Anthropocene

From Eco-Apartheid to Earth Democracy

The following essay is from Yes Naturally: How Art Saves the World, available in the Next Nature store. You can visit the Yes Naturally exhibit in the The Hague until August 18. 

“I could understand how great the concrete truth was in any plane of life, the truth that in separation is bondage, in union is liberation. Poverty lay in separation and wealth in union.”1 – Rabindranath Tagore

Separatism is at the root of disharmony with nature and violence against nature and people. Today, we need to overcome an eco-apartheid based on the illusion of separateness – the separation of humans from nature in our minds and lives. This eco-apartheid is an illusion because we are part of nature and Earth, not apart from it.

Eco-apartheid refers to the ecological separation of humans from nature in the mechanical, reductionist worldview, which is resulting in the multiplicity of the eco-crisis that is threatening human survival – climate catastrophe, species extinction, water depletion and pollution, desertification of our soils, and acidification and pollution of our oceans. It also refers to the apartheid created between corporations and citizens, between rich and poor on the basis of the appropriation of the Earth’s resources by a few and denial to the rest of their rights to access the Earth’s gifts for sustenance of all life, including human life.

The rise of eco-apartheid began in the minds of the powerful. Its contemporary seeds were sown when the living Earth was transformed into dead matter to facilitate the industrial revolution. Reductionism replaced holism, monocultures replaced diversity and complexity, ‘raw material’ and ‘dead matter’ replaced a constantly renewing and vibrant Earth. As the dominant neoliberal paradigm and capitalist worldview take over the minds of governments and citizens, we give up our sovereignty and freedoms in the name of ‘growth’, of ‘progress’, of ‘development’. Those who have no illusions of growth and development are the communities whose land and forests, water and biodiversity are grabbed for corporate profits, whose very sustenance is destroyed in a massive, global resource grab.

It is in the context of this violence that the call for making peace with the Earth, through Earth Democracy, becomes the most important ecological, social justice and human rights movement of our times. It is a call for a paradigm shift from one based on Terra Nullius – Empty Earth – to one based on Terra Madre – Mother Earth. It is an exploration to go beyond growth to real wealth and well-being by creating living economies. It is a challenge to go beyond ‘free-market democracy’ to create real freedom through living democracies. It is an invitation to move from a culture of consumerism, which makes us participants in the war against the Earth, to a culture of conservation and compassion, which helps make peace with the Earth. It is a shift from separation to interconnection, from eco-apartheid to unity and harmony with the planet.

Scientific Paradigm: The Empire of Man

The radical transformation of a vibrant nature into ‘dead matter’ took place during the western scientific revolution of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. According to Francis Bacon, who is known as the father of modern science, ‘the nature of things betrays itself more readily under the vexations of art than in its natural freedom’.

The death of nature in the mind allows a war to be unleashed against the Earth.

The discipline of scientific knowledge and the mechanical inventions it leads to do not ‘merely exert a gentle guidance over nature’s course; they have the power to conquer and subdue her, to shake her to her foundations’. In Tempores Partus Masculus (The Masculine Birth of Time,1605) Bacon promised to create a blessed race of heroes and supermen who would dominate both nature and society.

The death of nature in the mind allows a war to be unleashed against the Earth. After all, if the Earth is merely dead matter, then nothing is being killed. As Carolyn Merchant points out, this transformation of nature from a living, nurturing mother to inert, dead and malleable matter was eminently suited to the exploitation imperative of growing capitalism. The nurturing Earth image acted as a cultural constraint on exploitation of nature. ‘One does not readily slay a mother, dig her entrails or mutilate her body.’2 But the mastery and domination images created by the Baconian programme and the scientific revolution removed all restraint and functioned as cultural sanctions for the denudation of nature. The mechanical worldview has created the illusion of separation and fragmentation. For the last three centuries reductionist science has tried to divide an indivisible unity of nature. It has tried to separate us from the Earth.

The advance of modern science was also a consciously gendered, patriarchal activity. As nature came to be seen more like a woman to be raped, gender too was recreated. Science as a male venture, based on the subjugation of female sex, provided support for the polarization of gender. Patriarchy as the new scientific and technological power was a political need of emerging industrial capitalism. The exclusion of non-reductionist, non-mechanist systems of knowledge has narrowed the knowledge base of our actions, it has shrunk our intellectual capacities to adapt. Humanity is poorer in excluding the wealth of knowledge of indigenous communities and women on how to live lightly on a fragile continent.

