Soil Not Oil: Environmental Justice in an Age of Climate Crisis

Environmental activist Vandana Shiva’s newest book–Soil Not Oil–is an excellent resource for those who are serious about not just averting a larger global climate crisis, but for those who want to preserve living communities of bio-diversity. Shiva’s examination of the inter-connected global climate, energy, and food crises offers a refreshing perspective on the debate about global warming.

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With all the trendy “green consumerism” and corporate green-washing that dictates so much of current discourse around environmentalism, it is important that we examine independent perspectives on the severity of the world’s ecological crisis.

Vandana Shiva has provided a fresh and independent perspective for more than two decades now as she has confronted how we think about environmentalism by writing books about water, seeds, global trade policies, and patriarchy’s relationship to the natural world. In her most recent book Soil Not Oil: Environmental Justice in an Age of Climate Crisis, the Indian activist provides needed analysis for those of us who might be duped by the market approach to environmental justice.

Shiva argues that the world is faced with three fundamental global crises: global warming, energy use/depletion and food. The author believes that these three issues are inter-connected, therefore how we respond as a global community with any of these issues will impact the other two. Soil Not Oil does not just address those three issues, it provides an analysis and challenge to those of us in the US who think we have the best approach to solving the climate, energy and food crises.

For example, the business community has primarily dominated the response to global warming in the US, much of which has been supported by the ideas put forth by Al Gore. Shiva argues that these “solutions” are imperialist in nature since they dictate what the poorer countries of the world should do. This imperialist response by rich countries is best demonstrated by the idea of carbon trading. Carbon trading allows the biggest polluting nations and corporations to transfer their pollution onto other nations and communities by investing in “green” technology abroad. Shiva believes that the market should not be deciding how to deal with something so crucial as climate change and suggests that carbon trading is a false solution since “it does not begin with policies and laws that protect and support the nonpolluting patterns of production, distribution and consumption.”

Carbon trading will in effect mean that the big polluters will be subsidized to continue to pollute, because “slightly greener” companies can sell their carbon credits to the worst polluters. This market solution provides no real incentive for developing truly sustainable ways of production, which is why Shiva believes that the nuclear industry has been cashing in on the global warming frenzy. Nuclear power has received the support of politicians and some environmental groups despite the fact that the uranium mining that is done in order for nuclear power to work is highly toxic and unsustainable.

When discussing energy use, Vandana Shiva focuses on the cost of car use in her home country of Indian. With the increase in personal auto transportation on the rise in countries like India, it not only increases the global demands of oil production, it has resulted in increased deaths and road construction. The new road construction throughout India has primarily impacted India’s rural farming communities, communities that have lost their land and their livelihood.

This shift to greater car production and use in countries like India has meant less land for food, the third major crisis that Shiva tackles in Soil Not Oil. Not only does road and parking lot construction take away precious land from small farmers, it necessitates that more land is used for bio-fuels to power the machines. This has resulted in less land for food production and high prices for basic food staples. Those of us in the US have experienced increased in the cost of basic grains, but this increase in global food prices has hit people harder in countries like India. So why bio-fuels are presented as a green fuel it has actually caused more environmental destruction and poverty.

Shiva believes that the market-based solutions that the rich nations have adopted in responding to the global climate/energy/food crisis has and will only make things worse. The author believes that the power to make decisions about food and energy should be put in the hands of smaller communities, decisions that she believes would be more sustainable. Shiva cites numerous examples in India where people have created their own seed banks to promote traditional grains like millet, which is more nutritious and sustainable to grow. When local communities have control over the most fundamental resources such as food and energy production there is a greater chance that the issue of how it impact that community will be central to the decision making process, unlike when corporations or nation states impose their decisions on communities.

Soil Not Oil concludes with the author appealing to the idea encompassed in the Indian work Shakti, which means the “capacity to do” or “to have power.” When local communities have the capacity and the power to determine the futures, a future that is not driven by external market forces, only then can the world overcome the global climate crisis we are faced with. Soil Not Oil is an excellent resource for those who are serious about not just averting a larger global climate crisis, but for those who want to preserve living communities of bio-diversity.

Vandana Shiva, Soil Not Oil: Environmental Justice in an Age of Climate Crisis, (South End Press, 2008).

Author: mediamouse

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