- Desmond D'Sa
coordinator of the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance in South Africa. He is the recipient of the 2014 Goldman Environmental Prize.
- Winona LaDuke
Native American activist and executive director of Honor the Earth. She lives and works on the White Earth Reservation in northern Minnesota. She is the author of several books, including most recently The Militarization of Indian Country.
- Vandana Shiva
executive director of the Navdanya Trust in India, which promotes biodiversity conservation, organic farming, the rights of farmers, and the process of seed saving. She is the author of many books, including Making Peace with the Earth and Soil Not Oil: Environmental Justice in an Age of Climate Crisis.
As the United Nations summit on climate change takes place in New York City, we continue our conversation with three leading environmentalists who call for more action to be taken to address the climate crisis: Vandana Shiva of India, Desmond D’Sa of South Africa, and Winona LaDuke of the White Earth Reservation in northern Minnesota.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Aaron Maté.
AARON MATÉ: As world leaders are gathering in New York today for a U.N. summit on climate change, we continue our conversation with three environmental leaders from around the world: Vandana Shiva, director of the Navdanya Trust in India, which promotes diversity conservation, organic farming, the rights of farmers, and the process of seed saving; Desmond D’Sa, coordinator of the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance in South Africa, he is the recipient of the 2014 Goldman Environmental Prize; and Winona LaDuke, Native American activist, executive director of the group Honor the Earth. She lives and works on the White Earth Reservation in northern Minnesota.
AMY GOODMAN: Desmond D’Sa, let’s begin with you. This is a global summit that you will not be attending, but you attended a different kind of global summit in the streets of New York on Sunday. How significant was that for you? You are both an environmentalist, a labor leader. You fought apartheid in South Africa. You had, unlike the traditional divide that’s often emphasized between environmentalists and union leaders, because it’s around the issue of jobs, thousands of union activists also marching in this People’s Climate March.
DESMOND D’SA: Well, I think this week has been great for us in New York, but also all over the world. It shows that if we come together, we can win. And we will win. Let’s make no mistake about that. But I also want to say that because while we are talking, while this inaction has been taking place at three climate summits and 19 conference COPs, I see—
AMY GOODMAN: COPs being the name for the U.N. summit.
DESMOND D’SA: The United Nations—
AMY GOODMAN: Conference of Parties.
DESMOND D’SA: Conference of the Parties.
AMY GOODMAN: Which you call?
DESMOND D’SA: Which I call the Conference of the Polluters. I believe, certainly, that there’s been inaction both by government and the transnational corporations, and that our hope lies in mobilizing the masses of our people all over the world to come together in unity to challenge this crisis that we are facing, and not of our doing. And as I talk to you now presently, our government in South Africa is—at a very strategic level, within the presidency, has adopted the new legislation of the infrastructure bill, but, more importantly, has allowed for the expansion of the coal, of the coal-fired power stations. It’s looking at new—at a trillion dollars of investment in nuclear energy as part of the energy mix. It’s looking at oil exploration all along the Indian Ocean, from the borders of Mozambique to the end of the Cape Horn. And the idea is that they—and also looking at fracking. So most of our pristine areas are going to be affected and are going to be destroyed, all in the name of greed and profit.
We see that they are looking for coal, they’re looking to build—get 60 coal mines in South Africa to supply coal, because of these big, major coal-fired power stations that have been granted loans in 2009, that I was here in the U.S. trying to fight it off. And those coal-fired—those coal mines are in areas where there’s a scarcity of water. Presently in South Africa, in some areas, there’s drought. We haven’t seen water or rainfall for months on end. But more importantly is that there’s some of the sensitive areas. They are going into the sensitive areas where there is huge potential of tourism, because we have a lot of animals, the big five. All those animals are in those areas, and you can imagine going to mine coal in those areas and destroying that pristine territory.
AMY GOODMAN: Who are the big five?
DESMOND D’SA: The big five—the lions, your elephants, your rhinoceros—you know, those are the major animals that are under threat, and will be under threat if they even go and mine there. They’re under threat already because of poaching. And a number of rhinos have been killed that we’re all aware of. But more importantly, all the smaller species, your butterflies and all that, they’re all under threat to be extinguished in South Africa. And we have abundance of that in the country at the moment. With the fracking in the western Cape, in the Karoo, where there’s pristine areas, again, you know, a huge amount effort has been put in to say that, you know, this is going to create wealth for the people. But it’s not. We’ve seen the mining industry in South Africa, hundreds of years, has created impoverishment and poverty. We’ve never seen wealth here in the country. The majority, the 99 percent of us in the country, are poor, are living in abject, poor conditions. And so, this whole issue around energy, whether it’s coal, fracking or oil, it’s happening all over the world, but it’s happening right in my yard, in where I come from in South Africa. And it’s going to be devastating. It’s going to be devastating and similar to what happened with the gold rush. When they rushed for gold to South Africa, to Johannesburg, everything has been destroyed in its wake.