We are made of the same five elements – the Panch Mahabhutas – earth, water, fire, air and space – that constitute the Earth. The water that circulates in the biosphere circulates in our bodies. The oxygen that plants produce becomes our breath. The web of life is woven through interconnectedness. The food that is produced by the soil and the sun’s energy becomes our cells, our blood, our bones. Biologically and ecologically we are one with the Earth. It is the disease of separatism and eco-apartheid that denies it and then creates the diseases of loneliness, depression and alienation.

Interconnectedness is now the nature of reality.

Science, however, is currently making an affirmative comeback since in 1971 biologist Barry Commoner gave us the first law of ecology: ‘Everything is connected to everything else.’3 Interconnectedness is now the nature of reality. While separation was intrinsic to the old science based on Cartesian, Baconian, Newtonian assumptions, non-separability is built into the new science of quantum theory and the new biology. The Einstein-Podolsky- Rosen Paradox has shown that when a quantum system is subdivided, and the two sub-systems are separated in space and time, their state is non-separable.4 Physicists like Niels Bohr, Wolfgang Pauli and David Bohm stressed the non-separable wholeness of the universe of physical phenomena.

Also in biology, non-separability is being recognized through fields like epigenetics and gene ecology. Gene ecology is a new interdisciplinary field in biology that is unique in its combination of genetics and biochemistry with bioethics, the philosophy of science, and social studies of science and technology. It builds on innovative work in the area of genomics, proteomics, food science, ecology and evolution. It goes beyond the reductionist approaches of the individual scientific disciplines.5 Epigenetics is another emerging field that shows there is no separation between genes, the organism and the environment. The reductionist view is that DNA carries all our heritable information and is insulated from the environment. Epigenetics adds new dimensions to the behaviour of genes. It proposes a control system of ‘switches’ that turn genes on or off – and suggests that things people experience, like nutrition and stress, can control these switches and cause heritable effects.6

Epigenetics shows there is no separation between genes, the organism and the environment.

There still are technological interventions based on the mechanistic paradigm such as the ‘green revolution’ and ‘genetic engineering’ that tear apart the interconnectedness of the Earth at the ecosystem, the cellular, the genetic level, and have no method for assessing the damage. The mechanistic paradigm, with its mis-measures of ‘growth’ (GDP and GNP), on which economics is based, separate it from ecology and sustenance.

Economy as Ecology: The Laws and Knowledge of the Home

Across the world, people are questioning the ‘growth’ model. Limitless growth on a limited planet is an ecological impossibility. In any case, growth measured as GNP and GDP result in ecological and social destruction. The more the ‘economy’ grows, the faster our ecosystems, species and communities are destroyed. The more the ‘economy’ grows, the fewer the creative opportunities for people, especially young people. That is why people around the world are questioning ‘growth’ and instruments that falsely measure destruction as growth.

Karl Marx pointed out how the rule of capital was based on the abstraction of capital, and separating it from its relation to society and nature. Even while depending on exploitation of land and labour, capital is treated as immaterial: Where the purely general form of capital as self-preserving and self-valorizing value is being considered, it is declared to be something immaterial, and therefore, from the point of view of the political economist, a mere idea; for he knows of nothing but either tangible objects or ideas – relations do not exist for him.7

Limitless growth on a limited planet is an ecological impossibility.

Redefining the economy by embedding it in society and nature is the first step in a paradigm shift. Shifting from GDP and GNP to measures of real wealth, welfare, well-being and happiness is another. Wealth combines weal (well-being) and th (condition). Its original meaning is ‘condition of well-being’. Aristotle distinguished between ‘chrematistics – the art of money making, and oikonomia – the art of living’.8 Ecology and economics are both derived from the Greek oikos, meaning home. Economics need to return home – to its roots in the Earth and society.

Therefore, we need to create measures beyond money, economies beyond the global supermarket to rejuvenate real wealth and authentic well-being. We need to remember that the real currency of life is life itself.

The mountain State of Bhutan has given up Gross National Product and Gross National Growth as measures of human progress and replaced it with Gross National Happiness (GNH). Bhutan has made a constitutional decision that the pursuit of happiness for the Bhutanese people will be the guiding principle of their economic policy, not the pursuit of economic growth as measured in the Gross National Product.

Respect for the natural world and indigenous culture, and the cultivation of human and spiritual values are the core elements of GNH. Sitting in the beautiful but fragile Himalaya, engaged in shaping another paradigm for the human enterprise, there is an acute awareness of the impact of the pollution caused by global economic activities. There is also a fervent hope that humanity can shift away from the greed- based, pollution-causing growth paradigm, which has turned the ‘right to pollute’ into a fundamental right and robbed societies in vulnerable regions not just of peace, harmony and happiness, but of the very right to survival.

