Eco-Apartheid as War: An extract from Vandana Shiva’s ‘Making Peace with the Earth’

This extract is taken from Vandana Shiva’s ‘Making Peace with the Earth‘, a study into the  environmental impact of globalisation and corporate control; Shiva takes the reader on a journey through the world’s devastated eco-landscape, one of genetic engineering, industrial development and land-grabs in Africa, Asia and South America, concluding that exploitation of this order is incurring an ecological and economic debt that is unsustainable. In this extract Shiva looks at the ecological destruction caused by warfare. 

When we think of wars in our times, our minds automatically turn to Iraq and Afghanistan, but the bigger war is the on-going war against the earth. In fact, the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya can be seen as wars for the earth’s resources, especially oil. The war against the earth has its roots in an economy which fails to respect ecological and ethical limits – limits to inequality, to injustice, to greed and to economic concentration. Even though both economy and ecology have their roots in oikos, our home, the planet, the economy has separated itself from ecology in our minds, even as the intensity of exploitation and dependence on nature has increased.


The global corporate economy based on the idea of limitless growth has become a permanent war economy against the planet and people. The means are instruments of war; coercive free trade treaties used to organise economies on the basis of trade wars; and technologies of production based on violence and control, such as toxins, genetic engineering, geo-engineering and nano-technologies. Here we have just another form of “weapons of mass destruction” which kill millions in peace-time by robbing them of food and water, and poisoning the web of life. Tools of war have become the tools of economic production. The tragic bombing in Oslo on July 22, 2011 used six tonnes of chemical fertiliser; the serial bomb blasts in Mumbai were fertiliser bombs; the bombings in Afghanistan are, likewise, based on synthetic fertiliser.

The present global “war” is the inevitable next step for economic and corporate globalisation driven by a handful of corporations and powerful countries that seek to control the earth’s resources and to transform the planet into a supermarket in which everything is for sale. The continuing wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and onwards are not only about “Blood for Oil”; as they unfold we will see that they will be about “Blood for Land”, “Blood for Food”, “Blood for Genes and Biodiversity”, and “Blood for Water”. By extrapolation, the rules of free trade, especially the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) Agreement on Agriculture, are just another kind of weapon in the food wars. Biodiversity and genes have been called the “green oil” of the future; water is frequently referred to as the “oil” of the twenty-first century. Oil has become the metaphor and organising principle for corporate globalisation for all resources in the world. Wars and militarisation are an essential instrument for control over these vital resources, along with free trade treaties and technologies of control.

Every vital, living resource of the planet that maintains the fragile web of life is in the
salgado process of being privatised, commodified and appropriated by corporations. Every inch of land that supports the life and livelihoods of tribal and peasant communities is being grabbed, leading to land wars. Every drop of water that flows in our rivers is being appropriated, leading to water wars. Biodiversity is being reduced to “green oil” to extend the fossil fuel age, ignoring the intrinsic worth of life on earth, and ignoring also the rights the poor have to biodiversity to meet their daily needs. Forests were already commoditised by commercial forestry; now their ecological services are being commoditised for a so-called “green economy”. Green is supposed to be the colour of life and the biosphere but, increasingly, green symbolises the market and money, and a green economy could well entail the ultimate commodification of the planet. Green is also becoming the colour of the militarisation of the resource-grab taking place in order to fuel limitless growth. Militarisation is the shield for corporate globalisation, both nationally and globally. At the national level, militarisation is becoming the dominant mode of governance, whether through laws regarding Homeland Security in the US or Operation Green Hunt in India. Economic growth is literally flowing through the barrel of a gun. As people resist ecological destruction and appropriation of their resources, the war against the planet also becomes a war against local communities and people struggling for justice and peace. South African writer, David Hallowes, in Toxic Futures refers to the Pentagon preparing for salgado-workers-serra-pelada-2“fourth generation war” against “non-state enemies”, i.e. ordinary citizens. As he reports, in South Africa, the urban poor have found themselves “under armed assault from the state”1 (p. 47). As land becomes “real estate”, even the polluted dumpsites that the poor make their homes are grabbed by developers. And as people are removed they are told, “You are just people from the dumpsite. You are just scrap.”

In his essay, “The Robbery of the Soil”, Rabindranath Tagore dramatically describes this war against the earth:

The temptation of an inordinately high level of living, which was once confined only to a small section of the community, becomes widespread. The blindness is sure to prove fatal to the civilisation which puts no restraint upon the emulation of self- indulgence…

When they had reduced the limited store of material in their immediate surroundings, they proceeded to wage various wars among their different sections, each wanting his own special allotment of the lion’s share. In their scramble for the right to self-indulgence, they laughed at moral law and took it to be a sign of superiority to be ruthless in the satisfaction, each of his own desire. They exhausted the water, cut down the trees, reduced the surface of the planet to a desert, riddled it with enormous pits and made its interior a rifled pocket, emptied of its valuables.