AMY GOODMAN: The justification the government uses—energy self-sufficiency is sovereignty—it’s an interesting term, because when we talk about sovereignty in the United States on Indian land, it has very different connotations. But how do you relate to this, Winona LaDuke, as you listen to Des D’Sa talking about what’s happening now in South Africa?
WINONA LADUKE: It’s very similar. I mean, the fact is, is that we’ve entered this era of extreme extraction, where we’ve basically—everything that was somewhat accessible, they had to like—where now, because the society is so addicted, so inefficient—57 percent of the power between point of origin and point of consumption is in fact wasted—that you end up in this era where what is left, you’ve got to go after. So you’ve got to blow off the top of 500 mountains. You’ve got to like, you know, devastate an area the size of Florida that they call the tar sands and try to stuff it in a pipeline. And you’ve got to frack. You have to fracture the bedrock of 40 states. Forty states in the United States are under the potential of fracking. You know, we’re just like doing crazy stuff.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain what fracking is, for people who keep hearing it, but they say, “What is it?”
WINONA LADUKE: Right, which is kind of like my situation, because I’m facing a fracked oil pipeline, and I was like, “What the heck is fracking?” You know? And so, what they do is they go down there, and they use like a lot of chemicals. They drill down like two miles into the earth, and then they go horizontally out. They shove these chemicals down there with some frack sand and some explosives, and they crack the bedrock in order to extract gas and oil. That is why you end up having things like earthquakes, where, you know, down there we’re exploding Mother Earth underground in order to get out this amount of oil. And then you off-gas it. You use 600 chemicals that are exempt from regulation under the Halliburton loophole, 2005 Energy Policy Act. You know, all of those laws, like the Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, Clean Air Act, are blown out the window. So, you know, I’m looking at North Dakota, a state that most people fly over, have no idea what’s going on out there. Basically, it is lit up at night because they are flaring hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of gas, because it’s too expensive to have the infrastructure to actually capture the gas. They’re off-gassing all these really heavy, heavy, you know, toxic gases, like toluene, benzene, xylene—things you don’t want in your air. And then they are destroying the water. And that is why New York is in this battle over fracking itself. But North Dakota, there’s no battle right now. There’s 19,000 fracking wells.
AARON MATÉ: That’s the Bakken oil fields in—
WINONA LADUKE: The Bakken oil fields. And it is like—it’s this cancer that is to the west of us. And, like, I’m someone that looks out there, and everybody’s like, “Well, North Dakota, nobody lives out there.” Well, what—there’s tens of thousands of men in man camps destroying western North Dakota and the whole territory. And one reservation, called the Fort Berthold Reservation, the homeland of the Mandan people, they have a thousand wells already, and they have no infrastructure, and they have no regulation. They’ve got radioactive socks. It’s like a—you know, they’ve got radioactive filters laying on the ground. They have a million-gallon spill out there, and they said that a beaver saved them. You know, it was like that there was a beaver dam. That was their regulatory scheme, was like let the beavers take care of it.
So what I’m saying is, is that you’re in an era of extreme behavior. Only addicts do extreme behavior like we’re doing. And the reality is, is that we’re spending hundreds of billions of dollars on infrastructure and these extreme industries and pipelines, $40 billion worth of pipelines, that in 10 years is all going to be stranded assets. It is stuff that you don’t want to have around, because it’s not helping us. What you want is infrastructure for people, not infrastructure for corporations that are going to further damage the Earth, you know? So they talk about it as energy sovereignty, energy self-sufficiency, the United States. But I don’t think any of us signed up for this rewiring of America or repiping of America, you know, to the level we have, because what they’re doing is they’re going to totally lay to waste, just like in South Africa—you know, our big five, I mean, moose is going. You’ve got mountain lions. You’ve got, you know, all these deer. You’ve got like buffalo. What are they going to drink? You know, what are these animals going to drink after they get a spill out there?
AARON MATÉ: Dr. Shiva, you mentioned in the first part of our interview, on the issue of food sovereignty, which is important to you, that your studies have shown that taking an approach that embraces biodiversity and local production would improve food production. Can you talk about this?
