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Indian Environmentalist Vandana Shiva: “It Is Time for the US to Stop Seeing Itself as a Donor and Recognizing Itself as a Polluter, a Polluter who Must Pay”

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The world-renowned Indian environmental leader and thinker Vandana Shiva spoke before thousands at Saturday’s protest in Copenhagen. On Sunday, I spoke with her at Klimaforum, the People’s Climate Summit, and asked for her assessment of President Obama and what he represents in the climate change talks. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

    VANDANA SHIVA: This is what earth democracy looks like: the diversity, the integrity, the joy, the beauty. That’s what we are going to build on. What’s happening at COP15 is the death of democracy. It’s an attempt to undo twenty years of work on a legally binding agreement. People are not in Copenhagen to bury the climate treaty; they are here to implement it, with an acceleration.

    To the governments who would like to cheat the world, cheat the earth, cheat their own people, like the Danish government, which comes with a mysterious text out of nowhere, or the United States government that is playing games with India and China to undo the international obligations, we want to tell you from before, when you arrive for your political service circus, we will not be supporting you. We will not be cheering you.

    We know we need climate action now. I come from the Himalaya. I just had an office in Delhi; I don’t live in Delhi. It’s a polluted city. The automobile has taken over. I come from the Himalaya. Our glaciers are melting. Our villages are getting flooded out or drying up. Agriculture is collapsing. Ninety percent of the food production in my area has collapsed in this year. Seventy percent of the streams have dried up. And that is not happening because of what the local people did. My journey in the environment movement began with Chipko, where women came out to hug the trees. We are now hugging our mountains and telling the polluters, “You’ve got to stop polluting, because you are stealing our water, you are stealing our food, you are stealing our snows.

AMY GOODMAN: Voices from Saturday’s protests in Copenhagen, produced by Jacquie Soohen. That last voice, Vandana Shiva, the world-renowned environmental leader and thinker from India.

On Sunday, I caught up with her at Klimaforum, the People’s Climate Summit, which is taking place across Copenhagen from the Bella Center, where the official talks are taking place. I asked Vandana Shiva for her assessment of President Obama and what he represents at the climate change talks.

    VANDANA SHIVA: I think President Obama represents a captive White House, captive to the industrial interests and the corporate interests of America. I would like to see President Obama represent Michelle’s organic garden. But he doesn’t bring the organic solution to Copenhagen. He brings, first and foremost, the juggling of figures, a reduction that will be of four percent, which is announced as a 16 percent reduction, but, even more, the juggling of politics, where, behind all this, he tries to say we don’t need the UN treaty, we don’t need to sign onto the Kyoto Protocol. During his elections, he talked a lot about joining the Kyoto Protocol. I think the most important thing President Obama could do would be sign the Kyoto Protocol and then shape it democratically.

    AMY GOODMAN: What is your message to him as he comes this week to Copenhagen?

    VANDANA SHIVA: My message to him is, do not destroy the international treaty; abide by it, and enlarge and deepen it. But do not dismantle it, because you will be dismantling the only legal framework the world has to make the polluters pay, to create a system in which we can start shifting from a fossil fuel-driven civilization to a renewable energy-driven civilization.

    AMY GOODMAN: Who are the interests you say he is captured by in the United States?

    VANDANA SHIVA: He’s captured by agribusiness, which wants to sell more fertilizers, like Cargill. He’s captured by the Monsantos, who would like to continue industrial agriculture and take the GMO way. He’s captured by the automobile industry, that will continue to — continue to sell new automobiles. What’s it called? “Chunkers for Cash”? Cunker?

    AMY GOODMAN: Clunkers.

    VANDANA SHIVA: Clunkers for Cash. Keep making more cars. Keep destroying them. Plunder the planet. And somehow the planet will get saved. And, of course, the oil industry. All of this.

    AMY GOODMAN: For those who debate in the United States, still the issue is, is global warming caused by human beings? What message do you have to them? Very concretely, the evidence of this around the world?

