Vandana Shiva speaks at MCLA



Jennifer Huberdeau

North Adams Transcript

NORTH ADAMS - Shifting away from oil-driven economics in order to solve the world's economic and climate problems was the message Vandana Shiva, a world-renowned environmentalist, shared with a small group of students Tuesday afternoon at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.

"We have destroyed the planet with our oil-based economies," she said. "We need to do more to change our dependence on oil - it has destroyed our planet, and it is causing world-wide problems. People are dying from extreme flooding, hurricanes and typhoons. It creates a centralization of power and unemployment.

"We have literally reduced ourselves to eating oil as well. It's in the fertilizers we use, the machinery that produces it and for the transportation of food for thousands of miles. With globalized food production, we are creating hunger."

Born in India, Shiva is a leader in the International Forum on Globalization and founder of Navdanya (nine seeds), a movement promoting diversity and the use of native seeds. She also founded India's Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology in 1997.

In addition to meeting with students for a question and answer session, Shiva spoke on her most recent book, "From Oil to Soil," Tuesday night at the MCLA Church Street Center as part of the college's Public Policy Lecture Series. The lecture series is made possible by the Ruth Proud Charitable Trust.

"We need to shift to a soil-based economy," she said, referring to the movement to return to non-industrialized agriculture. "Soil absorbs carbon dioxide directly from the air. It produces better fertilizers than anything we can make, and more importantly, better food. It also supports a local living economy. We need to apply an environmental cause to solve an economic problem."

Shiva believes that countries also need to stop measuring success by the amount of the gross national product, which she says is not an indicator of the quality of life.

"The gross national product of a country does not tell the full story," she said. "In India, our gross national product has grown by 9 percent, but at the same time our people have never been more hungry."

She pointed to the country of Bhutan, which has stopped measuring its gross national product and instead measures the quality of life and happiness of its citizens.

"They are not any poorer, they have just decided not to allow the wealth of nature they have to be destroyed," Shiva said. "They have committed to keeping 70 percent of their land as forest and are committed to becoming 100 percent organic. They have shifted the conversation to one of making a decent living as the measure of success."

Shiva also expressed vast disappointment with President Barack Obama's recent trip to India, during which he announced several landmark deals, including the India's agreement to purchase several dozen jets from Boeing and another deal to purchase engines from General Electric - creating 50,000 jobs in the United States.

"This deal won't build up the economy of the Berkshires," she said. "It supports big businesses like Boeing and General Electric." She noted that it isn't "big government" that is the downfall of the U.S. government and economy, but "big industry."

"We don't need to worry about invitations to the United Nation's Security Council," she said. "We need to worry about the security of future generations. We need to ensure that college graduates have fulfilling jobs waiting for them after graduation. That's security."

She also scoffed at the idea that Obama asked India's leaders to consider turning to industrialized- agriculture to help feed other countries, such as Africa.

"I recently wrote a column on this, in which I asked why he doesn't spread gardens like the one Michelle [Obama] has built," Shiva said. "One thing we are doing is building gardens in any community and any school. We call them 'gardens of hope' because our children are so separated from touching the earth and knowing where their food comes from. We want to end that disconnect."

Sophomore Jason Brown of Templeton, who is majoring in environmental science, said Shiva's messages about moving toward community-supported agriculture and away from oil dependence are ones that more Americans need to hear.

"It's unfortunate that more people don't know who she is," he said.

Junior Ariana Ciapella, who is also majoring in environmental studies, said Shiva's messages about self-sustainability are ones that are often lost on Americans because of the lack of education on what sustainability really is.

"There's a big disconnect in the United States between sustainability and the economy," she said. "Sustainability can drive an economy. It can provide more jobs and a better environment. It means healthier living and less health care costs. It's all interconnected."

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