Environmental activist Vandana Shiva shared her passion for environmental sustainability, gender equity, and food security with the William & Mary community this week. Her visit was funded in part by the Arts & Sciences Annual Fund.
A native of India, Shiva trained as a physicist at the University of Punjab and later shifted to interdisciplinary research in science, technology, and environmental policy, which she carried out at the Indian Institute of Science and the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore, according to her website. She has campaigned internationally on issues surrounding biotechnology and genetic engineering, and has contributed in fundamental ways to changing the practice and paradigms of agriculture and food.
While at W&M to give Wednesday’s COLL 300 presentation, Shiva visited with several classes and was involved with Earth Week activities on campus. On Wednesday morning, Shiva visited with students in Associate Professor Emeritus of environmental science and policy Mark Fowler’s class Sustainability & Decolonization. The COLL 300 is typically taken in a student’s third year and emphasizes experiences and knowledge of the larger world.
Students had read parts of Shiva’s book Earth Democracy: Justice, Sustainability, and Peace, and one question she addressed was why she chose to combine the two topics.
“I think democracy’s gone wrong, because we forgot the Earth,” Shiva said. “And we forgot how to live as part of a larger community, in this case the Earth community, without which there is no life. There’s no freedom. …
“When you forget that we are part of that web, then some people can grab part of the resources — that’s colonialism.”
Shiva discussed the combination of being a scholar while also working as an advocate/activist, and the possible conflicts between the two because of bias. Responding that years ago she had read a book of essays by Albert Einstein, Shiva said she decided that was the kind of person she wanted to be “a scientist with social consciousness.”
“I have spent now more than 45 years of my life combining research and action,” Shiva said. “And every case I study and am an activist in, I find those who are called the scientists have partial knowledge — I call it one-eyed knowledge. And it’s knowledge of destruction and extraction.”
For her, scholarship really has been seeking knowledge, she said. She emphasized the need to look at sources of information and what’s really behind large forces controlling everything from governments to corporations.
Ignoring the natural world and our connectedness to it is a mistake, she said. Our bodies and our minds are one entity.
“And I think as we move into both a period of deep crisis, which anyone who says we are not is fooling themselves, but in a period of a new leap in human evolution’s possibilities of both acting and knowing, (there are) two things we have to give up,” Shiva said. “One is the idea that there’s a body that’s separate from the mind. … And the Cartesian world view of fragmentation, separation, intertness is really getting us into all the problems that we have.
“And just because we are embodied in a living Earth, we are embodied in society and community, we are embodied in particular families and particular friendships — all of that is both shaping the way we think and the way our thinking shapes those relationships.”
Shiva said she is currently working to help five states in India go organic, and that she sees the current state of the world as a “passing phase” that with enough people engaged will eventually see environmental responsibility, social responsibility, and democracy rise to prominence.
“I have this dream that the world goes poison-free by 2050, and we’re working on a poison-free India,” she said.