Activities that provide sustenance and well-being for all are currently called unproductive.

The radical shift that movements around the world are making is a shift from an Earth-degrading, human-degrading economic system based on greed, profits and financial growth towards Earth-centred systems that reduce the ecological footprint while increasing well- being. Not only will this shift, which is already underway, bring harmony with nature, it will sow the seeds of social justice and equity, both in terms of sharing the Earth’s resources and recognition of work that goes into caring for the planet and people. It will recognize women’s work in sustenance. It will recognize the knowledge creation and production of Third World and indigenous communities. It will create space for future generations.

Activities that provide sustenance and well-being for all are currently called unproductive. In a green economy whose aim is to maximize well-being, not profits, serving the planet and community become the most important work we are called to do. Activities that rejuvenate the Earth and human communities become the core of a truly green economy.

Reconnecting with Mother Earth

Making peace with the Earth must begin in our collective minds and consciousness, by changing our worldviews from those based on war with nature to those that recognize that we are but a strand in the web of life. It involves a shift from fragmentation and reductionism to interconnectedness and holistic thinking. It involves a shift from violence, rape and torture as modes of knowing to non-violence and dialogue with the Earth and all her beings. It involves the inclusion of biodiversity and of other knowledge systems – of women, of indigenous communities, of our grandmothers.

In order to overcome the economy of eco-apartheid we need other ways of thinking and knowing such as illustrated in the example of Bhutan, but also in the case of Ecuador. Ecuador rewrote its Constitution in 2007-2008 and it was ratified by referendum by the people of Ecuador in September 2008. The new Ecuadorian Constitution includes:

CHAPTER SEVEN Rights of Nature Article 71. Nature, or Pacha Mama, where life is reproduced and occurs, has the right to integral respect for its existence and for the maintenance and regeneration of its life cycles, structure, functions and evolutionary processes. All persons, communities, peoples and nations can call upon public authorities to enforce the rights of nature.

Pachamama, our Mother Earth and the source of all life, has been recognized as living, as a subject, in all cultures that have sustained themselves over time. We need to recognize the Rights of the Earth to correct the historical errors of an anthropocentric and ethnocentric paradigm that emerged during scientific revolution and colonialism, which constructed the Earth as empty and as dead matter.

As a result of the scientific revolution the Earth community has been reduced to the human community; meanwhile humans as Earth citizens, with duties and rights, have been replaced by corporations, with no duties to either the planet or society, only limitless rights to exploit both the Earth and people. Corporations have been assigned legal personhood, and corporate rights are now extinguishing the rights of the Earth, and the rights of people to the Earth’s gifts. Corporate Anthropocentrism urgently needs an antidote. The Rights of Mother Earth give us an opening to reclaim human freedom and the freedom of life on Earth. Earth Democracy recognizes these rights of the living.

As a result of the scientific revolution the Earth community has been reduced to the human community.

While the corporate green economy caters to corporate profits, it fails in providing for people’s needs and defending their rights. It is based on resource intensive, pollution intensive production and consumption with low human benefits. In contrast, the Earth-centred economy is based on treading lightly on the Earth while maximizing wellbeing and welfare for all. Transcending eco-apartheid and anthropomorphism by creating Earth Democracy has become a survival imperative for the human species. The mechanistic, reductionist, limitless growth oriented paradigm has created a false perception that human progress needs environmental sacrifice and peoples sacrifice, that if we respect the rights of the Mother Earth, all her species and Earth communities, the progress of humanity will suffer.

The opposite, however, is true. Earth Democracy is based on living economies, living democracy and living cultures. The more we respect the Earth, the more she provides for our needs. It is only when soils are fertile and biodiversity and water are abundant that food will also be abundant, diverse, nutritious and healthy. Healthy soils are the basis of food security. And the more biodiverse a system, the more nutrition and health per acre, and the more wealth per acre for farmers it is able to produce. Biodiverse systems also increase resilience in times of climate chaos. That is why we need to save seeds and protect biodiversity.

Earth Democracy is based on living economies, living democracy and living cultures.

Meanwhile, the industrial model must destroy biodiversity to increase production of commodities. After all the violence to the soil, to biodiversity, to water, to atmosphere, to farmer, a war-like food system is unable to feed people. One billion people are hungry. Two billion suffer from food related diseases. We need biodiversity and ecological intensification, not fossil fuel and toxic intensification. The more biodiversity we grow, the more species we protect and the more food we harvest. Non- violent farming that protects species also helps us grow more food. And it produces better food, thus ending the war against our bodies, which has led to the diseases of obesity, diabetes, hypertension and cancers.

