How to Profit from Environmental Destruction

Pricing the Planet Part 2

Al Jaceera (2018)

Film Review

Part 2 of Pricing the Planet is even more disgusting than Part 1. It concerns the “green conferences” organized by oil, chemical and mining companies to promote ways they can invest in “credits” to mitigate their activities that degrade the environment.

All the industries that attended a recent “green conference” continue to lobby heavily against government regulation to curb the environmental damage they cause. However now that they see an opportunity to profit from carbon and species trading they’re suddenly spouting off about the future of our planet.

The documentary shows footage of Dow Chemical and Nestle executives at a recent green conference. Dow has one of the worst reputations for environmental degradation. Dow produced Agent Orange, responsible for cancer and birth defects in thousands of Vietnam veterans and Vietnamese civilians and their offspring. They also own the subsidiary responsible for the chemical factory that exploded in Bhopal India, poisoning thousands. Nestle is notorious for depleting fresh water all over the planet, which they sell back to us as bottled water.

Unsurprisingly the World Bank supports corporations who buy and sell the right to destroy the environment by selling Green Bonds (which corporations use to mitigate their environmentally harmful activities). Carbon and endangered species trading are also strongly supported by the United Nations.

The high point of the film is a vignette featuring Indian environmentalist Vendana Shiva explaining how financialization always leads to degradation. She further states, “Wherever a price is placed on nature, nature has been destroyed.”

She maintains the continual destruction of the environment in the name of economic growth is a sickness in the human mind.

The documentary can be viewed free at Pricing the Planet Part 2

Why Growth is the Main Cause of Poverty

Growth Equals Poverty

Vendana Shiva (2013)

In this presentation, environmentalist and anti-globalization activist Vendana Shiva challenges the Wall Street mythology that economic growth reduces poverty. Using her own country India as an example, she demonstrates how poverty (and inequality) increase in direct correlation to GDP increases.

The examples she offers clearly apply to the US, UK and New Zealand. All three countries are experiencing alarming increases in poverty and inequality as GDP increases. As in India, the quality and availability of health, education and other public services have declined steeply as “growth” has increased.

She goes on to demonstrate what GDP growth really represents: the privatization (ie theft) of natural and public resources by a small number of elites.

In India at present, 1/4 of the population lives in abject poverty and 1/2 of children are malnourished. Vendana blames the increase in hunger on the forced adoption of industrial agriculture and GMO crops. Monsanto and GMO advocates like Bill gates argue that GMOs will decrease world hunger. In India, where Monsanto has successfully lobbied to make it illegal for farmers to save seed, just the opposite has happened.

This due partly to Monsanto’s seed monopoly, which has caused an 8,000% increase in the cost of seed; partly to the high cost of fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides GMO crops require; and partly to the destruction of soil, bees and biodiversity caused by industrial agriculture and GMO crops.

Robbing From Nature and People to Produce Profit

 

Eco Social Justice on the Global Frontlines

Vendana Shiva (2017)

The following is a compelling Earth Day presentation by Indian activist Vendana Shiva linking ecocide and genocide to the brutal “free market” drive to rob from nature and people to produce profit.  This wide ranging talk combines a unique perspective on the violent British colonization of both India and North America, the more recent role of major chemical and food companies (eg Dow, Dupont and Monsanto) in imposing free trade treaties such as GATT and the TPP, and the growing anti-corporate resistance movement in India and elsewhere.

Vendana begins by describing an agricultural conference she attended in 1987, at which the major chemical manufacturers laid out plans to increase their profits by introducing GMO seeds and lobbying for laws and treaties that would prohibit seed saving by farmers. She goes on to talk about Navdanya, the nonprofit organization she founded in 1984 to resist the so-called “Green Revolution” that imposed industrial farming on Indian farmers. In promoting seed saving and other traditional organic farming methods, Navdanya was influenced by Gandhi’s use of sustainable self-reliance as a weapon against colonialism.

At the 1987 conference, the chemical companies bragged the entire world would be growing GMO crops by 2000. Thanks to strong global citizens movements, this never happened. Ninety percent of the world’s food is GMO-free, thanks to wholesale rejection of this technology in Europe, Africa and Asia. Likewise only 30% of the world’s food production is industrialized.

Vendana maintains the primary purpose of industrial farming isn’t to produce food but to increase profit. Due to the massive energy input it requires, factory farming is an extremely inefficient method of food production. Traditional farms producing a diversity of crops will always provide more nutritional output than an industrial farm producing a single monoculture crop.

She blames the forced introduction of industrial farming for India’s high level of malnutrition – 1/4 of the general population and 1/2 of Indian children lack adequate nutrients in their diet.


*GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) was the international treaty that created the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1995 (under President Bill Clinto)n.

Capitalism, Colonialism and the Failure of Industrial Agriculture

This presentation by anti-GMO and anti-globalization activist Vendana Shiva focuses on colonialism and its fundamental role in capitalism. She quotes from 17th century philosophers Bacon and Locke, who laid the groundwork for a capitalist philosophy that is clearly at odds with most human needs.

Their determination to “dominate” (in some cases they use the world “rape”) the natural world went hand in hand with early capitalists’ determination to dominate and enslave third world peoples and steal their lands.

Industrial farming is an excellent example of this attempt to “dominate” nature. Although it’s promoted as a method of reducing world hunger, it actually feeds fewer people because it destroys soil, kills pollinators and reduces access to fresh water. Its true purpose is to produce immense profits for a handful of rich capitalists.

At present industrial agriculture, which only produces 20% of the food people eat, is responsible for 70% of global disease and malnutrition and 75% of the damage capitalism causes to the global ecology.

Fighting Monsanto in India

Bullshit!

Pea Holmquist and Suzanne Kardalian (2005)

Film Review

Bullshit! is about Indian environmental activist Vendana Shiva. It takes its title from the “Bullshit Award” she received from a pro-Monsanto lobby group in 2004. Despite the intended insult (they sent the cow dung through the mail), Vendana was thrilled. Cow dung is revered in rural India, where it’s used as fuel and mixed with mud to construct water tight walls and flooring.

The film traces how Vendana abandoned nuclear physics in 1985 to start the Novdanya Institute, dedicated to reclaiming native plants and seeds as a commons for people to enjoy collectively – instead of a private commodity to increase the profits of multinational seed companies like Monsanto.

Novdanya runs a seed bank called The School of Nine Seeds. Its primary purpose is to preserve rare and heritage seeds that have been large replaced by a handful of hybrid monoculture crops. With growing water scarcity, Novdanya places special emphasis on drought resistant millets with a high protein content.

Another high priority for Vendana is her battle against Monsanto’s campaign to flood India, an early target starting in the late nineties, with GMO crops. Many Indian farmers have bankrupted themselves purchasing GMO seeds, particularly Roundup-ready varieties. When the high yields they were promised failed to eventuate, thousands committed suicide.*

Bullshit! also profiles Vendana’s role in the antiglobalization movement, particularly the anti-WTO protest in Cancun Mexico in September 2003. The public suicide of Korean farmer Lee Kyung-Hae was instrumental in galvanizing opposition from third world farmers against WTO provisions enabling the US to destroy local markets by dumping cheap agricultural products in third world countries.

In 2000 Vendana collaborated with Greenpeace to force the EU to revoke a patent they had granted Monsanto on the neem tree and an ancient variety of Indian wheat.

The film  ends by highlighting Shiva’s involvement, along with other high profile antiglobalization activists (including Canadian water activist Maude Barlow and French farmer Jose Bove) in a 640-day sit down strike to shut down a Coca Cola bottling plant that was illegal depleting a fresh water aquifer.


*According to New Dehli TV, close to 300,000 Indian farmers have committed suicide since 1995.
** The final breakdown of the so-called “Doha Round” of WTO negotiations in 2008 would eventually lead the US to promote the Transpacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) and Transatlantic Trade and Partnership Initiative (TTPI) in its place.

Improving Food Production by Subtracting Oil

The following video is the keynote address by Indian activist Vendana Shiva at the 2015 Soil Not Oil conference in Richmond California. Her primary theme is the destructive effect of industrial agriculture on soil, human health, water balance, climate, ecological diversity, economic inequality and world peace (as the driver of continual resource wars).

She maintains industrial agriculture is an extremely inefficient method of food production – requiring ten calories of oil for every calorie of food produced. Factory farming is only economically viable because of heavy government subsidies of oil production and the synthetic nitrogen fertilizer manufactured from natural gas. If Food Inc were required to pay the full cost of industrial farming (including the toxic effects of the chemicals they use), it would be many times more expensive than organic farming.

She maintains real purpose of industrial farming is to increase GDP by producing more commodities, when it should be to maintain soil and human health.

Prior to the industrial age, farming was as much about soil regeneration as food production. The talk particularly emphasizes the importance of “carbonizing” soil with organic matter. It cites studies showing that a two ton per hectare increase in organic matter removes ten gigatons of CO2 from the atmosphere. This also makes the soil drought resistant by improving its capacity to store water.

The Sinister Purpose of Western Education

Schooling the World: the White Man’s Last Burden

Directed by Carol Black (2010)

Film Review

Schooling the World, featuring Indian environmental activist Vendana Shiva and Helene Norberg Hodge (producer of Economics of Happiness), is about the colonizing function of western education. The “White Man’s Burden” is a Victorian reference to the schooling of ignorant natives for the purpose of “civilizing” them.

Historically, the primary purpose of western education has been to facilitate the seizure of occupied land by destroying native language and culture. At present, however, its main purpose is to train children to use corporate products in a modern environment and to become compliant workers in a global industrial system. Thanks to western education, “backward” third world children transition from self-sufficient members of local economies to dependent cogs in the global economy.

The documentary gives three examples of this philosophy in practice: the historical outrage of indigenous Americans being kidnapped from their parents (in both Canada and the US) to have their language and culture forcibly stripped from them and modern day Ladakh and India, where rural parents experience intense pressure to send their kids to English schools.

In Ladakh, a Buddhist education teaching children compassion, cooperation and respect for nature has been replaced by an education valuing conformity, regimentation and love for money. Meanwhile many Indian parents sell their homes to pay for western-style education they believe will win their kids positions as doctors or engineers. In the end, the majority end up unemployed, with a lucky few finding entry level work.

Instead of teaching them sustainable living in harmony with nature, Western education teaches children to see themselves as separate from the natural world by locking them up in dark, airless, ugly spaces – and giving them books about nature.

The filmmakers challenge the wisdom of allowing the industrial north to force their educational model on the entire world when it clearly isn’t working for western youth. They refer to statistics showing that 16 million American young people suffer from depression and 1.6 million take psychotropic medication.

They also challenge that “development” (ie colonization) and western education lifts the “developing” world out of poverty. Historical evidence shows clearly that third world misery is a direct result of systematically stripping native inhabitants of their land, local economies, language and culture.

The Battle for Home Rule

While the federal government remains hopelessly mired in endless wars and draconian trade treaties like TPPA, TTIP and TISA, at the local level community rights activists are systematically reclaiming the right to govern themselves. Over the past 20 years, hundreds of communities have passed local ordinances banning factory farms, toxic sludge, GMOs, fracking, toxic contamination, depletion of local aquifers and other corporate abuses.

Some activists have chosen to battle corporate infringement on their communities by establishing their legal right to home rule. At present, 31 states have constitutional amendments that grant cities, municipalities and/or counties the ability to pass laws to govern themselves (so long as they obey the state and federal constitution). The number is constantly growing, with Nevada becoming a home rule state in July 2015.

Most non-home rule states use Dillon’s rule to determine the bounds of a local municipality’s legal authority. Dillon’s rule, written by a federal judge in 1968, states that municipalities only have powers expressly granted to them by state government.

Home Rule for Mendocino County

In California, Mendocino activists are presently circulating a petition to become a charter county. They must collect 4,000 signatures by January 15 to place a citizens initiative granting their county home rule on the November 2016 ballot.

Mendocino wants to join fourteen other California charter counties (Alameda, Butte, El Dorado, Fresno, Los Angeles, Orange, Placer, Sacramento, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Tehama). Acts passed by charter counties are the equivalent of laws passed by the Californian legislative. The California constitution even allows home rule counties to pre-empt state law where significant local interest is served. In contrast, ordinances passed by general or non-charter counties are subordinate to the will of the state legislature.

Other California charter counties are using home rule to ban fracking and to keep toxic pesticides out of their wells and surface water. As a charter county, Mendocino would also have the power to create a publicly owned bank like the Bank of North Dakota.

Preserving their Anti-fracking Ban

The charter initiative is a project of the Community Rights Network of Mendocino Network. In 2014, they successfully lobbied the board of supervisors to pass an ordinance that makes it illegal to engage in fracking in Mendocino County. By becoming a charter county, this ordinance assumes the force of state law. This makes it much harder for the oil and gas industry to overturn in court.

