Friday, November 01, 2013

Read It and Weep

How economic growth has become anti-life | Vandana Shiva | Comment is free |

Limitless growth is the fantasy of economists, businesses and politicians. It is seen as a measure of progress. As a result, gross domestic product (GDP), which is supposed to measure the wealth of nations, has emerged as both the most powerful number and dominant concept in our times. However, economic growth hides the poverty it creates through the destruction of nature, which in turn leads to communities lacking the capacity to provide for themselves.

The concept of growth was put forward as a measure to mobilise resources during the second world war. GDP is based on creating an artificial and fictitious boundary, assuming that if you produce what you consume, you do not produce. In effect , “growth” measures the conversion of nature into cash, and commons into commodities. 

Thus nature’s amazing cycles of renewal of water and nutrients are defined into nonproduction. The peasants of the world,who provide 72% of the food, do not produce; women who farm or do most of the housework do not fit this paradigm of growth either. A living forest does not contribute to growth, but when trees are cut down and sold as timber, we have growth. Healthy societies and communities do not contribute to growth, but disease creates growth through, for example, the sale of patented medicine.

Water available as a commons shared freely and protected by all provides for all. However, it does not create growth. But when Coca-Cola sets up a plant, mines the water and fills plastic bottles with it, the economy grows. But this growth is based on creating poverty – both for nature and local communities. Water extracted beyond nature’s capacity to renew and recharge creates a water famine. Women are forced to walk longer distances looking for drinking water. In the village of Plachimada in Kerala, when the walk for water became 10 kms, local tribal woman Mayilamma said enough is enough. We cannot walk further; the Coca-Cola plant must shut down. The movement that the women started eventually led to the closure of the plant.

In the same vein, evolution has gifted us the seed. Farmers have selected, bred, and diversified it – it is the basis of food production. A seed that renews itself and multiplies produces seeds for the next season, as well as food. However, farmer-bred and farmer-saved seeds are not seen as contributing to growth. It creates and renews life, but it doesn't lead to profits. Growth begins when seeds are modified, patented and genetically locked, leading to farmers being forced to buy more every season.
Nature is impoverished, biodiversity is eroded and a free, open resource is transformed into a patented commodity. Buying seeds every year is a recipe for debt for India’s poor peasants. And ever since seed monopolies have been established, farmers debt has increased. More than 270,000 farmers caught in a debt trap in India have committed suicide since 1995.

Poverty is also further spread when public systems are privatised. The privatisation of water, electricity, health, and education does generate growth through profits . But it also generates poverty by forcing people to spend large amounts of money on what was available at affordable costs as a common good. When every aspect of life is commercialised and commoditised, living becomes more costly, and people become poorer.

Both ecology and economics have emerged from the same roots – "oikos", the Greek word for household. As long as economics was focused on the household, it recognised and respected its basis in natural resources and the limits of ecological renewal. It was focused on providing for basic human needs within these limits. Economics as based on the household was also women-centered. Today, economics is separated from and opposed to both ecological processes and basic needs. While the destruction of nature has been justified on grounds of creating growth, poverty and dispossession has increased. While being non-sustainable, it is also economically unjust.
The dominant model of economic development has in fact become anti-life. When economies are measured only in terms of money flow, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. And the rich might be rich in monetary terms – but they too are poor in the wider context of what being human means.

Meanwhile, the demands of the current model of the economy are leading to resource wars oil wars, water wars, food wars. There are three levels of violence involved in non-sustainable development. The first is the violence against the earth, which is expressed as the ecological crisis. The second is the violence against people, which is expressed as poverty, destitution and displacement. The third is the violence of war and conflict, as the powerful reach for the resources that lie in other communities and countries for their limitless appetites.

Increase of moneyflow through GDP has become disassociated from real value, but those who accumulate financial resources can then stake claim on the real resources of people – their land and water, their forests and seeds. This thirst leads to them predating on the last drop of water and last inch of land on the planet. This is not an end to poverty. It is an end to human rights and justice.

