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Kasim Tirmizey
Date Published: 
June 01, 2006

Previous writings from Vandana Shiva have included the topic of enclosure by capitalism and imperialism on our water, food and seed commons. In her latest book she spells out an alternative worldview, one that is based on diversity rather than monoculture, solidarity rather than competition, life rather than capital. She calls it Earth Democracy. Earth Democracy recognizes that all species are an interconnected whole, that we belong to an “earth family”, an interdependent community. It is embodied by living economies, living democracies, and living cultures.

Living economies respect all life and their right to natural resources for survival. Under capitalism there is only one economy that is recognized –– the market economy –– whereas the two other economies, nature's economy and the sustenance economy are overlooked and made invisible. When the sole focus is to maximize return on investments without taking into consideration the costs it has on nature and people, devastation and poverty will ensue.

For example, In Plachimada, India, a Coca-Cola plant was over-extracting millions of liters of water. This affected crop cultivation for the community, depleted the drinking water sources and water in the ponds and canals. The market economy would say that there was economic growth, and that capital was being produced from unused resources. However, Coca-Cola was infringing upon a common resource –– water –– which was used both by nature and by people for sustenance.

Many believe they live in a democracy. However, Shiva explains that what we actually have is an economic dictatorship combined with a so-called representational democracy. The state is used as a mechanism to maintain corporate dominance over our lives. Heads of states and ruling parties may change, but corporate power remains.

Living democracy is the space where decisions are made about our basic rights and freedoms, as well as the space where our rights are defended and protected. Rather than having the IMF and World Bank make unilateral decisions that affect entire populations, living democracy believes in local democracy in the hands of local communities, it believes in self-rule and self-governance.

Life nourishing

Just as Ghandi opposed the Salt laws in colonial India, Shiva makes a call for farmers today to disobey seed patent laws –– laws which make seed saving illegal, laws that lead farmers to suicide, laws that encroach on our seed commons through intellectual property right laws. In living democracies it is our duty as members of the earth family to disobey unjust laws.

In Earth Democracy, life rather than capital is put at the center. Living cultures respect all life forms, in all its diversity. Living cultures encourage behaviors and actions for peace, sustainability, and justice. They are cultures that cultivate compassion and love for life. It is life promoting rather than life destroying.

This book is recommended reading for everyone: from those engaged in struggles to those who are merely curious about her ideas. It provides a framework for understanding and dissecting the problems of the current world order embodied by capitalism and imperalism, as well as providing an alternative worldview that takes root from multiple movements –– environmental, anti-war, global justice, feminist, and anti-capitalist activism.

Earth Democracy is a call for unifying our struggles, as they are interconnected. Whether we are consumer activists fighting to have affordable, healthy, and safe foods, climate justice activists fighting oil development in our community or anti-war activists fighting to end wars, we are engaged in a struggle against imperalism and capitalism and life destruction. What we need is a an alternative that not only respects life but is “life nourishing”. Earth Democracy is an alternative that has already begun to take root and has shown signs of victory.

South End Press, 2005