Green greed: Dr Vandana Shiva’s February column on the Asian Age
Posted on Sunday, March 4th, 2012
The world is faced not only with an economic meltdown but also an ecological one. Ecological limits and the universal values of human dignity and equality are being ruthlessly violated. Global financial institutions are asking troubled economies in the West to make adjustments in the face of the economic crisis. While adjustment is imperative, there are vital differences between the adjustment dictated by “one per cent”, that is the rich and the powerful, and the kind of adjustment demanded by the rest, the “99 per cent”. The rich would like to make the poor and working people pay for the adjustment. The populace, on the other hand, wants the rich to pay through higher taxes, like the Tobin tax on financial transactions, and through regulation aimed at stopping the robbery of natural resources and the commons.
The dominant economic model, based on limitless growth, is leading to an overshoot in the use of the earth’s resources and pushing us to the brink of an ecological catastrophe. The model prompts violent grab of the remaining resources of the earth by the rich from the poor. The resource grab is an adjustment by the rich and powerful to a shrinking resource base — land, water, biodiversity — without adjusting the old resource-intensive growth paradigm to the new reality. This has led to ecological scarcity for the poor, deepening poverty and deprivation. In the long run it means the extinction of our species, as climate catastrophies and extinction of other species are bound to make the planet uninhabitable.
The “green economy” agenda being pushed in the run-up to Rio+20, or the Earth Summit, to be held in June, could well become the blueprint for the biggest resource grab in history, with corporations appropriating the planet’s green wealth and biodiversity. These corporations will take our green wealth to make “green oil” for biofuels, energy, plastics, chemicals — everything that the petrochemical era based on fossil fuels gave us. Movements worldwide have started to say no to the “green economy” of the “one per cent”, because an ecological adjustment is possible and it is taking place. This adjustment involves seeing ourselves as part of the fragile ecological web, not outside and above it, and immune from the consequences of our actions.
Ecological adjustment also implies that we see ourselves as members of the earth’s community, sharing its resources equitably with all species and within the human community. Ecological adjustment requires an end to resource grab and privatisation of our land, biodiversity, seeds, water and atmosphere. It requires the recovery of the commons and the creation of “earth democracy”.
The dominant economic model based on resource monopolies and oligarchy is in conflict not just with ecological limits of the planet but also with the basic principles of democracy. The adjustment being dictated by the oligarchy will further strangle democracy and people’s freedom of choice. Sunil Bharti Mittal, one of India’s industry captains, recently said that “politics is hurting the economy and the country”. His observation reflects the mindset of the oligarchy, that democracy can be done away with.
Calls for a democratic, ecological adjustment are being heard worldwide in non-violent protests, from the Arab Spring to the American autumn of “Occupy Wall Street” and the Russian winter challenging the hijack of electoral democracy. These are the signposts for democratic adjustment in response to the austerity programmes imposed by the IMF, World Bank and other financial institutions that created the financial crisis.
The Third World had its structural adjustment and forced austerity through the ’80s and the ’90s, leading to the IMF riots. India’s structural adjustment of 1991 has given us the agrarian crisis with the result that a quarter million farmers have committed suicide so far and food crisis is pushing every fourth Indian to hunger and every second Indian child to malnutrition. The trade liberalisation reforms dismantled our food security system, which was based on universal public distribution system. It opened up the seed sector to multi-national companies, and now an attempt is being made through the Food Security Bill to make our public feeding programmes a market for food MNCs.
The forced austerity continues through the imposition of so-called reforms, such as FDI in retail, which would rob millions of people of their livelihood and disrupt the production system.
Europe started its forced austerity in 2010. And everywhere — UK, Italy, Greece, Spain, Ireland, Iceland and Portugal — there are anti-austerity protests. The banks and financial institutions responsible for the economic crisis want society to adjust by going without jobs and livelihoods, pensions and social security, public services and the commons, whereas people want financial systems to adjust to the limits set by nature, social justice and democracy.
The precarious living conditions of the “99 per cent” has created a new class which Guy Standing, professor of economic security, University of Bath, calls “The Precariat”. If the Industrial Revolution gave us the working class, the proletariat, globalisation, which gave us the “free market”, created “the new dangerous class” of “The Precariat” —low-wage workers, both migrants and locals, living on the edge of our modern, global economy.
It is often said that with increasing growth, India and China are replicating the resource-intensive, wasteful lifestyles of the Western countries. The reality is that while a small group, three to four per cent of India, is joining the mad race for consuming the earth by acquiring more and more automobiles and air-conditioners, the large majority of India is being pushed into “de-consumption” — losing their basic entitlements like food, water and shelter because of resource grab, land grab and market grab.
From the throes of the 99 percentres’ movements a new paradigm is emerging, one that was practised and championed by Mahatma Gandhi. As opposed to the forced austerity of the World Bank and IMF, this is the paradigm of voluntary simplicity — of reducing one’s ecological footprint and ensuring the well-being of all.
While forced austerity that helps the rich become super rich, and the powerful become totalitarian, voluntary simplicity enables us all to adjust ecologically, to reduce over-consumption of the planet’s resources and create a path for economic adjustment based on justice and equity.
The article can be found on the Asian Age at http://www.asianage.com/columnists/green-greed-242