VANDANA SHIVA: For 30 years now, we’ve been protecting biodiversity, defending seed sovereignty, in the face of patenting of seed, ownership of seed, the declaration that seed is a creation of corporations, who can then collect royalties, pushing our farmers into debt, and then from debt into suicide. In these 30 years, what we found is intensifying biodiversity, working with nature rather than against her, we can double food production per acre. But we’ve to measure food production as food, as nourishment, as nutrition per acre. What’s normally measured is yield, which then goes off to drive cars as biofuel, goes to torture animals as animal feed. Only 10 percent of the corn and soya, largely genetically modified, is eaten by human beings. The rest is all for this corporate infrastructure. All this would collapse the day the subsidies, which is public money, stops allowing an absolutely nonviable system to be kept afloat. In agriculture, we are talking about $400 billion of subsidies to keep a wasteful agriculture going, that’s fossil fuel-intensive, chemical-intensive, toxic-intensive, and uses 10 times more inputs than it produces. It’s a net negative energy system. So we assessed the productivity of small farms and biodiverse farms, and found that we can feed two Indias. If this was done globally, we can feed two planets. Fourteen billion can be fed comfortably, while we protect species, while we regenerate soil, while through regenerating soil, we get greenhouses back out of the atmosphere, into the soil, we rejuvenate water resources, and we put an end to this addiction to fossil fuel.
We have just done a new book. It will be released by our agriculture minister on the 1st of October. We call it Wealth per Acre, because whether it’s the energy system or the food system, there’s a cheating going on about contribution to growth, about economic development. And in this, we’ve counted both the externalities, the negative externalities of the industrial system, the corporate-controlled system—and it’s trillions and trillions of dollars—and the positive externalities. When we work for the Earth, with the Earth, people become co-creators and co-producers. The most important issue about energy is we’ve forgotten the energy of people, both the political energy to bring change, the economic energy to produce sustainability. And the real sovereignty question is seed sovereignty, food sovereignty and the sovereignty of people and their knowledge and their capacity. I think this game that’s being played, where corporations are driving the extraction of resources of the planet, they’re shaping the economy, they’ve taken over the U.N. deals to make that another subsidy for themselves. And then, the countries that created the U.N. framework on climate change, like India or Canada, are now told, “You don’t be there. We’ll take over. And we’ll do a little bashing of each. You blame us, we blame you. And we continue with this fake national sovereignty, which has been destroyed by corporate globalization.” That’s why we must put the costs, responsibility, blame with the corporations which are cause—which are basically perpetuating a war against the planet.
AMY GOODMAN: Vandana Shiva, you have said that climate emergencies are often the time in which GMO seeds, genetically modified seeds, are pushed. Can you explain what you mean and what your problem is with GMOs, genetically modified organisms?
VANDANA SHIVA: We realized, with the Supercyclone in Orissa in 1999, when we were doing rehabilitation work—on the one hand, distributing salt-tolerant seeds that we had saved in our community seed banks, so that farmers could sow and have a crop. And then the peasants showed us these sacks and said, “They’re giving us stuff that’s inedible. Please get us rice. We are rice-eating people.” We saw the sacks. They had a U.S. handshake. They were a corn-soya blend. If it’s corn and soya, I knew even in 1999 it’s going to be genetically modified. We had it tested. It was genetically engineered. I wrote to our Health Ministry, which then basically said, “We don’t have an approval.” And this was just brought in in the name of an emergency. I was attacked, saying I’m letting people starve. But rice-eating people want rice, not a bad, inedible corn-soya blend.
So, what’s my critique of genetic engineering? It actually builds on my experience of what I saw with the Green Revolution in Punjab. There were banners in the climate march where the Sikhs were saying, “Our land of five rivers has been destroyed.” That’s what Punjab means, the land of five rivers. Abundant water, fertile soils. They took this chemical agriculture, called it the “Green Revolution”—not green, not revolutionary—built it all on subsidies, and then the subsidies started to get withdrawn. And the negative economy that industrial chemical agriculture is started to hurt the people. The peasants rose. You had a movement, that was called an extremist movement. The army was sent to Punjab. Indira Gandhi was assassinated as a consequence of the army going to the sacred shrine of the Sikhs, the Golden Temple. I realized then that the myth of the Green Revolution, where Borlaug is made a saint—Borlaug, the man who came from the DuPont defense labs—to re-engineer plants so that they could take up more chemicals, because that was the block. It was basically to sell chemicals. And they had to modify the plant and make them dwarves. But it needed more water, 10 times more water, so the huge amount of irrigation, and, of course, converting a biodiverse system of 250 species into a monoculture of rice in one season and a monoculture of wheat in the other season.
