Dr. Vandana Shiva, internationally renowned author, physicist, and environmental activist presided over the historic Tribunal. Dr. Shiva presented the closing ruling to admit all the nine cases of alleged violations of the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth, adopted in Cochabamba on April 20, 2010 and, for Ecuadorian cases, of the Ecuadorian Constitution.
Vandana Shiva opens the Press Conference at the Rights of Nature Tribunal.
I want to thank all the witnesses on behalf of Mother Earth, who gave such powerful testimonies today, and also to fellow members of the tribunal, who have recommended admitting each of those cases, deepening them until the Rights of Mother Earth become the framework for governing ourselves. Six of the cases were related to the fossil fuel industry. Chevron, BP, coal mining near the Great Barrier Reef, fracking. And then the impact of all this, in a systemic way on the climate system, which was presented by Pablo Solón.
Intellectually, we know that the fossil fuel age is over, and yet, those who can make quick money by mining the last reserves of gas or coal or oil – and it is interesting that it is called “crude”, because it is! It’s not sophisticated, it’s crude. They are making their last, desperate attempt, because the mining itself, the extraction itself, the drilling itself, is really intended just to extend ways of organizing human life in such a way that we are dependent on non-renewables.
Recognising the Rights of Mother Earth, also means recognizing the intelligence of Mother Earth. It was not for nothing that she tucked fossil fuels deep within the ground, telling us “leave us alone”. I have given you enough on my surface and I can give you more, for a renewable life, based on sumak kawsay, based on the principles of good living. As these cases were brought out, there is of course the immediate impact of devastation on local ecosystems. In fact, these are not minor impacts, this is the end of local ecosystems. A drilled area, a fracked area, a mined area is no more able to support life. It is in every sense a desert, a polluted desert. We’ve just had news that in West Virginia chemicals that leaked from the coal mining exercise polluted the water and the entire drinking water supply had to be turned off, for an entire state, in an advanced, developed country. Now, shouldn’t the measure of being advanced include clean water? Include our duty to keep our water systems clean? Isn’t it primitive to destroy our water systems?
In addition to these local impacts, we are also talking about the global impacts as well as the fact that a few years ago we used to talk in terms of centuries. Climate change discussion used to be about “by the next century”. Pablo Solón’s presentation on climate change as a systemic violation of the rights of Mother Earth, as well as Tom Goldtooth’s recommendation that this case be admitted, giving us the figures that by 2016 or 2018 the arctic ice will go. We are talking of now, we are not talking of the future.
And in terms of the destruction, we are talking of lives being lost today. I come from another mountain system, the Himalayas. I’ve spent all my life there. I was born there and grew up there. Last summer [in the Indian state of Uttarakhand and adjoining areas] we had the most extreme climate event from the 14th to 17th June. Over four days we received extremely heavy rainfall, which was about 375 percent more than the benchmark rainfall during a normal monsoon. The glacial lakes were melting. Glacial lakes had formed and those lakes burst. The floods that were caused took 20,000 lives. Homes are gone, roads are gone, schools are gone, bridges are gone and it is going to take a minimum of 50 years to rebuild the lives of those who survived because we were not given rehabilitation. My son here has made a film after the flood, where every person in those beautiful valleys of our mountains are saying that it is human action, it is human greed, it is human sin and human stupidity that is making Mother Nature react. That’s the reading of all communities that are related to the Earth and have not separated themselves. The disease of separation that has reached its ultimate in the fossil fuel age continues to both separate the consequences and impact of action, as well as separate our ability to make good decisions about what is a good way to live.
Some of the presentations and testimonies talked about the economy based on industrialism and fossil fuels, the colonization that came with Christopher Columbus, the talk about Indians being lazy. Casey talked about how in the past indigenous people were believed not to have souls; Australian aboriginals were talked about as not being humans – they were part of the fauna and flora. But of course, we are part of the fauna – we are animals! We have just fooled ourselves into thinking that we are not. And in the process, not only have we given ourselves permission to perpetuate war against the Earth, but we have also perpetuated a war against our human bodies, which are made of the Earth. All the disease epidemics that were mentioned again and again and again, in every case are reflections of that war against the Earth, against human beings, and against human bodies.
