, the message is: the

privatisation of knowledge, and of biodiversity, is a threat to

the future of humanity.

It's an enclosure of the intellecutal and the biological commons,

and we need to recover it. Simply because we need biodiversity

and knowledge to continue to live.

Much of the rest of the book is really a very detailed argument,

analysis and proposal that says that the idea that the Western

style private-property intellectual property rights around

biodiversity and life-forms that people assume are the only

option is is not true.


Q: What, in your view, are the options then?


Exactly like, when land was privatised, there were still land-

commons. This is the parallel for the intellectual domain, for

the biodiversity domain.

Like not all land was private property, not all knowledge can

allowed to become private property. Not all seeds, not all

medicinal plants can allowed to become private property. It is

our right to defend the commons.

In the end, it would mean defending biodiversity as a community

resource -- or as a commons -- which means it's not available for

grabs. It is available freely to the community, but not to

outsiders. Outside commercial interests and the large

corporations that are coming in and pirating and prospecting,

have to take permission exactly like when you enter someone's

commons you've to take permission not of an individual, but of

the whole village community.


Q: Will this makes a significant difference in how we see things?


We've proposed the idea of community rights as an alternative to

the idea of intellectual property rights.

This alternative is at two levels. First, that the legal

personality is the community as a whole, not the individual. So,

it's not a private right of individuals but a community right.

It's also an intellectual right, because it's recognising the

intellectual contribution communities -- as collectivities --

have made cummulatively over time.


Again, this is different from the idea that individuals invent.

This is a Western idea. Even for the West, it's false. It's not

the case that suddenly a bright man thinks, and, you run to a

patent office and say 'This is my invention.'

Usually, a time is ripe for many people to think similar things.

One of them finalises it faster. But it's part of a whole

situation that allows a certain kind of creativity to evolve.

Creativity is a social phenomena; it's not an individual phenomena.

At least for indigenous or traditional knowledge -- which

supports 70 per cent of this country, in our report we've called

it the two-thirds economy because it is quite clearly the two-

thirds economic base, even today.....


Q: It's a complex issue, understanding the philosophy behind the

concept of intellectual property....


This issue is important to me, because it's redefining what it is

to be human. It's taking a greedy, Western corporate personality

as the paradigm of being human. Just like in colonialism, the

European was taken as the paradigm of being human, and the Third

World was then treated to being animals, to being flora and fauna.

In a way a similar thing is being done now, perhaps in more

clever ways. Your seed are natural; our seeds have a contribution

of the mind. Even though our farmers have used their minds,

except that they used them not for profit, and they haven't used

them as individuals. A farmer who breeds a new seed doesn't say

this is mine and you all pay me royalties. He just gifts it to his neighbours.

That culture, I believe, must survive into the future. Not just

because it is Indian, but because that's what the world needs right now.


Q: Your argument against profittering from knowledge is....


Greed creates scarcity, and we're living in periods of scarcity.

We need to have abundant thinking. We need to think generously to

be able to generate generously.

Of course, in the area of biodiversity and knowledge, this is

specially important. Because both diversity and knowledge

multiply. One seed can give rise to millions. One piece of useful

knowledge can travel and help millions.

By treating that as property, and blocking its multiplication and

flow, you're actually creating a scarcity and that could deepen

the universal crisis.


Q: What's you're experience in dealing with the Indian state over the years?


I don't give up. Even though the Government of India has not been

enlightened enough to work in the national interest, and in the

people's interest, at least this much one can say, we have

prevented them from taking away those rights in this area. By

blocking the patent law, blocking the plant variety legislation,

which would have REALLY taken away all rights of the Indian

people in this area.

I just feel that if we carry on -- not as isolated individuals,

but as part of movement building -- we WILL change the terms of

this discussion.

Look at Pattuvam (the village in Northern Kerala, which recently

created history by declaring its absolute ownership over all

genetic materials currently growing within its jurisdiction).

Similarly, the Chattishgarh Mukti Morcha has taken it on.

If people know what their rights are, then the government

literally has to follow. Because even if the government doesn't

follow and says 'this is the law', the people just won't follow.


Q: What is the response you've been getting from other parts of

the Third World?


The Third World has been very fragmented on other areas. But on

this group of areas -- living diversity, biodiversity, indigenous

knowledge -- we have really done work very well between Asia,

Africa and Latin America. We help each other tremendously. Each

time any of us gets some work done, it feeds into and builds the

next steps for the movements everywhere. Everyone is not having

to re-invent the wheel.

Because of that, we're moving very coherently and very

effectively. That takes transnational corporations by surprise.

Because they've just grown so used to the idea that the Third

World is available for manipulation.


Q: Is mainstream India -- and the Press -- more open to green

issues nowadays? Is the concern of a genuine kind?


I used to have columns in three papers. All three closed their

green pages, within a span of six months, two to three years ago

as a part of trade liberalisation.

India's elite wants not just cosmetic environmentalism, but a

consumer-environmentalism. It wants to have good areas to go for

tourism to. So it's happy to have national parks, because people

can go for wildlife tourism. Or good beaches. But they don't

want, and don't care about, a livelihood environmentalism.

Not only do they not care about it, for those who have stakes

in the new commercial opportunities available through

globalisation, they're actually part of the agression. Against

the environment on the first hand, and against the environmental

movement that would like to protect the environment.

So the elite -- as a whole, excluding a few -- is an enemy of the

environment right now.


Q: What is the future for environmentalism in 21st century India?

So, what really is the way out?


The environmental movement can only survive if it becomes a

justice movement. As a pure environmental movement, it will

either die, or it will survive as a corporate 'greenwash'.

Anyone who's a sincere environmentalist can't stand that role.

But it has limitless possibilities, as both an ecological and

justice-based movement.

What we have right now is a dual crisis of a corrupt national

system and a very greedy and corrupt global system, working in

tremendous partnership with each other. The antidote to both --

globalisation and a national elite that is corrupted -- is local

democratic action, and an assertion on the part of people to

defend themselves.

Because the kind of period we live in, that kind of politics must

have some link with international citizen mobilisation. Some

helping each other in solidarity. If that happens, we'll have an

era beyond globalisation.


Frederick Noronha is a journalist who lives and works in the
state of Goa, situated on the west coast of India. He acts as list-owner
for the Indialink Environment mailing list, a discussion group on the
Internet set up by campaigners and not-for-profit groups.

More info on Vandana Shiva: