Book Review: Making Peace with the Earth
The earth is at war. Nature and the people who depend on its bounty are under attack by corporations and their subservient government partners. This is the central idea of Making Peace with the Earth, a book that both describes the realities of our embattled planet and proposes a way to find peace.
According to the book’s author, Vandana Shiva, a global environmental activist and founder of Navdanya, an NGO that operates a seed bank and soil protection programs in Shiva’s home country, India, the weapons of this war are governments’ abilities to take land from peasants for export agriculture or resource extraction, to privatize or alter waterways for the purpose of profit, and to control seeds and genetic materials, tying farmers to the private sector. “The rewriting of rules and laws to perpetrate wars against the earth,” Shiva says, “undermines the rights of communities to co-create and co-produce with the earth and meet their needs for food and water.”
Economic Growth Through the Barrel of a Gun
For Shiva, the war against the earth is likewise a war against people: Corporations and governments push democracy aside and force their agendas on people and the planet. This war, like all wars, involves power and violence. Shiva tells about a mining site that will devastate the environment and culture of a “tribal” group in India. Protesters are beaten or shot by soldiers upholding a government order. Shiva warns that we can expect the same results when those at the bottom of the economic scale organize to oppose any corporate initiative that will make their lives unsustainable. When recognized leaders step in to support popular concerns, their democratic rights are denied. This includes their rights to gather, speak out, stop unbridled development, and represent those who want to live in peace with nature.
“Consumerism Lubricates the War Against the Earth”
Shiva passes the blame along to us, consumers. She shows how the Global North’s extravagant ecological footprint will be our undoing, as we lose biodiversity and democracy, and deal with the effects of climate change. While the book focuses on her experiences ranging back as far as fifteen years ago, there is no question that she is in tune with the negative trends in today’s world: the corporate purchase of land; growing climate uncertainty in the face of mega storms, droughts, and wildfires; and daily loss of not only plant and animal species but also of languages and cultures. “Humanity stands at a crossroads,” Shiva writes, “one road continues on the path of… commodification of the earth [and] her resources… The second road is that of making peace with the earth, beginning with the recognition of earth rights.”
Shiva delivers Making Peace with the Earth with the passion she has always displayed as an eco-feminist and an uncompromising critic of government and business. Her words are clear and consistent. In fact, when you read the book (and you should), you can hear her voice, rather than your own.
But here are some caveats: Her passion is sometimes overwhelming and dogmatic. The reader might feel scolded, and the casual or corporate reader might be turned off. She lacks a chapter on the good things that governments and corporations are doing, although sprinkled around the book are instances of small victories: factories that are stopped, laws that are changed or upheld, social movements that are making a difference.
She does address the solution side of the duality, writing about “enoughness” toward the end of the book. Shiva writes about how she would like to see humanity proceed in its governance and its “development” in a way that puts people and the earth first, not profit. She ultimately argues that making peace is not just an economic or political quest, but a spiritual one as well. We need to (re)discover our souls.
By Vandana Shiva
Pluto Press/Fernwood Publishing, 2013
288 pages, 24.95
ISBN: 987 1 55266 566 4
Review By: Zack Gross is a board member of Fairtrade Canada and a former president of the CFTN’s board of directors.