The fossil fuel age gave us very false ideas about the economy, technology, and progress. It is the beginning of thinking that we could have limitless growth, because the limits of the human body were supposed to have been transcended, without thinking that there are limits of non-renewable resources. There are limits of pollution that come from mining, and the limits of the pollution are hitting us much faster than the lifetime of those reserves. So when Michelle [Maloney] talks about 100 years of deposits of coal, if you translate it into the impact of devastation on the integrity of the Earth’s ecosystems, you are talking about 10 or 20 years.
In Yasuni, they talk about how many years they can drill, but if you take the ecosystem impact into account, in 2 or 3 years you’ve finished that ecosystem. So the inability to look at the system as a whole is part of that separation and fragmentation.
The fossil fuel age allowed us to believe that we can totally get rid of human beings, creative work, skills, knowledge. The knowledge that comes from relationship to Mother Earth. And that’s what allowed it to be said that indigenous people don’t have knowledge – they are primitive. That’s what allowed it to be said that when you get rid of people from the land, for example, in agriculture, you have a more productive agricultural system. Now I work in this field. The calculations of more food are done on the basis of false productivity, which only counts labor as input. So the more people you can displace from the land, the more peasants you can destroy, the more food sovereign communities you can devastate, the more productive your agriculture. By definition. The fewer people on the land, the more productive your agriculture. What is not counted is fossil fuels. What is not counted is the chemicals. What is not counted is the water. What is not counted is the financial inputs. In fact what is called a productive agricultural system is actually a negative economy, using 10 units of input to produce 1 unit of food. This is why, hand in hand with violations of the Rights of Mother Earth, we have deepening poverty, a deepening hunger.
There were two cases…. There was the case on mining, and my mind went back… When I saw those beautiful mountains in the Condor Corridor, my mind went back to two cases that we have fought in India and won, both on the Rights of Nature and her capacity to provide. Even though India does not have the Rights of Nature in her constitution, we do have Article 21 on the Right to Life. In 1982 I was invited by the Environment Ministry to look at the mining of limestone in the valley where I was born, and of course, I jumped at the opportunity. That’s around the time I had just had my baby boy, who is no more a baby, and I came back to my valley to do the study. We did details of how much revenue is coming from mining, what the mining was doing to water bodies, river systems. Limestone is an aquifer. How many people were losing in terms of agriculture, in terms of water. At the end of it, we did a calculation that the limestone left in the mountain was providing water through a system, which, if we had to build it, would cost 20 billion rupees. On the basis of that study, the Supreme Court gave a ruling – it was the first ruling on any ecological issue in India. They said this mining must stop because the Right to Life in Article 21 means the right to the ecosystems that guarantee life, and since mining is destroying the basis for the provisioning of water, it is violating Article 21 of the Constitution. And the mines were shut down, and our valley declared a green valley, and every factory dependent on those mines – the cement factory, the carbide factory – have all been shut down. Life in our valley was saved, otherwise, it would not have been a livable valley. The water would have been gone, the pollution would have made it impossible, everyone would have been asthmatic, everyone would have left. As it was in those days, the trees would have a layer of cement and the fruit trees had stopped fruiting.
More recently, mining of bauxite was planned in a beautiful mountain, which the local indigenous community of the Dongria Kondh, call the “Niyamgiri” – the mountain that upholds the Sacred Law and for that it upholds the universe. Between the movements on the ground of the communities and the fact that a few years ago some of us worked – and I was made a member of the drafting group of law – we said indigenous people’s and their rights were not recognized and that this was a great historic blunder and it must be corrected. And a “right of indigenous people and forest dwellers act” was created. So on the ground, the people fought, but there was now a new law that gave recognition to their rights. And they said we want to continue to live in the forest and we are not primitive for doing it.
