Home > In Focus > Making Peace with the Earth and Each other

By Dr Vandana Shiva – The Asian Age, 2 December 2015

Humanity stands at a precipice. Merely 200 years of a fossil fuel age have driven species and biodiversity to extinction, destroyed our soils, depleted and polluted our water, and destabilised our entire climate system.

500 years of colonialism have driven cultures, languages, peoples to extinction, and left a legacy of violence as the basis of production and governance.

The Paris attacks of 13th November 2015 have led to an escalation of violence in our way of speaking and thinking when dealing with conflict. Paris has emerged as the epicentre of the planetary ecological crisis and the global cultural crisis. From 30th Nov to 11th December, movements and governments will converge in Paris for COP 21- the 21st Conference of Parties on the UN Framework Convention on Climate change. The COP 21 is not just about Climate Change any longer, it is about our modes of production and consumption, which are destroying the ecosystems that support human life on this planet.

There is a deep and intimate connection between the events of 13th November and the ecological devastation unleashed by the fossil fuel era of human history. The same processes that contribute to climate change also contribute to growing violence amongst people. Both are results of a war against the earth. Both are consequences of a war paradigm, built around tools and techniques shaped for war, deployed as agriculture inputs after the World Wars. Industrial agriculture, with its roots in war, has destroyed biodiversity, soil fertility, water resources, and the climate .

Industrial agriculture is a fossil fuel based system, and contributes more than 40% of the green house gases that are contributing to climate change. Along with the globalised food system, Industrial agriculture is to blame for at least 50% of the climate crisis. Synthetic nitrogen fertilisers are based on fossil fuels and use the same chemical processes that made explosives and ammunitions for Hitler during World War II. The energy intensive Haber Bosch process, for instance, uses natural gas to artificially fix nitrogen from the air at high temperature and produce ammonia. Ammonia is the feedstock for all synthetic nitrogen fertilisers, as well as explosives.

One kg of nitrogen fertiliser requires the energy equivalent of 2 litres of diesel. Energy used during fertiliser manufacture was equivalent to 191 billion litres of diesel in 2000, and is projected to rise to 277 billion in 2030. This is a major contributor to climate change, yet largely swept under the rug. Synthetic fertiliser, for Industrial Agriculture, starts to destroy the planet long before it reaches a field. It’s not Volkswagen we should worry about, it’s synthetic fertiliser.

The dominant narrative is that synthetic fertilisers feed us and without them people will starve. They produce “bread from air”, it has been said by Industry.

This is false for 2 reasons. Firstly, nature and humans have evolved many non violent, effective, sustainable ways to provide nitrogen to soil and plants.

Take the miraculous pulse legumes, our dals, they fix nitrogen from the air without fossil fuels and without violent processes. Bacteria (rhizobia) in the nodules of their roots convert the atmospheric nitrogen into ammonia, and then into organic compounds by the plant to be used for growth .

Intercropping or rotating pulses with cereals has been an ancient practice in India. We also used green manures which are nitrogen fixing. Besides the rhizobium we have the amazing earthworm. Earth worm castings contain five times more nitrogen than soils without earthworms, all without fossil fuels. This is a living cycle.

Returning organic matter to the soil builds up soil nitrogen. A study we are undertaking already shows that organic farming can increase nitrogen content of soil between 44 – 144 %, depending on the crops grown. Not only does organic farming avoid the emissions that come from industrial agriculture, organic farming transforms carbon in the air through photo synthesis and builds it up in the soil, thus contributing to higher soil fertility, higher food production and nutrition, and a sustainable, zero-cost technology for addressing climate change.

The potential of organic farming has been completely ignored, but undermined, by the militarised model of war chemical based industrial agriculture. This model has not only caused ecological damage, it has uprooted millions by destroying soils and water sources, destroying societies and contributing directly to the refugee crisis.

Ecologically non sustainable models of agriculture, dependent on fossil fuels, have been imposed through “aid” and “development” projects in the name of the Green Revolution. As soil and water, the life support system of human life and all life, are destroyed, ecosystems that produced food and supported livelihoods can no longer sustain societies. Anger, discontent, frustration, protests, conflicts are the result. However, land, water and agriculture related conflicts are repeatedly and deliberately mutated into religious conflicts, to protect the militarised agriculture model, which has unleashed a global war against the earth and people.

I witnessed this in Punjab while I was doing research for my book “The Violence of the Green Revolution” on the violence of 1984. We are witnessing this today, as conflicts which begin because of land degradation and water crises, induced by non sustainable farming systems, are given the colour of religious conflicts.

Since 2009, we only hear of Boko Haram, we do not hear of the disappearance of Lake Chad. Lake Chad supported 30 million people in 4 countries –Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, Niger. Intensive irrigation for industrial agriculture increased four-fold from 1983 to 1994. 50% of the disappearance of Lake Chad is attributed to the building of Dams and intensive irrigation for Industrial agriculture. As the water disappeared, conflicts between the muslim pastoralists and settled christian farmers, over the dwindling water resources, led to unrest. As Luc Gnacadja, the former Secretary General of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, states about the violence in Nigeria – “The so called religious fight is actually about access to vital resources”

The story of Syria is the same – in 2009, a severe drought uprooted a million farmers who were forced to move into the city for livelihood. Structural Adjustment measures, imposed by global financial institutions and trade rules, prevented the Government from responding to the plight of Syria’s farmers. The farmers’ protests intensified. By 2011, the world’s military powers were in Syria, selling more arms and diverting the narrative from the story of the soil and the farmers – to religion. Today, half of Syria is in refugee camps, the war is escalating, and the root causes of the violence continue to be actively disguised as religion.

These vicious cycles of violence are rooted in technologies of war, and the economies of war. Haber, the inventor of Zyklon B – a poison gas used in 1915 to kill more than a million Jews in concentration camps – was given a Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Norman Borlaug received a Nobel Prize for Peace for the war chemical based Green Revolution – which has only left a legacy of violence.

For me, the COP 21 has become a pilgrimage of peace – remembering all the innocent victims of the wars against the land and people. I have initiated a pact to protect the earth and each other in these violent times of polarisation and forgetting. We must develop the capacity to reimagine the we are one humanity, and refuse to  be divided by race and religion. We must see the connections between ecological destruction, growing violence and wars that are engulfing all our societies. We must remember that there will be no peace between people if we do not make peace with the Earth.

In Indian culture, we realised this thousands of years ago. The peace prayer says:

Peace of the sky

Peace of space

Peace of the Earth

Peace of the water

Peace of herbs

Peace of vegetation

Peace of the Universe

Om Shanthi Shanthi Shanthi