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Vandana Shiva, Winona LaDuke & Desmond D’Sa on a Global, Grassroots Response to U.N. Climate Summit

StorySeptember 23, 2014
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Two days after the historic People’s Climate March, world leaders are gathering in New York City today for a United Nations summit on climate change. President Obama, along with more than 100 heads of state, are expected to attend. But the leaders of several major polluters, including China, India and Canada, are skipping the talks. The summit is part of a lengthy and so far failed process leading to climate negotiations in Paris next year, when countries will seek a binding deal to limit the emissions that cause global warming. We speak to three leading environmentalists: Vandana Shiva of India, Desmond D’Sa of South Africa, and Winona LaDuke of the White Earth Reservation in northern Minnesota. Click here to watch Part 2 of this interview.

Winona LaDuke footage courtesy Keri Pickett.

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

AARON MATÉ: Two days after the historic People’s Climate March, world leaders are gathering in New York for today a U.N. summit on climate change. President Obama and over 100 other heads of state are expected to attend. But the leaders of several major polluters, including China, India and Canada, are skipping the talks. The summit is part of a lengthy and so far failed process heading into climate negotiations in Paris next year, when countries will seek a binding deal to limit the emissions that cause global warming.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined right now by three guests. Vandana Shiva is the executive director of the Navdanya Trust in India, which promotes biodiversity conservation, organic farming, the rights of farmers, and 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.

Desmond D’Sa is with us. He’s coordinator of the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance in South Africa, the recipient of the 2014 Goldman Environmental Prize.

And Winona LaDuke is also here, Native American activist and executive director of the group Honor the Earth. She lives and works on the White Earth Reservation in northern Minnesota, author of several books, including most recently The Militarization of Indian Country. And she has just finished a 200-mile horseback ride.

Winona, let’s start with you. Tell us about this horseback ride.

WINONA LADUKE: I live near Lake Superior, and it turns out that the object of some oil companies’ affections is the most inland port, Duluth and Superior area, which is how they can get oil out. We rode along what’s known as the Sandpiper, which is a fracked oil pipeline out of North Dakota they have tried to put in through the heartland of Anishinaabe territory, through our best wild rice lakes and through the land of lakes in the north. And so, we took our horses, took to our horses, and we rode for about 200 miles on that, and prayed—and, you know, just to draw attention to it, but also to put down our prayers and to say that this is not a good pipeline. A lot of people know about those other pipelines, like the Keystone XL, but there’s a whole number of pipelines headed toward Superior right now. The proposal is about four million barrels a day of oil to be heading toward Superior. And we don’t want to see that.

AARON MATÉ: And isn’t a whole lot of oil already heading through your land? What has been the impact so far?

WINONA LADUKE: We’ve had some spills. I mean, the corporation we’re dealing with is the Enbridge corporation, 800 spills in the past decade, a pretty dirty—

AMY GOODMAN: Enbridge is based where?

WINONA LADUKE: Enbridge is based out of Calgary, another Canadian corporation that believes it has rights to private property in the United States. In this case, you know, our feeling is, is that—what we believe is that we love water more than we love oil. And in Minnesota, I think that that is the case, because we have 10,000 lakes, and you can drink the water where we live. That’s really worth fighting for.

AMY GOODMAN: And how do the pipelines affect the land? Are they above ground, or are they underground? How does it work?

WINONA LADUKE: A little bit of both. And, you know, the problem is, is that I’m probably a little like you: I’m not opposed to infrastructure. Like, infrastructure is a good thing in a First World country. Pipelines are not my problem. The problem is dirty oil pipelines—fracked oil, things that blow up with, you know, 600 different chemicals in it, highly volatile pipelines—or tar sands pipelines, those things. And they are both above ground and below ground. The fact is, is that there’s only 130 or so pipeline inspectors in this country from PHMSA. And I’m really not sure how they’re going to keep track of all those pipelines, because they don’t have a good record so far. In our territory, a minute of a spill of the Sandpiper line, the proposed Enbridge route, one-minute spill, 20,000 gallons. That will not get out of our ecosystem. This is an entirely biodiverse, largely aquatic ecosystem in northern Minnesota. And once you get oil in that, you are not cleaning it up.

AMY GOODMAN: Desmond D’Sa, the U.N. Climate Summit is happening here today at the United Nations. Among those speaking will be President Obama. You were here for the climate march, but you’re not going today? You’ve come in from South Africa?

DESMOND D’SA: Certainly, you know, we’ve had three climate summits, and we’ve had 19 of the conference of the polluters, the UNFCCC, for 19 solid years. And what has that brought about? We certainly believe in South Africa that the change has to come from the outside, that we don’t trust our leaders. Neither do we trust the corporations that are lobbying extensively inside with our governments. And their main concern is their profit margin. Our main concern is life and death on the outside, and that’s why I believe that the—organizing and mobilizing people all over the world. And this has been an awesome and a huge week for ordinary people all over the world, because not only has New York come to a standstill with over 400,000 people, but also all over the world there’s been 25,000 activities, which has given us a huge lift, but also an enormous hope for the future.

AARON MATÉ: Desmond, you’re here from Durban, South Africa. You’ve been involved in struggles there since you were a teenager. South Durban is known as “Cancer Alley” to some people. Can you talk about the struggles that you’re involved in right now?