    VANDANA SHIVA: I don’t think we should talk about what’s happening only as global warming. What’s happening is climate instability, and it is threatening lives. I’ve just shown a film this morning of what climate instability is doing to peaceful communities of the Himalaya, who never use fossil fuels. But today their glaciers are disappearing. Today, instead of snow, they’re getting rainfall that washes away their villages in flash floods. We have climate instability.

    And to the climate skeptics, I would say, just look around you. Look at the season. Remember Katrina. All these extreme events are part of climate instability and climate uncertainty. That is happening; no one can deny. And we’d better be prepared to deal with it.

    AMY GOODMAN: There is a big campaign here called “Hopenhagen.”


    AMY GOODMAN: Among the corporate sponsors are Coca-Cola.


    AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the global effects of Coca-Cola?

    VANDANA SHIVA: Yeah, my heart just sank, because when I got off the flight, the first thing I saw was a Coca-Cola bottle, “Hopenhagen.” Well, if you’ve been to Plachimada, India, where 1.4 million liters, 1.5 million liters were extracted by Coca-Cola every day, and —-

    AMY GOODMAN: Liters of water?

    VANDANA SHIVA: Liters of water to make these soft drinks and to do the bottling of water. The women had to rise up against Coca-Cola. The women had to say, “Shut this plant down, because we are having to walk ten miles to get clean and safe water.” That would not be Hopenhagen. The women of Plachimada would not see hope in a Coca-Cola bottle.

    AMY GOODMAN: Where is Plachimada?

    VANDANA SHIVA: Plachimada is a little village in Kerala where the women organized and shut down a Coca-Cola plant, and this triggered a movement across India. Three plants have been shut down. Coca-Cola does not bring hope, and Coca-Cola should not be the symbol of finding solutions for the climate crisis.

    AMY GOODMAN: What is the effect of climate disruption on cultures?

    VANDANA SHIVA: The most important disruption of climate havoc on cultures is fear. Peaceful communities start becoming scared. For example, this year, as the monsoon failed in India, and its failure was much more extreme than normal droughts, farmers have waited to get a crop, and they haven’t got a crop. They become afraid.

    Beyond a point, as the water disappears, because your groundwater hasn’t being recharged, your rivers and streams haven’t been recharged, beyond a point, conflicts emerge in local communities, which is why the G-77 constantly refers to Darfur as linked to climate change with the disappearance of water from Lake Chad.

    AMY GOODMAN: Explain.

    VANDANA SHIVA: As the rainfall has failed in the sub-Saharan Africa, Lake Chad has shrunk. The communities that used to be supported in a very generous way by that lake are having less and less water. Pastoralists and settled agriculturalists have come in conflict. It so happens they belong to different religion. This has been presented as a religious conflict. It’s really a conflict that emerges from climate change and climate change degradation of already degraded environments.

    AMY GOODMAN: What is a climate refugee?

    VANDANA SHIVA: A climate refugee is someone who has been uprooted from their home, from their livelihoods, because of climate instability. It could be people who’ve had to leave their agriculture because of extended drought. It could be communities in the Himalaya who are having to leave their villages, either because flash floods are washing out their villages or because streams are disappearing. We’ve just finished a participatory study that’s showing that 70 percent of the water in my region of the Himalaya, from where the Ganges emerges, has gone. The streams are dry. It could be a cyclone victim -— 30,000 one time, 100,000 one time. They never go back home. This number will continue to increase.

    There are ways we can deal with it: stop the pollution of the atmosphere that’s leading to it, which is why COP15 becomes so vital; and secondly, recognize we’re all citizens of an earth family, and we need to start giving shelter to each other in times of distress. There is an attempt to turn this into a Security Council issue, into a defense issue, into an issue of the Pentagon. That would be the most dangerous way to go.

    AMY GOODMAN: The US climate negotiator Jonathan Pershing —-


    AMY GOODMAN: —- said that the donor countries only have so much largesse.


    AMY GOODMAN: What is your response to that?

    VANDANA SHIVA: I think it’s time for the US to stop seeing itself as a donor and recognizing itself as a polluter, a polluter who must pay, a polluter who must pay compensation and pay their ecological debt. This is not about charity. This is about justice.

AMY GOODMAN: Indian environmentalist Vandana Shiva.

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