That mining was planned by one of the most powerful individuals in the world. Most of the very powerful are very corrupt to these days. You don’t get that powerful without developing interesting partnerships. But that mine was also closed. And again, it became very clear that leaving the bauxite in the mountain performed of course the ecological functions that Mother Earth was performing for us, but even when translated into economic benefits for life support for human communities, the Earth was giving much more than the benefits one man would have received by mining that beautiful land.
But the other distortions that the old paradigm has created, including the distortions of the way we think about life, the way we think about knowledge, about science, and the case of GMOs that was presented by Elizabeth Bravo and which has been recommended for admission by Blanca [Chancoso].
Why is there so much resistance against GMOs? Because just like fossil fuels they symbolize a dying and obsolete civilization that is not living in accordance with the laws of nature and the Rights of Mother Earth. GMOs do the same in the world of living systems. What mining and fossil fuel extraction does at the level of damaging ecosystems as well as the climate, GMOs are to the living world. It begins with a false story, that the world is made of genes, and genes give direction to the rest of life – they determine traits and behavior of living systems. Well, it doesn’t work that way. Genes get instructions from the epigenetic system, the environment, which tells them to be active or to be silent. This is why we are getting more and more cancers, where the epigenetic system is triggering the potential of the human body and the potential of cells to become cancerous.
Living systems work in co-operation. Amazing co-operation. The kinds of co-operation that Blanca was pointing out. The kind of co-operation that comes through diversity. Monocultures only create competition. Diversity creates co-operation. The evidence is now becoming so clear that actually ecological systems, indigenous systems, and native seeds produce much more food. 72% of the food is coming from small farms, doing ecological agriculture, using local seeds and indigenous knowledge. Only 28% of the grain is coming from industrial farms, and only 10% of the GMOs, corn, and soya, are eaten. The rest goes for biofuels and animal feed. It is a totally false story that this is about feeding the world.
The three levels at which GMOs are violating the Rights of Mother Earth: the first is because GMOs are created in order to have patents, which in effect means that those who hold that patent has created that entity, have invented life, have invented the corn seed. This is a violation of the intelligence and creativity of Mother Earth, which gave us amazing wheats and rices and corn and beans. In India, we had more than 200,000 varieties of rice, 1,500 varieties of wheat, thousands of varieties of corn in the corn cultures. No, corporations do not invent life, they can only pollute life, they can appropriate functions of life. That is why I am so happy that our patent office rejected a patent of Monsanto recently, and we have through our movement put into our patent amendment laws an Article 3J, which says that biological processes are not inventions, because they are processes of Mother Earth. Article 3J of the Indian Patent Law rejected a Monsanto patent on inventing climate-resilient traits.
The second violation of the Rights of Mother Earth is scrambling the evolutionary tree of life. Corn did not evolve to have a BT toxin in it. This is pollution of evolution. In Brazil, they were trying recently to legalize something that we have prevented from being allowed commercially – the terminator technology, which would genetically engineer seeds to be sterile by design, when the law of Mother Earth is fertility by design.
The third violation of the Rights of Mother Earth, so beautifully articulated by Blanca [Chancoso], is that working with the Earth we produce more food, we produce better food, tastier food, more nutritious food, and therefore GMOs as a system are the latest expression of a fossil fuel-based industrial agriculture, which is destroying 75% of the planet’s soil, the planet’s water, the planet’s biodiversity, and is contributing to 40% of the greenhouse gases, leading to climate instability. It is a very big base of the ecological damage on the planet. That model, and GMOs in particular, are violating the Rights of Mother Earth in her potential to provide the abundance of food that we need. It is blocking nature’s capacity to feed humanity and all species and all beings on Earth.
