Scoop Review of Books

Peace on Earth

Making Peace with the Earth by Vandana Shiva (Spinifex, $A36.95; order online from
Reviewed by Marlene Ware

In this book based on her 2010 Sydney Peace Prize lecture, Vandana Shiva passionately articulates her vision of a sustainable world.

The book is divided into two sections. The first is titled ‘Wars against the Earth’ and covers ‘eco-apartheid’, the ‘great land grab’, as well as water, climate and forest wars. The second section, ‘Food Crises, Food Justice and Food Peace’, looks at hunger by design, seed wars and corporate-controlled trade. Her conclusion, ‘Beyond Growth’, discusses ways to make peace with the earth.

Shiva critiques the neoliberal model of economic liberalization in relation to the planet, people’s rights to land and water, forests, seeds and biodiversity. As a recipient of over 20 international awards for her environmental work and her crusading activism on behalf of farmers, peasants and women, she has a deep knowledge of how this model has impinged on the lives of the ordinary people she works with.

She tells the ‘Indian’ story, as this is the story of her country. Further, India, with its high growth rates, is seen as a beneficiary of economic globalization. Shiva argues, however, that this growth, which is based on a ‘kind of war’, has occurred through and to the benefit of the operations of global corporations and billionaires.

She offers detailed examples of the ecological, economic, social and political costs to Indian communities, as well as to other (mainly) developing countries. The resulting growth of inequalities between the rich and poor, not only in India but worldwide, is increasingly being recognized through the appearance of such groups as the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Shiva writes of the age of Anthropocene, where humans are the most significant force on the planet. Climate change and species extinction are witness to this. She suggests that we are capable of making a paradigm shift from the destructive Anthropocene, to the Anthropocene of Earth Democracy. This could be achieved by a change in focus to ‘ecological humility in place of arrogance, ecological responsibility instead of careless use of power, control and violence.’

Finally, Shiva challenges the reader with a choice: the path of free-market maximization of corporate profit or ‘earth democracy’, the latter being ‘an imperative for the survival of democracy, human freedom and the human species’. She goes on to outline how this transition might occur.

This is a powerful, challenging and well-researched book. Shiva’s understanding of ecological principles is extrapolated from the particular to the general. Many examples give new insights into the wider effects of various industries, like the three-level negative effect on water through mining bauxite at Niyamgiri, in the eastern state of Orissa: streams running dry, ground water levels dropping (affecting agriculture and food security) and toxic waste entering the river below the mine. This in turn impinges on the local biodiversity that enables the tribal people to be virtually self-sufficient.

Persuasive cases like this are, however, undermined by Shiva’s frequent use of generalization, which leaves the reader wondering. “Every … living resource … is in the process of being privatized, commodified and appropriated by corporations. Every inch of land … is being grabbed. … Every drop of water that flows in our rivers is being appropriated.’

Is it the frustrations of the continuing exploitation and associated violence to the earth and its people that leads Shiva to adopt such unfortunate hyperbole?