The four part video below features anti-globalization activist Vendana Shiva speaking about Gandhi’s campaign for Indian home rule (if you click on the first link, parts 2-4 will play automatically when the previous segment finishes).

For more information about the community rights movement see Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund

 

 

 

This is What Democracy Looks Like

2014 marks the fifteenth anniversary of the Battle of Seattle, the week of protests in November-December 1999 that shut down the World Trade Organization (WTO) Third Ministerial Round. Also known as the Doha Round, the intention of these negotiations was to significantly expand the power of multinational corporations to challenge democratically enacted labor, environmental and health and safety laws.

Opening ceremonies had to be canceled on November 30, when seventy to one hundred thousand global protestors stormed downtown Seattle and hundreds of activists chained themselves to cement pipes to block delegates’ access to the Paramount Theater. The police riot which ensued was our first encounter with the police militarization that would characterize the new millennium. Rather than simply arresting them, Seattle police beat, tear gassed and shot rubber bullets at peaceful protestors, journalists and passersby alike.*

Organizing Began in January 1999

I still lived in Seattle in 1999 and participated in the local organizing. We began in January 1999 when Mike Dolan, Public Citizen’s national field organizer, called the first planning meeting at the Seattle Labor Temple. Dolan continued to visit Seattle for monthly meetings, as well as coordinating organizing efforts in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Washington DC and other major US cities.

The biggest challenge in organizing the anti-WTO protest was that hardly any Americans had heard of the WTO in 1999, much less recognized the immense power Clinton was handing to private corporations with the North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA) and the Global Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, the treaty that created the WTO in 1994.

With 100,000 activists descending on Seattle, it became necessary to set up a home stay network to provide them with accommodation. I hosted seven activists in my home, two each from Los Angeles and Alaska, and three from the Mendocino County Rainforest Action Network.

The IFG Teach-In

The week started Friday night November 26, when 3,000+ of us packed into Seattle’s Symphony Hall for a two day teach-in organized by the International Forum on Globalization. World famous anti-globalization activists (including Indian anti-GMO activist Vendana Shiva, Malaysian economist and journalist Martin Khor, Canadian water activist Maude Barlow, Canadian environmentalist David Suzuki, French farmer activist Jose Bove, Ghanaian farmer activist Tete Hormeku, anti-sweatshop organizer Kevin Danaher and Owens Wiwa, brother of executed Nigerian environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa) each gave twenty minute presentations, followed by questions and small group discussion at the Seattle Art Museum across the street.

Maria Galaradin recorded all the presentations and has many of them archived at TUC Radio

On November 27-29, there were a series of small non-confrontational protest actions organized by specific interest groups. On November 28, I participated in a protest march to the Cargill grain elevator at the port to protest the corporate takeover of global food production by large companies such as Cargill and Monsanto. It was led by representatives of the Zapatistas, Via Campesino and the US National Family Farm Coalition.

Protest organizers had scheduled the main protest, involving fifty thousands global trade unionists and tens of thousands of farm and environmental activists for November 30, the day WTO negotiations were meant to start. We had planned three days of workshops and small localized protests for December 1-3.

Mayor Paul Schell Declares Martial Law

All this changed when Mayor Paul Schell declared martial law and made it illegal to carry anti-WTO signs, wear anti-WTO buttons, chant anti-WTO slogans or carry anti-WTO leaflets into downtown Seattle. Angered by the unprovoked police violence and suspension of our first amendment rights, organizers cancelled all previously scheduled events. Instead we held daily spontaneously organized marches into downtown Seattle – in direct defiance of Schell’s suspension of the Constitution.

Both of the videos below were produced in 2000. The first, Trade Off, by documentary filmmaker Shaya Mercer, focuses mainly on Dolan, his organizing strategy and the wide range of international organizers and groups who helped make the protest possible.

The second video This is What Democracy Looks like was produced by Seattle Independent Media Center, which would spawn the birth of the global IndyMedia network. This film focuses more on the militarized police violence against peaceful protestors and the role of the week long protests in convincing third world WTO delegates to reject the draconian demands of the US and its first world allies.

Obama Resorts to Secret Treaties

Despite numerous attempts by the Bush and Obama administrations, the Doha Round of negotiations was never revived – thanks to the staunch stance of third world delegates.