We also had the presentation from Earth’s defenders – defenders of the Rights of Mother Earth. And I think it is extremely important to see how a system based on fossil fuels, on extractive industries, on this very partial productivity assessment, on a very false story of what is intelligence and what is progress. It must by necessity evolve into a system that can only exist in militarized form, in violent form. We used to have, in the democracies that we were starting to evolve, the idea that it was about the representation of the people, by the people, for the people. That’s what democracy was supposed to be. And with globalization and the growth of corporate power, very rapidly our states mutated into corporate states, which became of the corporations, by the corporations, for the corporations, which started to then dismantle the laws, and everywhere there are things like the “Halliburton Loophole”, introduced by Bush and Cheney, or the removal of environmental regulations. This is what is going on in India right now – two environment ministers who said “these are the laws” have been thrown out. And the oil minister is now the environment minister.
This can carry on only so far, because not only do all of us care for the future and we will act, but the Rights of Mother Earth are related to the rights of survival of human communities. So the resistance is growing everywhere. No one will have fracking in their backyard and say “go on fracking” – we will resist. No one will have drilling in their neighborhood. No one will have GMOs spread without saying you can’t pollute, you can’t force-feed. What we are witnessing at this point of history is a further concentration and convergence of the power of the corporate state with militarized violence, because that is the only way the system can carry on. And the criminalization of the defenders of the Earth is an attempt to use force and violence against those who, with love, compassion, and commitment, want to defend life on Earth.
So what does this Tribunal offer us? It offers us a reversal of each of these wrong steps that have been taken. The first wrong step is the idea that human beings are separate from nature. And recognizing the Rights of Mother Earth in effect becomes the best way to reclaim our humanity, to be full human beings, as members of the Earth family. The second wrong step it enables us to take is to correct the ideas of a very convoluted, very artificial model of the economy based on an idea of growth that was cooked up for the wars – GDP was created for running the wars. Gross Domestic Product was designed to release money from society to the war economy. And what was supposed to have just been used for a short time has become a permanent instrument of war against the Earth and against people. Every destruction is justified in the name of growth. Every destruction and violation of the Rights of Mother Earth is justified in the name of construction created for the war. It is time to put that construction behind us. And the world is waking up to it.
I work with the government of Bhutan, which has asked us to help make a transition to 100% organic Bhutan. But many years ago Bhutan decided that it was not going to follow the typical development model. It was not going to chase GDP and GNP, it was going to maximize the happiness and wellbeing of its people. So they measured Gross National Happiness, not Gross National Product. And happiness and wellbeing are exactly what sumak kawsay captures. It gives us an opportunity to redefine categories of who is primitive. Because people who lived close to Mother Earth were defined as primitive. Recognizing the Rights of Mother Earth allows us to recognize that those who obey the Laws of Mother Earth are the most advanced civilizations on this planet and the rest must follow.
It gives us an opportunity to go beyond mechanistic reductionism, which is such a false construction in science, to the science of interconnectedness, a science of relationships, a science knowing about the fragility of the different connections and being deeply aware of it, to provide guidance on how not to harm Mother Earth. This then starts to change the categories of intelligence and stupidity.
We are being offered GMOs for removing Vitamin A deficiency. It is 4000% less efficient than what women can grow in their gardens, which also makes better food, more delicious, more diverse. An iron-enriched banana produced by genetic engineering is 7000% less efficient. Our gardens and our small farms can produce 2 to 5 times more food than any industrial agriculture, and I am not talking about this off my hat. We do this work, we grow those plants, then we measure in that tedious way how much biodiversity is being produced? How much nutrition is it giving us? And we have shifted from the category of yield per acre to health per acre. The health of Mother Earth as well as the health of those who depend on the fruits of Mother Earth. And the health of Mother Earth depends on healthy soils, rich biodiversity, and, as the Prosecutor for the Earth talked about, the butterflies and the bees and the pollinators. They are waking up to the fact that pollinators alone contribute $50 billion annually to production, just by doing their work.
