Vandana Shiva is a writer and science policy advocate, directs the Research Foundation for Science & Technology and National Resources Policy. She is a Contributing Editor of the PCD Forum.
I think the root causes of environmental degradation are false notions of economic growth. We have built economic systems that reward the destruction of nature and penalise systems where the environment is preserved.
In forestry, for example, it is assumed that the natural forest is unproductive. It can be made more productive, "experts" say, by converting it to a single species that can serve as the raw material for industry. Forests that might be extremely useful ecologically and locally are of no use for industry. So genetically identical tree plantations that destroy biodiversity are created. Throughout the 1980s the World Bank pushed for monoculture as a better performing system of forestry than the actual forest. The bank encouraged the planting of eucalyptus, which is a very good species for pulping. But it is a hopeless species for conservation, because it destroys water and nutrient cycles. We've had major protests all over the world against such plantings, from the local communities that have seen their streams disappear, their land grow infertile and their plant and animal life shrink.
Economic values have come to identify shrinkage of ecological diversity as growth. This is standing economics on its head. We need to put it back on its feet.
The only sustainable form of agriculture we have today is practised in parts of the Third World, in areas where the Green Revolution and chemical agriculture have not destroyed the environment. That's where communities still reward prudence rather than greed, conservation rather than degradation. Here you have a pattern of production and consumption that could be universalised without the planet's life being totally destroyed.
The North always talks about transferring technology from the North to the South. But the Third World has systems of knowledge, of science and technology, which we should start to respect. When a community in an extremely arid area is able to build an agricultural system that can do with very little water, we should recognise their conservation efforts, instead of calling their system primitive.
A good example is millet, which has been downgraded in the international agricultural system as a marginal or primitive crop. Yet millet is far more nutritious than wheat. It is also more diverse and water prudent. But it grows very locally and so the food and taste habits linked to millet are culturally specific. Huge corporations could not assume control overnight and develop consumer habits for millet as they can for white bread. So they downgraded millet production, even though it is one of the best crops for combating desertification. I think it is time the industrialised world recognised that its economic paradigm is demanding too much from the earth.