In Earth Democracy: Justice, Sustainability, and Peace, Indian physicist turned environmental activist Vandana Shiva calls for a radical shift in the values that govern democracies, decrying the role that unrestricted capitalism has played in the destruction of environments and livelihoods. By no means a new release, Shiva’s book is incredibly timely as skyrocketing fuel costs jeopardize the rationality of globalization. Through explaining problems with expanding globalization and privatization of public goods and services, then illustrating examples of communities rejecting the intrusion of corporations into communities, Shiva outlines core beliefs that should result in what she deems “earth democracy”, a global community that honors and respects diverse forms of life and their respective cultures.
Shiva begins by noting that the expansion of a global market-based economy has been done at the expense of nature’s economy and a sustenance economy and that corporations have systematically enclosed the commons. The commons, those resources that are managed and used by all members of communities, have sustained people and cultures for centuries, but are now becoming privatized, i.e. commoditized, by corporations seeking only to maximize potential profits. Like colonialization before it, corporate globalization counts on claiming resources outside of the scope of ownership and inside the trust of the commons of people who cannot mount a defense against such unwanted impositions and bear the brunt of the externalities created by short-sighted, greed-based projects. Through the efforts of the WTO and agribusiness giants, subsistence and small farmers have lost the right to food through the increasing expansion of business-based agricultural methods that cost the farmer and the surrounding communities but benefit the corporations.
True democracy, Shiva posits, must be based on living economies, those that cherish and hold sacred the commons area, natural resources contained within it and the rights that the people have to it. This living economy must focus on local control of resources and more regulation of a market that has exploited the people who patronize it.
Essentially, we are living in a linear, economy-driven world that is inevitably unsustainable. An earth democracy will shift how we live to a circular model where the economy is held in no greater esteem than the environment and the resources it provides and the people, for whom justice, fairness, and the right to resources is of equal importance. Those three components: economy, environment, and people, must be in balance to maintain sustainability.
Earth Democracy is a call to action by Shiva. By giving living examples of the Indian people’s resistance to the privatization of resources, collective actions by committed groups of individuals, Shiva demonstrates how people can take back power, must take back power, over resources and our economy, so that people have access to the ability to make a life. I would highly recommend this book in times like these, to not only see the flaws in how we’re living now, but to gain hope of what a living democracy can look like.