In her book Soil Not Oil, Vandana Shiva argues that ecological and social justice are connected in that the chief victims of ecological injustices, such as pollution, leading to climate change and increased resource consumption by corporations to meet demands in the global north, are typically those people of modest means who live in the global south.
Shiva cites the increased number of natural disasters the current warming trends have brought about, which have ravaged communities in the developing world, as well as the emergence of a renewed food crisis within these areas as examples of how the trespasses of corporations within the developed world exact a toll on those living elsewhere. Here we see a base injustice, in that it is those who pollute the least are harmed the most by the effects of pollution on the global climate.
Shiva expands on this, claiming that globalization and industrial economies contribute to the degradation of the environment while impoverishing poor communities and people around the world, in that the world’s resources are handed over to a mechanistic system that is increasingly dehumanizing, which ultimately harms the world’s poor. The emphasis is no longer on the health and well-being of people but the maintenance of profit for the few. An expansion of road infrastructure in India, for instance, has led to many people losing their land and livelihood so that an increasing number of cars can commute along the roads there. Although this may be good for business, especially for the people selling the “micro-cars” and fossil fuels which run them, the impact on small farming communities is devastating. This sort of thing stems from a pattern in which people who are “redundant” or “disposable” to the current mode of production find their needs, such as access to food and clean water, to be second to the needs of capitalists in meeting their “bottom line.”
Shiva proposes that if we are to solve the crises of the environment, of energy, and of hunger, we need to focus on the “soil,” or encouraging biodiversity and focusing our efforts on renewing the earth and living in a sustainable manner, rather than “oil,” the mechanistic mode of production which sees nature as something to be converted into profit and consumer goods rather than a part of ourselves and crucial to our very survival. What is needed is both Earth justice as well as social justice, something she refers to as “Earth Democracy.”
Shiva’s book, in addition to being a “call to action” concerning the triple crises of climate change, peak oil, and food, Shiva also presents a biting critique of the capitalist system in general. When a society is driven by the desire for profit and material gain alone, and sees all other priorities as secondary (if they are even considered priorities at all), people and the planet merely become a means to that end. Our consumption of natural and human resources to meet this all-consuming end will ultimately reach a point in which production cannot sustain itself. This is the quandary in which we’ve found ourselves.
However, to stop the harms as they are being perpetrated on the planet and its people, and to put any such notion of “Earth Democracy,” even theoretically into action, modern society will need to change dramatically.
Imperial capitalism is unsustainable, extremely destructive, and fails to fulfill the basic needs of human beings. We live in a world where a small minority lives in extravagance while the rest of the world lives in varying degrees of poverty. The structural violence associated with this system leads to approximately 50 million people dying each year from hunger and treatable disease. In addition to the human toll, the environmental destruction caused by corporations and the consumerist culture it has creating is threatening our very survival as a species.
At the same time that they are destroying the world, private enterprise is putting forward “solutions” which will only make the situation worse. Industrial bio-fuels, which may be profitable for corporations and a short-term fix, will only serve to exacerbate the food crisis in the end. Growing “food for cars” will lead to deforestation as a means to make room for more farms with which to grow this new energy source, and will cause an increase in carbon dioxide emissions rather than a decrease. Of course, this is a fact of little concern to the corporate entities which seek to profit off of “green” energy.
If we want to build a society which is capable of sustaining itself while preserving nature, we need to break private hegemony over our planets natural resources and focus on getting our energy in a safe and sustainable manner. If we fail to do this, we will be doomed as a species.