Over the last two and a half decades I have built Navdanya to create an agriculture and food system that is at peace with the Earth. At Navdanya we do not grow commodities; we grow the Earth’s community, in the mind and on the land. We feed the soil organisms, and they feed us. We grow diversity, which supports diversity. And the pest-predator balance this creates helps control pests. We have no need to spray poisons. We grow as much organic matter and return as much as we can to the soil. The organic matter in soil is the alternative to the violence of fertilizer factories and the violence of large dams.

New Paradigm: Earth Democracy

The same technological and economic systems that violate the planet also violate the rights of communities to her resources – the land, the biodiversity, the water. When land, biodiversity and water are reduced to tradable commodities and privatized, not only are the rights of nature violated, the rights of communities are also violated.

Pitting humans against nature and placing them outside the Earth community is an outmoded, fossilized legacy of capitalist patriarchy and mechanistic thought that gave us fossil-fuel based industrialism and colonialism and is now imposing militarized growth on communities. If our species is to survive, we must re- imbed ourselves in the planet and again become part of the Earth community. We must reawaken our duties to protect the Earth and our rights as Earth citizens to a fair share of her gifts. For this we need to revisit our concepts of growth and prosperity, we need to change the assessment of technologies to include the impact on the Earth and on society.

How do we look at ourselves in this world? What are humans for?

A shift away from notions such as profit, GNP and economic development has become vital for the survival of the species. The GNH that Bhutan has made its national objective can show the way not just for Bhutan but also for societies across the world. It is a shift from greed to contentment, joy and happiness. It is a shift from a heavy ecological footprint and deepening socioeconomic inequalities to a light ecological footprint and economic and social justice for all. It involves a shift from cultures of carelessness to cultures of care, from cultures of consumerism to cultures of conservation and co-creation with nature, from cultures of separation and disconnection to cultures based on awareness of our interconnectedness with the natural world and with each other, from cultures of waste to cultures of recycling and regeneration, from cultures of privatization to cultures of the commons, from cultures of passive acceptance of destruction and undemocratic action to cultures of engagement in making a shift.

We need a new paradigm for living on the Earth because the old one is clearly not working. An alternative is now a survival imperative for the human species. And the alternative that is needed is not only at the level of tools, it is at the level of our worldview. How do we look at ourselves in this world? What are humans for? And are we merely a moneymaking and resource guzzling machine? Or do we have a higher purpose, a higher end?

I believe we do.

1 Sabyasachi Bhattacharya, The Mahatma and the Poet: Letters and Debates Between Gandhi and Tagore (New Delhi: National Book Trust, 2008), 108. 2 Carolyn Merchant, The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology, and the Scientific Revolution (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1980), 3.

2 Carolyn Merchant, The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology, and the Scientific Revolution (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1980), 3.

3 Barry Commoner, The Closing Circle: Nature, Man and Technology (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1971), 33-39. 4 Albert Einstein, Boris Podolsky and Nathan Rosen, ‘Can Quantum-Mechanical Description of Physical Reality Be Considered Complete?’, Physical Review (1935) vol. 47, no. 10, 777.

4 Albert Einstein, Boris Podolsky and Nathan Rosen, ‘Can Quantum-Mechanical Description of Physical Reality Be Considered Complete?’, Physical Review (1935) vol. 47, no. 10, 777.

5 See: www.genok.com/gene_ecology, accessed 1 November 2012. 6. ETH Zurich (2009, April 13) ‘Epigenetics: DNA Isn’t Everything’, ScienceDaily. Available online at: www.sciencedaily.com /releases/2009/04/090412081315. htm, accessed 1 November 2012. 7. Karl Marx, quoted in Howard Engelskirchen, Capital as a Social Kind: Definitions and Transformations in the Critique of Political Economy (London: Routledge, 2011), 19. 8 Mark Anielski, The Economics of Happiness: Building Genuine Wealth (Gabriola Island: New Society Publishers, 2007).

6. ETH Zurich (2009, April 13) ‘Epigenetics: DNA Isn’t Everything’, ScienceDaily. Available online at: www.sciencedaily.com /releases/2009/04/090412081315. htm, accessed 1 November 2012.

7. Karl Marx, quoted in Howard Engelskirchen, Capital as a Social Kind: Definitions and Transformations in the Critique of Political Economy (London: Routledge, 2011), 19.

8 Mark Anielski, The Economics of Happiness: Building Genuine Wealth (Gabriola Island: New Society Publishers, 2007).

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