Now the old mindset – I call it the fossilized mindset of the fossil fuel era. That fossilized mindset – I have had debates with the GMO industry and the biotech industry, where they talk about their hybrid and GMO seeds as preventing the bees from usurping the pollen. In their worldview, nature doing her own thing is stealing their profits. And that is why this idea of “the Green Economy” that was mentioned by Pablo Solón becomes so important. Because having devastated so much of nature, they are now looking at how to commodify the remaining functions of nature and exploit the remaining ecosystems of integrity. And they call it “the Green Economy”. I call it the Greed Economy. Because green is both the color of the planet and of clothing. It is also the color of that note in your wallet – it’s a greenback. So green can be the color of greed or it can be the color of Mother Earth. And which green we will grow depends on the paradigms we choose. This Tribunal and the process from which it has emerged and the process into which it will grow, hopefully, will allow the growth of the green of the Earth.
There are some ideas that have come out from the gathering that preceded this Tribunal and I would like to share them with you, because I believe that while the fossilized system, the obsolete system, was based on power through division, on power and domination through fragmentation, the resurgence of the Rights of Mother Earth is based on connectedness and on synergy, for example, the Tribunal that is sitting here and the cases that were presented from around the world, but more importantly, synergies at every level of change. The grassroots movements, tribunals like this. Systematic work every day of our lives. One of the things that have come out repeatedly in the discussion, is that what we are living through is the continuity of 500 years of colonization. I was just told last night that colonization is derived from Christopher Colon. We did not have a word for colonization before that. Of course, we have new colonizations, which are called development and progress.
A suggestion has come to implement the suggestion that was made by Carlos Perez, that we have to decolonize if we are to survive. If we do not we are moving towards suicide. The 12th of October is celebrated as Columbus Day. Let us start celebrating from this year onwards as the beginning of decolonization as a global movement by recognition of the Rights of Mother Earth. 2nd October is Gandhi’s birth anniversary and Gandhi articulated a very powerful phrase for the actions that all the indigenous people are engaged in everywhere. Say no to an unjust law. Say no to brute force. Say no to exploitation. He called it the fight for the truth.
Blanca [Chancoso] in the earlier discussions talked about one aspect of Pachamama is the universe as truth. Another aspect is the universe as space and time. The most important aspect is that the universe is life itself.
I think we should start celebrating 2nd October as a non-co-operation and de-recognition day of all unjust laws that violate the Rights of Mother Earth – a satyagraha for the Earth.
And 16th October is World Food Day – this year is it also supposed to be the year of the family farm. Well, the family farms work in co-operation with Mother Earth. They are not based on huge machinery and external inputs, they are based on working for the fertility of the soil and renewal of the seed. Let us celebrate this year, the World Food Day – 16th October, as the day of the Rights of Mother Earth and her giving us food and turn it into a day of thanksgiving, turn it into a day of gratitude, and turn it into a day of commitment to not allow the destruction of potential and capacity.
This tribunal was called a Seed Tribunal. It is a seed sown, which has a lot of potential. I support all the Tribunal members who have recommended admission of all the cases for a deepening of the processes for justice, and a deepening of the processes to stop the violation and violence against the Earth. I know the creativity that we derive from the Earth is a creativity that cannot be stopped. It cannot be threatened. It cannot be extinguished. And it is from that we need to go beyond the culture of fear that has been created, by attacks and criminalization on defenders of the Earth. You know they are criminalizing savers of seeds, and we having to deal with making people confident that they can continue to save seeds. And work with seeds according to the laws of the Earth, not the laws of Monsanto that create a monopoly.
I think we have started on a beautiful, exciting journey of finding new paths collectively. This is a small seed that I can see growing into a magnificent tree with many branches. Let’s nourish it, water it, and hug it. Thank you.