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Earth Democracy: Justice,
Sustainability and Peace

Vandana Shiva
Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 2005
200 pp., $15.00, paperback
ISBN: 0-89608-745-X

Vandana Shiva, Director of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology, and Natural Resource Policy, is a renowned physicist and eco-feminist from India and an internationally recognized expert on globalization and bio-diversity. She is the author of numerous books and is the recipient of numerous awards including the alternative Nobel Peace Prize.

In Earth Democracy, Shiva offers an alternative living paradigm to the fatal paradigm of corporate globalization, the commodification of life, earth and her resources.

Shiva describes Earth Democracy as both an ancient worldview and an emergent political movement for peace, justice and sustainability, connecting the local to the global and the diverse to the common. She emphasizes indigenous and ancient societal knowledge developed over millennia that recognize the community: all beings supported by the earth and the responsibilities and rights that flow from these ways of knowing. She challenges corporate globalization which views the world as something to be owned, and the market as driven only by profits.

The Principles of Earth Democracy are:

  1. all species, peoples, and cultures have intrinsic worth.
  2. The community is a democracy of all life.
  3. Diversity in nature and culture must be defended.
  4. All beings have a natural right to sustenance.
  5. Earth Democracy is based on living economies and economic democracy.
  6. Living economies are built on local economies.
  7. Earth Democracy is a living democracy.
  8. Earth Democracy is based on living cultures.
  9. Living cultures are life nourishing.
  10. Earth Democracy globalizes peace, care and compassion.

Shiva analyzes corporate globalization as based on new enclosures of the commons. She describes how enclosure of the commons started in England and created millions of disposable people. Although this first enclosure targeted land, today they target knowledge and culture through intellectual property rights, water through privatization, biodiversity with patents and genetic manipulation of organisms (GMOs), and public services such as food, health and education, which are enclosed through legal means with ridiculous specialization and sanitation restrictions.

Development forces and economic growth treat the market economy as primary and nature’s economy and the sustenance economy as marginal and secondary. The stability of an economy which values nature as opposed to one which values money would seem obvious and, as Shiva points out, the costs of ecological destruction and damage to a sustenance economy are borne by the local population alone. Enclosures, writes Shiva, create exclusions, and these exclusions are the hidden cost of corporate globalization.

The World Trade Organization (WTO) has put in place trade related intellectual property rights (TRIPS), an appropriate acronym, and a dramatic transformation in the meaning of intellectual property. According to Shiva, at no point before 1995 did intellectual property rights cover the very life forms of the planet: cells, genes, seeds, plants, sheep, or cows as intellectual property. “The relationship with the rest of the living world is no longer one of partner, but one of consumer and for the corporations, that of creator,” she writes.

Genetic resources have always been collected for breeding. The risks of breeding toward uniformity led to the emergence of government gene banks in the 1970’s. However, while gene banks collect biodiversity from farmers’ fields, they do not conserve it for farmers; instead it flows to corporate breeders who then patent these seeds. Enter now the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) with their support of corporations forcing Structural Adjustments Plans (SAPs), which basically blackmail countries to participate in destroying traditional farming and seed diversity for monoculture cash crop and corporate farms. These solutions create poverty, suicide, feticide, displacement and incredible violence and war.

Negative economies and negative policies feed on and fuel negative cultures and identities. Cultures are shaped by the land and the cultural diversity evolved with biological diversity. As people are displaced and insecurities grow, identity is transformed and destroyed. Globalization does not create global markets – it creates global madness. There have been more than 30,000 suicides in India of farmers who have been displaced by seed patenting and other trade agreements which have forced them into poverty. We can add to this number the suicide of Lee Kyung Hae at the WTO gathering in Cancun. In a march of farmers at the WTO, Kyung Hae, wearing a sign that read “WTO Kills Farmers,” fatally stabbed himself to bring attention to the crisis of farmers.