DESMOND D’SA: The major struggle at the present moment is the expansion of the Durban port, with its related, interrelated petrochemical pipelines, terminals, the oil exploration. All the major oil corporations—ExxonMobil, including Shell and BP—who have major leaks and episodes and incidents that have occurred in the U.S., are rushing to the Indian Ocean and cutting up the Indian Ocean, and with the full authority of our government, you know, to cut up the Indian Ocean and to do seismic testing. The obvious reason is to look for oil, to find the oil. And they wouldn’t be investing a whole lot of money. They don’t know there was no oil in the Indian Ocean.

What it does for us as people in South Africa is that the seismic testing or oil exploration does not create any jobs. It’s going to destroy livelihoods of predominantly peasant fisherman, thousands of them, that live in our communities in Durban and in South Africa and all along the Indian Ocean. They will love their livelihoods. As it is, South Africa is suffering from 50 percent of unemployment, that’s particular on black youth in the country. And so, these oil explorations and all these expansion programs are not geared to create jobs. That’s our major concern.

And this would be the biggest displacement of poor black people, last seen during the apartheid era in the '70s and ’80s, when the separation acts came into place in South Africa that separated people of color, where poor black people were displaced—and placed along dirty industry, knowing fully well that the impact of their dirty industry will be kept secret for years. It's only through sheer efforts by people, ordinary people, and communities that we got to know about the chemicals and the impact it had on our health. That, with the expansion of the port and the expansion of the oil exploration, the expansion of the oil terminals and the oil storage facilities in Durban, it is the biggest already, but that will even triple the amount of petroleum products produced in South Africa, also brought into South Africa from other parts of the world, and that will have a devastating impact in a community already suffering from 50 percent of chronic asthma, high levels of cancer and high levels of leukemia, that we bury our people every week.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the effects, Vandana Shiva, of climate change in your country, India. Not only talk about climate change, but the focus of yesterday’s protest on Wall Street, also a large theme in Sunday’s massive protest, was the effect of corporations on climate change.

VANDANA SHIVA: Climate change is quite very clearly an externality of not just a fossil fuel industry, but a corporate-driven industry which has dismantled our processes of people’s rights, democratic rights, and the cultures that have protected our ecosystems. I come from the land of the Himalaya, the central part, where the Ganges starts. That’s where I was born. That’s where I’ve grown up. Last year, we had floods we’ve never seen, rainfall 350 percent more, extreme events in two days, glaciers melting, hydroelectric projects adding to the devastation, 20,000 people dead. Right now, the Jhelum River has flooded in Kashmir, more than 500 people washed away. In 2010, the desert, high-altitude desert of Ladakh, which has no rain, had rain so extreme that 200 people were washed away in the valley of Leh, and 10,000 in Pakistan downstream. 1999, a supercyclone in Orissa, double the velocity of any average historic cyclone. Most historic cyclone stopped close to the coast. This went three miles inland, causing so much devastation that more than 30,000 people were killed. So we are talking about climate devastation already killing people and destroying ecosystems.

My book, Soil Not Oil, shows that 40 percent of the greenhouse gases are coming from a corporate-driven agriculture, substituting the ecological processes of regenerating the soil with chemical fertilizers; small farms and peasant farming and peasant fishing with fossil fuel-driven systems using 300, 400 energy slaves behind every human being, and then factory farming, the waste of food, and the whole emissions of methane. In ecological agriculture in the hands of people, not only do we have a 100 percent solution to get these emissions out of the atmosphere, as our work in Navdanya shows, we are able to double food production, a 200 percent increase. We’re able to generate employment, because small farms produce 70 percent of the food eaten by people. And if we defend small farms of today and increase them, we solve the problem of unemployment, every major problem of our time, including health.

We have a cancer train leaving Punjab, which is the land of the Green Revolution. And they talk of Norman Borlaug, who pushed the Green Revolution on India for the multinationals, the industry that had sold chemicals during the war, then basically re-engineered them as agrichemicals. Articles come out about him being a saint and him selling miracles and the 12 people he trained being apostles of wheat. That’s where things have gone wrong. They’ve forgotten that science is supposed to be about science. And today that cancer train from Punjab is a result of the chemicals that came from the war into agriculture and into our food systems and our bodies. There is a continuum between wars we see as wars, like what’s happening in Syria right now, but also the wars against the planet and the wars against people. Corporations are behind all of this. And I see, as Wall Street makes the world’s economies collapse, the only economy left is war.

AMY GOODMAN: There was an interesting sign at Flood Wall Street yesterday, Winona. It said, “Tear down that Wall Street,” referring of course to Reagan’s famous line about the Berlin Wall. But you are going to be at the U.N. Climate Summit today, Winona. Where will you be? Why are you going?

WINONA LADUKE: I’m going to be with the indigenous people. It’s a really historic time for us. I mean, the fact is, is that, you know, I was at the first U.N. conference on indigenous people in 1977. And yesterday, the Tadodaho was at the General Assembly. And then, today there will be indigenous people addressing. And I think that just those moments that indigenous people, as part of our work, you know, being there is important. I’m going to be at the climate summit that is on the side, you know, with indigenous people. But it is an important time for indigenous people. We have no recourse in the United States or in Canada, in many of these countries, under our law. That’s why we’ve been fighting for some international recognition of our rights as peoples, as indigenous peoples. But, you know, these issues are very systemic. They affect all kinds of people, the issues of climate change and climate disaster. It is across the board.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to continue this discussion right after the show, and we’re going to post it online at democracynow.org. Winona LaDuke, I want to thank you for being with us, Native American leader, writer. Desmond D’Sa, thank you so much for joining us, South African environmentalist based in Durban, winner of the 2014 Goldman Prize. And Vandana Shiva, Indian environmental leader, feminist and author.

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