COVID, capitalism, climate: the way forward

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Image: Dr. Vandana Shiva. Used with Permission

In the sixth and final episode of the Courage My Friends podcast special series, we welcome eco-feminist, scientist, author and celebrated global climate justice leader, Dr. Vandana Shiva.

Our discussion takes us beyond borders to the global realties of this pandemic -- a pandemic that is most acutely felt by low-income nations who must contend with deep legacies of poverty amid the callous disregard of a global economic system that continues to leave the south behind.

According to Shiva: "We need to see the multiple pandemics right now. The pandemic of COVID. But there's a pandemic of hunger. There's a pandemic of unemployment and shutting down of small local businesses. There's a pandemic of heartlessness and fear."

Where "these new diseases are really a result of invasions into forests," the stage had long been set for (and what many are now describing as) the age of pandemics -- COVID-19 being its most recent and opportunistic arrival.

Bats and pangolins aside, the disastrous impacts, accompanying crises and worrying predictions of the current pandemic are the result of distinctly human-made systems. Systems firmly rooted within what Shiva sees as the death spiral of modern capitalism. 

"I talk about this as an anti-life ideology that has been kept in place by force for over 500 years. And now at the time where the pandemic should be making us put life and care and mutuality and cooperation at center stage, that's precisely the time where this anti-life philosophy is being put on fast-forward."

For the world's marginalized, especially those in the global south, this is part of the ongoing legacy of conquest and colonialism.

"You know, I've never found a day when capitalism was born. I have found a process in which it was crafted. And that process is colonialism. Basically creating a civilizing mission. Giving yourself the right to invade other countries. And then declaring the land, the wealth, the economies as yours. And collecting rents and revenues from it."

From structural violence -- fomented through centuries of conquest and colonization, decades of exploitative structural adjustment, debt, climate destruction and continuing plunder by the global north, its corporations and "philanthro-imperialist" billionaires, to the current vaccine apartheid, Shiva speaks to how the Global South stands at the forefront of the converging crises of COVID, Capitalism and Climate.

"First you spread, in irresponsible ways, these new pandemics, because of a globalized neoliberal limitless greed system. And then you deny people treatment. This is what's happening right now. And, you know, instead of governments being able to take care of their national health systems, they're having to fight patent battles at WTO."

Established in the early 90s by the Dunkel Draft, the World Trade Organization (WTO) together with the IMF and World Bank, now set the rules for global trade. Regularly finding in favour of global north economies and multinationals -- often involving the exploitation of global south markets, resources and labour -- the WTO as Shiva sees it is nothing less than, "an organization created for recolonization."

As southern fields continue to feed northern appetites for 21st century cash crops, i.e. GMO (genetically modified) Soya and BT (pest-resistant) cotton; local farmers contend with hunger, poverty, desperation, and the collapse of local agricultural economies begun by the Green Revolution decades ago.

The genetic material (plant, animal, mineral) of the global south and traditional knowledge of Indigenous peoples the world over continue to be stolen, misappropriated and commercialized through the biopiracy of patent and Intellectual Property systems, allowing multinationals to own the very building blocks of life -- from seed to animal to water and alas to vaccines. As Shiva says, "The race for vaccines started even before the vaccines were there."

And where the ensuing vaccine apartheid leaves India, the world's largest democracy gasping for breath and Africa, the cradle of humanity, at a less than one per cent vaccination rate, for Shiva this deserves nothing less than the strongest condemnation.

"The big debate in WTO right now, the whole issue of patents on vaccines and denying people the right to survive is... writing their death-knell…This to me is genocide," she said.

The economic orthodoxy of neoliberalism, placing the private over the public, profit over people, the corporate over the commons and industry over environment, does indeed feel like a reprise of colonialism -- but with a twist:

"First of all, colonialism was about commerce. But commerce by force, commerce with military might. And commerce with a letter patent -- you know, it was a patent in involved! Columbus was given a letter patent, which according to the King and Queen, they had the power to do this from the Pope who got it from God directly. And the difference between that colonization and this colonization is the billionaires are the gods. The billionaires are the Popes -- they write the religions. The billionaires are the Kings and the Queens. They rule the world."

Those billionaires who are also prolific names in charity and global "problem-solving," for Shiva, they are merely philanthro-imperialists, pretending "to be giving when they're actually grabbing."

As she speaks to us surrounded by sickness and death (of what will eventually manifest as the Delta variant around the world), for Shiva, this moment reveals the true and horrifying face of colonial capitalism and its legacy, "in the virus of greed combined with a virus of impunity and of indifference."

However, where she is also witness to farmers fighting for food sovereignty, Sikh langars offering food and oxygen to those in need and global south nations and their allies coming together to challenge patent monopolies held by multinationals, this also becomes a moment of hope. A hope borne of solidarity and resistance:

"We need a new solidarity with the Earth. We need a new solidarity with Indigenous people. And most importantly...a leadership of Indigenous cultures. The leadership of women. The leadership of working people to bring us out of these multiple crises, which have only one outcome - extinction of humanity and collapse of ecosystems."

In this age of borderless pandemics, climate destruction and global capitalism, is this a time of reckoning, redress and decolonization of the very systems that brought us to this point?

Where the well-being of one is intertwined with the well-being of all, can we finally engage in a meaningful solidarity within and between nations?

Can we begin to build regenerative and circular economies that protect the planet and all of its peoples?

Where Shiva long ago decided that she could "take on the empire with a little seed," what possibilities lie within a global solidarity movement intent on growing "gardens of hope?"

Host and co-producer Resh Budhu begins the conversation with a focus on India during the onset of the deadly 2nd wave of Covid-19 in early May, 2021.

Note: All quotes in this article are the words of Dr. Vandana Shiva.

About today's guest:

Dr. Vandana Shiva

Named an "Environmental Hero" by Time Magazine in 2003, “One of the five most powerful communicators of Asia” by Asia Week and as one of the "Top Seven most Powerful Women on the Globe" by Forbes Magazine in 2010, Dr. Vandana Shiva combines sharp intellectual enquiry with courageous activism. In 1982, she founded the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology in Dehra Dun, to address the most significant ecological and social issues of our times. In 1991, she founded Navdanya, a national movement to protect the diversity and integrity of living resources, especially native seed, the promotion of organic farming and fair trade. In 2004 she started Bija Vidyapeeth (or Earth University), an international college for sustainable living in Doon Valley in collaboration with Schumacher College, U.K. Dr. Shiva has received numerous awards, including the Alternative Nobel Prize (Right Livelihood Award,), Order of the Golden Ark, the Global 500 Award of the United Nations, the Earth Day International Award, the Sydney Peace Prize, the Doshi Bridgebuilder Award, the Calgary Peace Prize, the MIDORI Prize for Biodiversity, and the International Environment Summit Award.A prolific writer of over 40 publications, Dr. Shiva’s most recent book is Oneness Vs. The 1%: Shattering Illusions, Seeding Freedom.

Transcript of this episode can be accessed at georgebrown.ca/TommyDouglasInstitute

Image: Dr. Vandana Shiva. Used with Permission

Music: Ang Kahora. Lynne, Bjorn. Rights Purchased

Intro Voices: Chandra Budhu (General Intro./Outro.), Miriam Roopanram, Sharon Russell Julian Wee Tom (Street Voices); Bob Luker (Tommy Douglas quote)

Courage My Friends Podcast Organizing Committee: Resh Budhu, Victoria Fenner (for rabble.ca), Ashley Booth, Chandra Budhu, John Caffery, Michael Long

Produced by Resh Budhu, Tommy Douglas Institute and Victoria Fenner, rabble.ca

Host: Resh Budhu

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