So then, when they come with the next miracle of genetic engineering, which is often called the Second Green Revolution—and there’s a huge push on Africa in the name of the Alliance of the Green Revolution in Africa, through the Gates Foundation—I know three things. One, that this is part of the industrial agriculture system, so all the problems of industrial agriculture will intensify, whether it’s emissions of greenhouse gases, the 40 percent problem of climate change, whether it’s abuse of water, 75 percent of the problem of water, the soil degradation, and the species extinction, because this model of agriculture can only be a monoculture, and the U.N. has recognized that we’ve lost 75 percent species due to monocultures in industrial farming.
But there is a new problem that is over and above the typical Green Revolution industrial agriculture. And that is that genetic engineering, unlike all conventional breeding, is producing species with traits that don’t belong to that species. Wheat breeds with wheat, rice breeds with rice. For the first time, we can put into rice or cotton a Bt toxin from a soil organism. And now this toxin is in—
AMY GOODMAN: What does Bt mean?
VANDANA SHIVA: Bt is a soil organism name called Bacillus thuringiensis. And so, you have Bt crops and HT crops. The Bt crops have a toxin. They say it will control pests. The herbicide-tolerant crops, like the Roundup Ready crops, are supposed to control weeds. Interestingly in the U.S., the genetically engineered Bt crops have been approved as a pesticide, not as a food. And as a pesticide, I think we need to recognize that the same industry—
AMY GOODMAN: Wait, so you mean that the crops have pesticide in them?
VANDANA SHIVA: Are producing a pesticide. They should be honestly called pesticide-producing plants. Now, it’s the same industry that created the chemicals for the concentration camps and the wars, that then produced agrichemicals that came from inside, that’s now doing genetic engineering to produce the poisons from inside the plant. It’s a continuum. That’s why I call it a continuum of war. But it’s such an unreliable technology. Even though it is working with the genes, it’s not accurate at the genetic level. So, most of the time, when you shoot—the only way to introduce a bacterial gene into a plant cell is through shooting with a gene gun or infecting with a plant cancer, called agrobacteria. When you shoot with a gene gun, you don’t know if the cell has absorbed it. So you add another gene, which is an antibiotic resistance marker. You could have TB, and there’s a concanamycin-resistant gene. What is the purpose? To pour an antibiotic on a Petri dish to decide which cell absorbed the new gene and which cell didn’t. But in the process, forever in our food system, we are putting in antibiotic resistance, and we know there’s horizontal gene transfer in our gut. So, the bacteria in our gut could pick up this, and then we can’t be treated. As it is, antibiotic resistance is a major problem.
But that’s not all. There’s a third gene added, and that gene is a viral promoter that pumps up the expression. That viral promoter also hybridizes with viruses in our gut. A lot of people said the SARS epidemic that spread from China was superviruses that had come out of hybridization, and then they leaped species’ boundaries.
And then, of course, the most important issue is: Why is all this being done? It’s insane. It’s not controlling pests. It’s not controlling weeds. We’ve got superpests and superweeds. Why would humanity take a technology with externalities and risks, and deploy it worldwide, twisting every law, subverting every democracy, and destroying every sovereignty? Because through genetic engineering, the entry is made to patent life forms and seeds. And it’s the royalties that come, the rent collection that come, from the process by which seed renews itself, which now is made to look like a manufacturing process. And thank goodness my country put in a clause that says, “But biological systems don’t get invented. They are not an invention, therefore not patentable.” In this country, there has never been a discussion in Congress about what’s patentable and what’s not patentable. There’s never been an ethical discussion about all this. And the fact that 300,000—nearly 300, it was 294, when the government released the data for last year, and the farmer suicide data is official statistics, it comes from the government. Most of the suicides in the cotton belt, 95 percent of the cotton is controlled for royalty collection by one company. And we are talking of—
AMY GOODMAN: That company is?
VANDANA SHIVA: —royalty extraction that is killing farmers.
AMY GOODMAN: And that company is?
VANDANA SHIVA: That company is Monsanto. Monsanto is 98 percent of the GM problem. And I would like to mention two very fast things. Monsanto has bought up the Climate Corporation, which is the biggest climate data corporation, hoping that they’ll sell climate data to farmers and say, you know, “The climate will be like this, so buy this seed,” from which they’ll collect royalty. More interestingly, as the work on the soil starts to grow where we realize 100 percent, they’re trying to take control of the soil. And they bought up the biggest soil data corporation. They’ve, of course, bought up the biggest bee research institute of this country. And now they’re giving a donation to the climate, to the Global Clinton Initiative, to protect the bees. Bt toxins in the corn kill bees through the pollen. There was a Cornell study done on the monarch butterfly, that the larvae died when they ate Bt toxin. We know that Roundup spraying is killing the milkweed, which is the single biggest habitat for the monarch butterfly. So we are losing bees, we’re losing butterflies, which are the pollinators accounting for one-third of the food production, $169 billion worth of contribution through ecological system. So we are talking about a total control system, beginning with owning the seed, owning climate data, owning soil data, owning research, owning our governments. That’s why this climate march was so important, to make us realize that people need to act before we have a dictatorship to extinction.