Not only is corporate power converging with state power for the great resource grab, corporate-state power is emerging as militarised power to undemocratically impose an unsustainable and unjust agenda on the earth and its people. That is how the war against the earth becomes a war against people, against democracy and against freedom. After two decade of corporate globalisation, we now have evidence of its ecological and social costs. A deregulated financial economy gave us the financial crisis; a deregulated food economy has given us a food crisis; a deregulated mining economy has turned every mineral-rich area into a war zone.

The economic crisis that began in 2008, and still continues, forces us to raise questions about the contradiction between a model based on assumptions of limitless growth and a reality with ecological, social, political and economic limits. Thomas Friedman, till recently a supporter of globalisation and the ideology of limitless growth, asked this question:

Let’s today step out of the normal boundaries of analysis of our economic crisis and ask a radical question – What if the crisis of 2008 represents something much more fundamental than a deep recession? What is it telling us, that the whole growth model we created over the last fifty years is simply unsustainable, economically and ecologically, and that 2008 was when we hit the wall – when Mother Nature and the market both said “no more”?salgado2

Despite warnings, the failed model continued to be pushed with trillions of dollars of bail- outs and with further liberalisation, expanding mining for coal and iron ore and bauxite. Protests erupted everywhere – from the coast of Orissa where on June 23, 2011, I met children and women who faced twenty battalions of police sent to clear the land for the mining company, POSCO, to build a giant steel plant, to the squares of Madrid where on July 26, 2011, I met the indignados of the M-15 movement. “Who are we? We are the people who have come here freely as volunteers. Why are we here? We are here because we want a new society that gives more priority to life than to economic interest.” The M-15 states:

Today the world is united, both at the level of the forces of destruction of life, and of the defence of life. This contest, taking place in every local globally, has pitted greed for resources and profits against life – in nature and society. There is, of course, the danger that as ecological, economic, cultural and political spaces are robbed from people who become uprooted, they will be pitted against each other. This is particularly tragic in the case of Africa as her resources and land are grabbed, her people are displaced, and thousands leave their motherland to cross the Mediterranean. Instead of seeing displacement and dispossession of people as a consequence of the economic war against the earth, these refugees are criminalised.

And racist and fascist forces are waiting to capitalise on displacement by making people view immigrants as the cause of their unemployment and economic insecurity, thus diverting attention from the economic structures which work for corporations and against people and the earth. The political conflicts that are triggered as people lose their resources and livelihoods are converted into markets for arms and militarisation.


If this book sparked your interest, please check the Pluto Press website for other similar titles. If you need a gentle nudge in the right direction, we recommend:

Nature for Sale: The Commons versus Commodities by Giovanna Ricoveri

Uncovering the rich heritage of common ownership which existed before the dominance of capitalist property relations, Giovanna Ricoveri argues that the subsistence commons of the past can be reinvented today to provide an alternative to the current destructive economic order.

Overheating: An Anthropology of Accelerated Change by Thomas Hylland Eriksen

In this book, Eriksen breathes new life into the discussion around global modernity, bringing an anthropologist’s approach to bear on the three interrelated crises of environment, economy and identity. He argues that although these crises are global in scope, they are perceived and responded to locally, and that contradictions abound between the standardising forces of information-age global capitalism and the socially embedded nature of people and local practices.

Anthropologies of Value: Cultures of Accumulation Across the Global North and South edited by: Luis Fernando, Angosto-Ferrandez and Geir Henning Presterudstuen

Anthropologies of Value analyses the creation of value in a wide range of political and cultural contexts. This edited collection includes anthropological case studies from around the globe; from the commodification of a Venezuelan waterfall to the relative value of penguins in periods of imperialist expansion.

Fredrik Barth: An Intellectual Biography by Thomas Hylland Eriksen

Fredrik Barth is one of the towering figures of twentieth-century anthropology. This intellectual history traces the development of Barth’s ideas and explores the substance of his contributions. Exploring his six decade career, it follows Barth from early ecological studies in Pakistan, to political studies in Iran, to groundbreaking fieldwork in Norway, New Guinea, Bali and Bhutan. Eriksen argues that Barth’s voracious appetite for fieldwork holds the key to understanding his remarkable intellectual development and the insights it produced.

Sick Planet: Corporate Food and Medicine by Stan Cox

Neoliberals often point to improvements in public health and nutrition as examples of globalisation’s success, but this book argues that the corporate food and medicine industries are destroying environments and ruining living conditions across the world.


Making Peace with the Earth is available to buy here


Vandana Shiva was one of India’s leading physicists and is now a leading environmental campaigner, the winner of the Alternative Nobel Peace Prize and the author of several books, including Soil not Oil (2008), Earth Democracy (2005) and Stolen Harvest (2001).


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