Vandana Shiva, if you don’t already know of her, and you should, is a scientist, prominent eco-feminist, and social commentator best known for her works covering South Asia and the intersection of business practices and poverty. Her most recent essay, printed by The Ecologist, is a must read. In part,
From Bob Geldof to Gordon Brown, the world suddenly seems to be full of high-profile people with their own plans to end poverty. Jeffrey Sachs is another one. Unfortunately, he’s not a here-today, gone-tomorrow celebrity/ politician, but one of the world’s leading economists, head of the Earth Institute and in charge of a UN panel set up to promote rapid development. So when he launched his book The End of Poverty, people took notice.
But, there is a problem with Sachs’ and so many of the other end-poverty prescriptions. Sachs doesn’t understand where poverty comes from. He seems to view it as the original sin. ‘A few generations ago, almost everybody was poor,’ he writes, before adding: ‘The Industrial Revolution led to new riches, but much of the world was left far behind.’ This is a totally false history of poverty. The poor are not those who have been ‘left behind’; they are the ones who have been robbed. The riches accumulated by Europe are based on riches taken from Asia, Africa and Latin America. Without the destruction of India’s rich textile industry, without the takeover of the spice trade, without the genocide of the native American tribes, without Africa’s slavery, the Industrial Revolution would not have led to new riches for Europe or the US. It was this violent takeover of Third World resources and markets that created wealth in the North and poverty in the South. Two of the great economic myths of our time allow people to deny this intimate link.
Shiva details these two myths, the first is the tendency to blame the destruction of the world’s natural resources on one another rather than what we percieve as the greater ideal of economic “growth.” Secondly, she states the assumption that if one only produces what one consumes, one is not producing.
If I grow my own food, and do not sell it, then this does not contribute to GDP, and so does not contribute towards ‘growth’.
Wandering around my garden this summer I have often pondered the idea that for me, gardening is a privilege of wealth (one must have land and income to begin producing one’s own vegetables in the “developed” world), whereas producing one’s own food in other areas of the world is a necessity. In many ways, living ecologically responsible in the United States requires a certain amount of wealth and privilege. It costs more to shop in local markets or ethically responsible stores. It costs as much to buy an electric car as it does a small SUV. As Shiva states, “people do not die for lack of income, [they] die for lack of access to resources.” In the U.S. where we have comparatively plenty of access to both, “It’s not about how much more we can give, so much as how much less we can take.”
Do read the rest of Shiva’s essay.
via Cultural Dissent