Nobel-prize winning economists Joseph Stiglitz and Amartya Sen have admitted that GDP does not capture the human condition and urged the creation of different tools to gauge the wellbeing of nations. This is why countries like Bhutan have adopted the gross national happiness in place of gross domestic product to calculate progress. We need to create measures beyond GDP, and economies beyond the global supermarket, to rejuvenate real wealth. We need to remember that the real currency of life is life itself.

• Vandana Shiva is a guest of the Festival Of Dangerous Ideas, Sydney Opera House, this weekend. 


Anonymous AE said...

Current Events Post Comments:

Happy All Saints Day.

This stuff is hard to read. At the same time I don't engage in conversations about how the world is going to hell. I wish we could just all be still so God could heal us. We must continue to gesture toward God and to pray.

Also, I'm impressed that Pope Francis has made an overt effort to listen to his followers' opinions on social issues. It will be interesting to see how the individual bishops decide to collect the data.

6:02 pm, November 01, 2013  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Maggie,
AE is right in saying that this is hard stuff to read. However, I think that it is imperative that we engage in some kind of conversation about how the world is going to hell. Justice demands it. It is possible to take action from a still point, that seems to be what wisdom is all about.

4:06 pm, November 02, 2013  
Blogger changeinthewind said...

Just watched two documentary films. Amongst White Clouds and Into Great Silence.

Both engage this so called "need of conversation" well enough and offer long tested alternative models to more talking.

Remember that guy who went off to Lake Baikal seeking solitude? His book re this is now on the market shelves of your local bookseller.

This is precisely the problem.

5:54 pm, November 02, 2013  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, Sylvain Tesson's book,The Consolations of the Forest, is on the market shelves. I was reading some excerpts from it this morning and found it to be very engaging. I think he makes some interesting observations and I would not write him off too quickly.

1:22 pm, November 03, 2013  
Blogger changeinthewind said...

Limitless consumption is growth is not restricted to just boogies like corporations I will point out.

The in-corporate-it-all mentality I object to because there is the feeling all of it was/is to be consumed, experienced fully until it is used up or the use becomes boring. The book becomes suspect as predetermined and all of "Lake Baikal" the means to it.

Apply this "it's a choice I make" or "a singular life style" to a large mass of people. And sell it as "a way to/of solitude" and we have ... what we now have.

A degrading Earth. We NEED this place so I won't read the book because "interesting comments" come at a corporate cost which are too high a price to pay relative to what this book has already cost me/us by writing it at all. JMO.

8:31 pm, November 04, 2013  
Blogger Maggie Ross said...

Jane Smith writes, 'All very true, but the fundamental problem facing humankind is overpopulation.

This subject is hardly ever mentioned, and certainly not by many of those involved in organised religion.'

Jane Smith

10:02 am, November 05, 2013  
Blogger changeinthewind said...

Yes, far to many of us now and too meshed; the edges, the safety margins are going fast or gone. Unlimited growth in/of a closed system is oxymoronic and (because it is impossible to achieve) if left unchecked, ends in collapse of the system. Always.

Odd as it may sound, sometimes even one person doing Lake Baikal is one too many.

To me, the only answer to this paradox of consuming which seems sensible is to do no harm to anything. This is impossible but it is entirely possible to compensate for harm done and there is no limit on doing so.

6:23 pm, November 05, 2013  
Blogger Maggie Ross said...

Jane Smith writes: Dear Maggie and others

I like the advice just given "do no harm to anything". Notwithstanding the gloom and doom, I think almost any advice is better than none.

I picked up an excellent book at the customs desk in the post office the other day: "Writing the icon of the heart". I don't mind admitting that I find some books on solitude difficult to read and understand. This is a lovely, readable collection of short essays that is not daunting.


8:15 am, November 06, 2013  
Blogger Maggie Ross said...

Thanks very much, Jane!

8:15 am, November 06, 2013  

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