AMY GOODMAN: Desmond D’Sa, I was wondering if you can put this in a global context. You fought against apartheid. How does that struggle inform what you do today? And do you see corporations, or corporations working with countries, as your biggest foe, your biggest enemy?
DESMOND D’SA: You know, working during the apartheid struggle was quite difficult and, you know, under extreme conditions. And I see the very—and after 1994, the dream has been deferred. And I see the very same issues that affected us pre-’94 in South Africa. And so—
AMY GOODMAN: When Nelson Mandela was elected president.
DESMOND D’SA: When Nelson Mandela was president. It’s much more prevalent now. In fact, there’s been an increase in disillusion after '94 than ever before in South Africa. We have got the highest protest marches, every single day several protests. People are fighting on the streets to reclaim and to take back the commons and to take back the country, realizing that the government that we have put in, and had so much faith and trust in, has failed dramatically. And the reason that they're failing us, that it’s been—it’s very clear to us and all of us that were there. What I term “economic apartheid,” very simple, is that the corporations have captured our government and that they are holding—this 1 percent of transnational corporations are owning the governments, owning our government. And they control and they decide. You know, there was an incident in 2011, just before the COP on the 10th of October, when the Indian refinery—
AMY GOODMAN: When it was in Durban.
DESMOND D’SA: When it was in Durban, COP 17. And the Indian refinery, which is the ExxonMobil refinery, blew up just a couple of weeks before the conference. And then, the MEC responsible visited and served a notice—
AARON MATÉ: The minister.
DESMOND D’SA: The minister.
AARON MATÉ: Yeah.
DESMOND D’SA: The minister of environment in the province, served a notice on the refinery to shut down. The very next day, she was removed from her job. That told me. And then the major refinery executives came out, and they said, “Look, if you serve a notice on us, we’re going to disinvest, and we’re going to pull out.” And so, the very next day, the government panicked, and the minister was withdrawn from her portfolio, you know, and she still hasn’t been given back that portfolio. So, it’s clearly—and, you know, it’s one of the many instances.
And one of the instances I recall very clearly was that Shell in 2001 had the biggest petrol leak under people’s homes. And it’s still there. And I approached—I went to London and spoke to the British—the Labour MP—77 Labour MPs around this issue. And Shell, in Durban, was under the cosh by the local officials. They wanted to prosecute. And suddenly, within a week of—you know, they lied about the exceedances of sulfur dioxide. They didn’t want to replace their rotten pipelines. And then they went behind closed doors. The mayor said no official has the responsibility to act in the interest of society. And so, government officials who want to do their work are not allowed to, because of the power and the might of these corporations.
And I can tell you the only reason that we were able to be successful in shutting down landfill sites in South Africa, and we shut down four in Durban, that were placed—hazardous landfill sites that were placed alongside communities, poor black communities in South Africa—but more importantly, the only reason that Shell brought in the sulfur recovery unit to South Africa 20 years after the Danish refinery and replaced the rotten pipelines is that we were in the streets. We were collectively, you know, with one voice in the streets in South Africa, and all over the world, we came together and challenged them. And if it wasn’t for—if we left it to our government, the oil industry is just not beholden to any government, you know? And yet, they are destructive in South Africa, and they are shipping out huge profits. We’ve opened the floodgates to allow all the profits to get out of the country, hence we have the unequal society that we have in South Africa, where the rich and the gap between the poor is so huge that it will take many years to rectify.
AARON MATÉ: I wanted to ask you—we’re coming up on the first anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s death in December. You came across him as an activist 20 years ago. What was his record on the environment?
DESMOND D’SA: Well, Mandela was very good, you know. He was a humble man, freely accessible to all of us. And, you know, I met him in ’95 in three different meetings. He summoned the entire Cabinet to Durban on the instructions that he realized that the communities were very angry, were concerned—
AARON MATÉ: He saw you protesting a plant.
DESMOND D’SA: We met Mandela in the streets at the ExxonMobil refinery in Durban in 1995.
AMY GOODMAN: This is a year after he had been elected president of South Africa.