Obama’s solution has been to try to introduce the same draconian corporate protections through two secret treaties, the Transpacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Negotiations for both treaties are being held in total secret. Although 600 corporations have been allowed to see (and write) the both of them, members of Congress and national parliaments are forbidden to see either treaty until they’re signed. Several sections of the TPPA draft have been leaked by Wikileaks. See New Zealand Kicks Off Global Protest Against TPPA

Obama is lobbying for fast track authority on TPPA. Under fast track, the Senate would be forced to vote the treaty up or down without debating its provisions. Congressional Democrats defeated Obama’s efforts to win fast track on TPPA earlier this year. Recently, however, the President expressed confidence a new pro-business Republican Congress will grant him this authority in 2015.


*Seattle Chief of Police Norm Stamper resigned one week after the WTO protests. He subsequently apologized, in 2009, for excessive and inappropriate use of force by Seattle police. In 2007, a federal jury ruled the city of Seattle was liable for arresting protesters without probable cause, a violation of their constitutional rights. As a result the city awarded a $1 million settlement to the 600+ activists arrested during the 1999 protests.
**The Zapatistas are a Mexican international liberation army founded in 1994 in reaction to the North American Free Trade Act (1994). They control several autonomous areas in rural Chiapas.
***Via Campesina is an international movement which coordinates peasant organizations of small and middle-scale producers, agricultural workers, rural women, and indigenous communities.

Dirt: the Movie

Dirt: The Movie

Bill Benenson and Gene Rosow (2009)

Film Review

This documentary focuses on the rapid destruction of the planet’s topsoil, with its dire implications for food production and human survival. Through a combination of industrial farming, deforestation, urbanization and extractive mining, humankind has destroyed one-third of the world’s topsoil in a hundred years.

The film begins with a basic introduction to on the abundant microbial life that characterizes healthy topsoil. Plowing, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and heavy pesticide and herbicide use render soil infertile by destroying these microorganisms. Deforestation hastens the process by destroying deep root systems that protect against nutrient runoff. The productive farmland that isn’t wrecked by industrial farming and deforestation is paved over as cities expand or destroyed by fracking, mountaintop removal and strip mining. This voracious greed for new fossil fuels benefits a few hundred people and carries immense costs for the rest of us.

The film depicts quite eloquently the western slash and burn mentality that approaches food production like running a factory. Extracting a quick profit is all that matters. There is no planning whatsoever for food security, much less the needs of future generations. You clear cut a forest, plant acres of a single crop (an open invitation to pests) and pour on industrial fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. In three to four years you have depleted the soil, and you cut down another forest.

Dirt: the Movie also poignantly portrays the link between environmental destruction and human degradation. It’s always the poorest and most disempowered who have their land destroyed by multinational corporations. Rapid desertification in Africa and India is forcing thousands of subsistence farmers to migrate to city slums – and Haitian mothers to make dirt cookies to ward of their children’s hunger pains.

Meanwhile increasing desertification (from a combination of deforestation and industrial farming) in Africa and India and the thousands of farmers forced to migrate to city slums when their land becomes useless. The film also emphasizes the link between environmental destruction and human degradation. It’s always the poorest and most disempowered who have their land destroyed by multinational corporations. The most heart breaking scene depicts Haitian mothers making dirt cookies to ward off their children’s hunger pains.

Water mismanagement also plays a major role in desertification. Because they have paved over their rivers, Los Angeles spends billions of dollars from as far away as Wyoming – and millions more managing rainwater runoff. Liberating their rivers would solve both problems at a fraction of the cost.

Significantly the main voices featured in the film are those of women of color: the late Kenyan environmentalist Wangari Mathai, who won a Nobel Prize for founding the Green Belt tree-planting movement, Indian environmentalist and organic farming advocate Vandana Shiva and Greening the South Bronx founder Majora Carter (see Greening the South Bronx). In addition to championing urban agriculture and green roof projects in the South Bronx, Carter has helped establish a prison greenhouse and organic farm at Rikers Island prison and the Green Team. The latter is a project that allows ex-cons to use the skills they have learned in tree planting, urban agriculture plots and New York’s first green roof* business.

*A green roof is a living roof partly or completely covered with vegetation, to optimize energy conservation and minimize water runoff.