Modern agriculture has viewed genetic uniformity as beneficial for greater yields. In developing a new seed variety, scientists typically, in response to getting something on the market quickly, search for one major gene on which to confer resistance. Corporate seed is also modified so that it does not reproduce itself. Instead, farmers must always buy seed from corporations like Monsanto. “It robs farmers of their biological and intellectual heritage,” writes Shiva. These seeds are prone to pests and therefore more and more pesticides and herbicides are needed for corporate farms which produce less than many small farms. But we are led to believe they do better economically. They do, but only because of the government subsidies and trade agreements that support this inhuman behavior. Corporate agriculture uses 10 times more energy than it produces, 10 times more water than ecological agriculture and is 10 times less efficient.

Industrial agriculture has been promoted, financed, and subsidized in spite of the high cost to the environment. Increased productivity has been the justification. However, small, biodiverse farms increase both output and incomes of small farmers. Here, the author cites small farms in West Bengal growing 55 different crops which give incomes of 227,312 rupees per acre, a farm with 14 crops gave 94,596 rupees, but a monoculture farm brought in only 32,098 rupees per year.

The Indian Council of Agriculture Research has found that despite heavy pesticide use, pests are now causing damage to some 35% of crops, compared with a pre-pesticide rate of 5-10%. The estimated number of insects damaging rice paddies increased from 40 in 1920, to 299 in 1992. News reports show how pervasive toxins have become to fight these pests, showing high percentages of pesticides appearing in Coca Cola™ and Pepsi™ beverages.

Shiva writes of a movement to save seed diversity: Navdanya, an Indian word which means nine seeds and is a symbol of diversity. It also has as a goal a more horizontal relationship between farmers and scientists, where societal knowledge is strengthened, not robbed. She traces these popular movements to gatherings and conferences on GATT and agriculture, and the challenges of these popular movements to the work of the WTO. She writes about how native seed has become a method to resist monocultures and monopoly rights: “Seed is the first link in the food chain.” Patents on seeds and genetic resources rob us all of our livelihoods by transferring seed saving and seed sharing into intellectual property crimes. She describes cases where farmers are legally challenging their right to save and exchange seed and protect ancient indigenous knowledge from being patented as corporate intellectual property.

Myths about population are also exploited. Critiquing Garett Hardin’s book, Lifeboat Ethics: The Case Against Helping the Poor, the poor are considered a surplus population putting an unnecessary burden on the planet’s resources. This is similar to the survivor themes which dominate television in our country. She quotes from George Bush Sr. at the 1992 Earth Summit and Dick Cheney after 9/11 who both emphatically stated “The American way of life is non-negotiable.” If resource-destructive life styles are to be protected, some people become expendable or easy to blame for the over consumption by the rich. Third world populations must be controlled to ensure natural resources for the growth of U.S. corporations. Most ecosystems in the Third World carry not only local populations; they also carry, by satisfying the demands for industrial raw material, the north. Controlling populations and countries without controlling production and consumption do not address the environmental crisis. The U.S., with 36 percent of the CO2 pollution and less that five percent of the world’s population, can be seen as, in effect, enclosing the atmosphere.

These threats demand a paradigm shift. Earth Democracy movements are the struggles of people who have been left without the benefits of the market and economic trade agreements but who will bear the cost. They seek a more equitable society to protect mother earth, and to return to localized sustainable and nature economies that can support local populations. If globalization is the corporate-driven agenda for corporate control, localization is the alternative people’s agenda for protecting environmental survival and livelihood.

The combination of corporate globalization and electoral democracy is separating leaders and governments from society and people. The democratic divide between people and their leaders becomes sharper every day. Social regulations of the market require strong community rights and social policies. This not the same as individual consumer choice holds the author.

Look to the example of Gandhi, Shiva writes, when the British introduced the Salt Laws to tax salt. We undertook the Dandi March, picked up salt and said, “Nature gives it free, we need it for survival.” When the British began to destroy the Indian textile industries, Gandhi did not call for industrialization of India’s textiles. He pulled out a spinning wheel, saying, “Anything that millions can do together can become charged with power.” We do not have to obey unjust laws.

– Sofia Martinez


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“We, the Peoples gathered at the Indigenous World Uranium Summit, at this critical time of intensifying nuclear threats to Mother Earth and all life, demand a worldwide ban on uranium mining, processing, enrichment, fuel use, and weapons testing and deployment, and nuclear waste dumping on Native Lands.”

—Declaration of the Indigenous World Uranium Summit December 2, 2006



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