DESMOND D’SA: A year after he’d been elected. And the police, similar to what happened yesterday, they wanted to shoot, but Mandela, the good man he was, he said, “Look, leave my people. Let me talk to them.” And through that, you know, we got the most progressive air quality act. We never had an air quality act in South Africa. So we’ve got that promulgated in 2003. We got various—we have a progressive constitutional right, a clause that was inserted in the Constitution in South Africa. We have the entire framework. We have a host of piece of legislation that has been enacted. And we had the most appointments of people, trained all over the world and employed by the government in South Africa on environmental issues.
We see, in retrospect, that has all gone backwards because of the present government, the way they operate. We don’t have Mandela anymore. Our government now, there is actually the opposite. You know, they’re more interested in economic development. A lot of the government ministers in our government, the presidency, is all involved in economics. They’re all shareholders of major corporations. They’re all, you know, not concerned about local people. So the opposite has spiraled out of it since Mandela’s era.
And I think the turning point was in the 2000. After 2000, we saw a huge—we see that there’s a lot of amendments to the present environmental legislation, weakening it and pushing ahead with all this development of fossil fuel. But more importantly, we see a society that undermines the Constitution, where we’ve seen a lot of secrecy laws, protection of information laws, being developed in the country at the moment and pass, thereby shutting down and squeezing the spaces of civil society and dissent, and also for giving—and also not allowing people to speak up as we spoke up in '94. You know, so it's taken us right back to the apartheid era, where we experienced arrests. We experienced that we could not talk. We could not say a word, even though we were feeling we were getting hurt, we were dying, we were getting—we were being affected, our families were being affected. And what we see now, in retrospect, we’re going right back to that era of the apartheid regime, and in a different way, what I call “economic apartheid.” So we’ve been silenced once again, and we need to rise up. We need to stand up. And that is why we see the gathering in New York of people, of the people, as the important step, going forward, to dismantle those powers that we see amongst the transnational corporations all over the world and in South Africa, as well.
AMY GOODMAN: Des D’Sa, I wanted to ask you about the divestment movement, so similar to what happened in South Africa, the climate divestment movement. On Monday, the heirs of the Standard Oil tycoon, John D. Rockefeller—you know, ExxonMobil is the inheritor of—is the outgrowth of Standard Oil—announced plans to purge their $860 million foundation of fossil fuel investments. Stephen Heintz, the great-grandson of John D. Rockefeller, explained why Rockefeller’s heirs were moved to join the growing movement to divest.
STEPHEN HEINTZ: The diversity of the people who were involved in this from every sector, from every walk of life, communities of just extraordinary diversity all across the country, tells me that this is getting to be more mainstream, which is very, very exciting. And the other thing is that it’s clear that there’s a moral imperative here. But there’s also an economic opportunity embedded in this, which is—gives people something positive to do.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Stephen Heintz. He is the great-grandson of John D. Rockefeller, explaining why Rockefeller’s heirs are moved—were moved to join the growing movement to divest. This is Rockefeller Brothers Fund. It’s not the larger Rockefeller fund. I wanted to ask you not only about this and the significance of this, since you’re taking on ExxonMobil in South Africa, but it’s a whole movement started by students in the United States to divest. The argument against is: “Well, someone else will just buy up these very lucrative shares. Why bother?” Talk about how those arguments played out during apartheid South Africa and the significance of this today.
DESMOND D’SA: Well, I think that was important during the apartheid era, that the major—the people of the world, the anti-apartheid struggle, brought about. And that’s why apartheid was a collective effort by everybody, inside the country and outside the country and amongst many leaders, including Desmond Tutu, who has repeatedly called on the divestment from fossil fuel and played a critical role in the history to isolate apartheid South Africa and force the government of the day to change. We see that it’s very relevant now. You know, we are saying to people, “Don’t only just think about the fossil fuel, but also to the related companies and factors that are involved in this here.” For example, the shipping industry, they are involved in building these big ports, because, you know, oil terminals, the oil terminals. It’s all to do with all that, so it’s collectively there. And we have now called for the disinvestment against the port, against the expansion of the motor industry, against the expansion of the shipping industry in South Africa to bring in those Panamax, those huge ships, and also its related infrastructure, the pipelines. You know, those are the infrastructures that we are urging people to move to divest away from that there and move into more sustainable, community-orientated projects, where it’s a model issue. You know, you make your profit, but at the end of the day, you’re improving the lives and the quality of lives of ordinary people.
