Population & development. An exclusive interview with Dr. Vandana Shiva
According to the United Nations Population Fund’s Report of 2009, the population growth is one of the aspects that has a negative impact on climate change, in particular for developing countries as India. What is, in your opinion, the right direction concerning women and reproductive rights? First of all, I think that the Population Fund identifying population growth in the developing country as a problem is totally misplaced given the evidence. Climate change is caused by fossil fuels. The poor in the third world do not live in the fossil fuel economy, they live in what I call a biomass economy. So, the problem of fossil fuel abuse is that if every American has 300 energy slaves behind them, that’s the population problem we need to address. Women have a big responsibility, in particular as far as it concerns reproductive rights in link with population growth. So what direction do women need to follow? The first thing is: population grows or decreases according to how the society is structured. In Italy even though you are in Rome, a Catholic country, your population is decreasing, not because of the Pope, but just for the cost of reproduction. Having children, paying for their fancy clothes, paying for all that it takes today… is too costly. On the contrary children are all that a poor family has in the Third World. So when everything is taken away from you and they are thrown to the streets, your land is grabbed away from you, your economic skills are taken away from you, population growth should not be viewed as a women’s individual issue. It should be viewed in a social context and conformation. In India there is a State which has a negative population growth, that is the State of Kerala, where people recognized that the fundamental needs must be guaranteed, that is people must have land, education and health, including women. As the result of it the population decreases because this security. Population growth is a symptom of economic insecurity, so unless you address it as an economic issue of justice, if you keep treating pregnancy as a disease needing a technological intervention, contraceptive pills, you never get a right because you will have to violate women reproductive rights. That is what happens every time a population control program is issued in a country. Moreover it won’t be effective. About environment and progress, India is characterized by numerous environmental problems, from deforestation to biodiversity. What do you think of the eco-friendly technologies. In your opinion, could the technological progress solve this situation? Well, the problem a country like India faces is following a development bats, that’s based on fossil fuels. So the solution is to move away from fossil fuels tragic treats to renewable energies. Some of them are ancient India technologies, some other are new technologies like solar and wind. So, definitely, non-fossil fuels energy options play a very big role and production systems do not depend on it. My book Soil, not oil is about this. You know, we can solve 40% of climate problem by doing ecological agriculture, which will produce more food, secure the small family livelihood and give us a public health. Why do not resolving it in that way, rather than bickering over the 5%? About economy, since the Eighties India has been showing its shining and its gross domestic product is the fourth in the world. In this way, don’t you think that this fast path growth could have a negative impact on the environmental issues? If so, what is, in your opinion the right direction between the de-growth, quoting Serge Latouche, or do you prefer sustainable development? India is not shining, as it concerns the tribal or the farmers who have been uprooted, cause their children are getting hungry. In the period of India’s shining the poor capital, food consumption has dropped from 170 kg to 150 kg, every Indian has lost 20 kg of food for chasing this model. Now data also showed out that 125 Indians who became billionaires, now control a ¼ of India’s economy. We never had such a level of inequality. We have a ¼ of 1.2 billion people’s economy being controlled by hundreds rich men, who are abusing a democracy, twisting laws every day and wound farmers or tribal, who have to fight new laws when the government takes the land by force from people and hands it over to these billionaires who then resell it for super-profit, to global investors etc., so India is wiping, the real India is wiping. The mothers who can’t feed their children are crying, the tribal who do not want to give up their land are crying. What would be the way to forward it? I have just come from Bhutan, where I was advising the Prime Minister in a conference because Bhutan has said that we will not go for the gross domestic product and gross national product, we will go for a gross domestic happiness and every step we take we will measure it in terms of what it adds up to people happiness. Happiness does not come out of growth, it comes out of the natural world, out of culture, which we are proud of; it comes out of community, from care and compassion for each other. The entire nation has to make the shift, so I think is not a issue of de-growth. De-growth is fine for America, the recipe of de-growth fits for hundreds billionaires, but not for the Indian owners; they eat and drink too little as it is, I do not suggest de-growth for that and sustainable development is a too ambiguous terms. I like the focus that Bhutan has put on it, they focus on happiness and wellbeing of their people, the very easy way is to measure that directly. How would you imagine an environmental revolution, in India and in the world? Well, I imagine that there is a democracy including all beings of the planet and enforce our responsibility and rights as a free sense of the earth. In particular for developed countries? For all, for everyone. Everyone needs a democracy. The industrialized world needs to remember to be a part of the planet, the third world needs it, so that the poor have their rights.