Sustainable Futures: Vandana Shiva

In light of the students who walked out of their school lessons to protest for change against climate change, Her Campus Bristol are writing about what and who inspires us when it comes to reversing the affects of what could become a disastrous climate and future. This article focuses on Vandana Shiva as a source of inspiration for sustainable futures. 

Shiva was born in Dehradun, India in 1952. The child of a father who was a conservator of forests, and a mother who was a farmer, Shiva’s passion was that of science, namely physics. Completing a PhD in the philosophy of physics, she later became actively involved in policy and organisation surrounding agriculture and food. Specifically focusing on issues of biodiversity, fossil fuels, genetic modification, and increasing hegemonic knowledge regarding growth of crops, Shiva makes a strong case for us to listen to in order to develop a more sustainable future. 

Shiva’s books and articles link environmental issues with gender inequality, and vice versa. In Soil Not Oil (2007), and Staying Alive: Women, Ecology, and Development (1988), Shiva shows how women are largely bound to the environment in poorer areas of the world. For example in Africa, 63% of women rely on agricultural work compared to 48% of male workers. However, women are all too often left out of policy making decisions regarding agriculture, despite often having the best knowledge on what crops are well suited for the soil and locals in that specific area. This has led to disastrous consequences, with land and water resources becoming depleted, and food insecurity ensuing in villages where non-local (and sometimes GM crops) have been planted. 

By centring women in the discussion on agriculture and farming, sustainability becomes far more achievable. Not only are locals empowered, but food security can be ensured as women have more resources to produce higher yields on a local and national level. Furthermore, this would be accomplished through the use of environmentally friendly initiatives (natural fertilisers and minimal pesticide use) and in keeping with better management of natural resources such as water, which is in increasingly scarce supply. 

Shiva also sheds light on the excessive consumption of oil that has resulted in increased diversions of crops to be used for biofuels. The term ‘biofuels’ is often paraded as being a ‘green alternative’ for our increasing demand for oil by politicians. However, it only results in deforestation, depletion of natural resources, and food scarcity since food that could have been used to feed people is now being used to feed cars. Soil not Oil (2007) is an insightful and disturbing book that delves deep into the heart of the issues surrounding oil, and the multiple problems we face as a global population. 

I would encourage any activist or interested environmentalist to pick up one of her books or read her articles as she offers a fresh and powerful perspective on the current issues we encounter worldwide today.