And in South Africa, coming from the history of apartheid, you know, people are still living in shacks and inhumane conditions, don’t have access to water, don’t have access to energy. And we have abundance of sun and wind in South Africa. And I would urge any investment, that people out there to invest in these sort of things of solar energy, wind energy, in water, in access to houses for people, in small cooperatives, because if we develop the media, the medium industry, that will create a lot of climate jobs. We’ve seen that. We’ve had it before. And we need to get rid of this noose, the system that continues to [inaudible] big infrastructure, continues to live on this import model and create slaves in other parts of the world. We need to get rid of that. We in South Africa know so well about being slaves. For many years we were slaves to the system. And we thank God that we got rid of it. We want to ensure that our future, going forward, has not been held captive, and not once again are we going to become slaves in a new era. We believe that we are free now. And we need to stay free. We need to get rid of this economic model that doesn’t benefit ordinary people, in South Africa and all over the world. And we must get rid of this environmental racism, that poor people must always suffer from hazardous landfill sites, from hazardous pipelines, from hazardous chemical and petrochemical industry. We cannot eat money, neither can we eat the chemicals, but we can eat organic food and lovely fresh food, vegetables from the ground.
AMY GOODMAN: Vandana Shiva?
VANDANA SHIVA: I just want to mention that so many people who are pushing GMOs on the world themselves eat organic food. So the test should be something that’s been in every ethical system: Do unto others as you would have them do to you. So if you want to eat organic, let the Africans not be forced to eat GMOs. If you want to have renewable energy and a solar panel on your rooftop, let the world have that advantage.
And I want to make just one little observation. Here, we’re all Indians. How is Winona an Indian? Because Christopher Columbus thought he had discovered America, but he was coming for the spices to India.
WINONA LADUKE: This is the Indian sovereignty panel, isn’t it?
VANDANA SHIVA: And how are the Indians in South Africa? Because they were taken as indentured labor. And the deep connection on issue of freedom that Des just mentioned is Gandhi learned his freedom struggles in South Africa trying to fight the early stages of an apartheid regime based on separation. And he, right in Desmond’s town, the Phoenix Farm, is what was an inspiration to create communities that bring freedom, prosperity and sustainability. Those were real experiments more than a hundred years ago. And at the time, in 1906, in a nonviolent way, he said, “I will not cooperate with unjust law.” It was 9/11, the other 9/11, which was based not on the war mentality, what is based on love and the fierce resistance that comes from the deepest love. And that’s the other connection that we have. And there’s so much that connected at the climate march, where there was no movement that wasn’t present. Everything was connected, because it was about the planet.
AMY GOODMAN: Just as a history buff, Winona, if you could explain Vandana’s point about why Native Americans in the United States are called Indians? It was very interesting that the climate march started at Columbus Circle, and the first people in the march were the indigenous bloc, and they walked past the statue of Christopher Columbus.
WINONA LADUKE: Yeah, it is rather ironic. We didn’t be asked to be called Indians. You know, that’s just the way it is. But, you know, in Dios, people of God, or looking for India, however you want to refer to it, but, you know, I’m joined with my Indian relatives here, and it is all essentially the same set of issues. And, you know, we have the solutions. They are contained in our own knowledge. You know, I met Vandana fighting the genetic engineering of our wild rice. You know, the fact is, is that history teaches you a lot, if you pay attention. History teaches you that what you want is biodiversity, not a monocrop. That’s how you’re going to sustain yourself. Even—
AMY GOODMAN: Explain why.
WINONA LADUKE: The Irish potato famine—
AMY GOODMAN: If you have a strong—
WINONA LADUKE: The Irish potato famine is a perfect example of that. If you have a monocrop, there’s a blight that comes through, and it knocks it all out. If you have a monocrop that is treated with some pesticides that are imported from someplace else and is killing your soil and your people, you’re not going to last. The reality is, is that like our people ate thousand different kinds of corn. That’s like nothing to be like scoffed at. And it turns out that the best varieties that we grow are varieties that are 500, a thousand years old. They are varieties that are short, short of stock, and we’ve never had a crop failure. They are drought-resistant, and they’re frost-resistant. And they’re adapted for our ecosystem. They’re not a monocrop.
And so, you know, what we are looking at is, is that all of our communities have the solutions. It is contained in our indigenous knowledge with some adaptive technology, you know, so that if we relocalize our food economies, we don’t need to import food from around the world and use all those fossil fuels and use all those really, really lethal chemicals to produce food. Our people all have the ability to do that. And if you have these organic agriculture systems, you restore your soil. You do things like keep carbon where it’s supposed to be—in the soil and not in the air. You know, that’s the reality of that situation. If you do things like local, renewable, efficient energy, like they are talking about in South Africa or in India, solarizing—the Fort Berthold Reservation, or the Mandan people, they are a very, very windy tribe in North Dakota. The fact is, is that they have 17,000 times more wind energy than they could ever use. But that’s not being harnessed. Instead, they’re up there fracking for natural gas and totally exploiting those people.
You know, to me, sovereignty is about your ability to control your destiny as peoples. And all of us, we have that natural—that’s our covenant with the creator. You know, that is what our deal is, you know, is we have very good ecosystems. We have a very good deal where we live. But, you know, we have this deal that you take care of it, and you live there, and you don’t do these things for the benefit of corporations. You know, what we are hoping is that people in Washington, people in corporations, people in foundations will begin seeing that, in fact, you know, we need to make the decisions to not invest our money in a future that is scorched, in a future that is scorched. That is what a fossil fuel future is: It is a scorched path. What we need to do is to not waste that money, and instead invest in relocalizing and in this beautiful world.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to play for you Rajendra Pachauri, who just moments ago spoke at the opening of the U.N. climate summit. He’s the chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.
RAJENDRA PACHAURI: If we want a chance to limit the global rise in temperature to two degrees Celsius, our emissions should peak by 2020. If we carry on business as usual, our opportunity to remain below the two-degree limit will slip away well before the middle of the century. Moreover, the longer we wait, the higher the risk of severe, widespread and irreversible impacts—food and water shortages, increased poverty, forced migrations that could increase the risk of violent conflict, extreme droughts and floods, the collapse of ice sheets that flood our coastal cities, and a steady rise in our death toll, especially among the world’s poorest. How on Earth can we leave our children with a world like this?
AMY GOODMAN: That was Rajendra Pachauri, yet another Indian on our panel, from Delhi, from India. Winona LaDuke?
WINONA LADUKE: We all agree that the solutions are going to be with some absolute transformations of these systems away from this, you know, corporate control and this continuing combusting, and to relocalizing our food systems, relocalizing our energy systems, being far more efficient and attending to these issues as if they are—you know, it is catastrophic what is happening. And we need to really move the resources to doing the right thing.
AMY GOODMAN: And last comments, Desmond D’Sa?
DESMOND D’SA: Change will come about. Change will come about by local people all over the world, in our own localities. We are going to have to start implementing the changes ourselves and then forcing the others to change.
AMY GOODMAN: Vandana Shiva?
VANDANA SHIVA: Yeah, I think what Rajendra Pachauri didn’t mention is it’s not an issue of constantly increasing linear emissions. If we start to put the carbon where it belongs, in the soil—
WINONA LADUKE: The soil.
AMY GOODMAN: And explain the whole motto, the idea of keep the coal in the hole, the oil in the soil. How much must stay in the ground in order for this planet to survive?
VANDANA SHIVA: Well, the beauty of it is, so much of the thinking is in terms of the old Newtonian kind of mechanistic physics. The plants are the most important process through which photosynthesis allows carbon dioxide to be pulled out of the air, and putting carbon into the soil and giving us oxygen. That miracle reverses entropy. It’s the only process by which we can avoid the waste of energy. That is the process by which we not just put carbon back, we rejuvenate the carbon. And as all our data, including Navdanya’s research on comparison of chemically farmed soils and organic soils, is we have the possibility of taking out more than 110 percent of the greenhouse gases, because not only is the biological, ecological process recycling carbon, which it should be doing, more importantly, we’re making a shift in our economic system, we’re making a shift in our political system, so that this inevitability of the extreme extractive industry is put aside, because we can grow food without fossil fuels and chemical fertilizers, we can have renewable energies, we need local living economies rather than this globalized economy controlled by corporations, and more jobs, more welfare, more democracy. Everything hangs together in a beautiful way. That’s what I’ve called “Earth democracy.” And I really feel the currents, that was on the streets of New York during the climate march, is the currents that is building in the minds and hearts of people, and that’s going to be the unstoppable transition to a world which is not a scorched Earth, but an abundant, beautiful, providing Earth, of which we are members of the Earth family.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you all for being with us. Vandana Shiva, thank you so much for being here. Vandana Shiva is a leading Indian physicist, executive director of the Navdanya Trust in India, which promotes biodiversity conservation, organic farming and rights of farmers, as well as the process of seed saving, author of many books, including Making Peace with the Earth and Soil Not Oil: Environmental Justice in an Age of Climate Crisis. Winona LaDuke, thanks for being with us, Native American activist, executive director of Honor the Earth, lives and works on the White Earth Reservation in northern Minnesota, author of several books, including The Militarization of Indian Country. And Des D’Sa. Desmond D’Sa is the 2014 Goldman Prize winner, coordinator of the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance in South Africa. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Aaron Maté.