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Soil not Oil

Our Path to Peace

It may seem strange to suggest that the path to peace is to roll up our sleeves and get our hands dirty regenerating the soil in our gardens and around the world. But this is more than a metaphor suggesting that building peace is like growing a healthy garden. 

The wars we fight, the deplorable state of public health and the surpassing of planetary limits leading to climate change can all be traced back to how we grow our food and view the earth as a resource base to be turned into commodities for consumption.

We all understand that wars are fought to control resources, particularly the fossil fuels of oil and natural gas. Our industry and our food production are dependent on control of these resources. Our current chemical industrial agricultural system has its roots in World War II. 

The companies, which produce pesticides and fertilizers today, first produced these chemicals for warfare in the form of biological weapons for concentration camps and bombs. Industrial agriculture’s application of these poisons as nitrogen-based fertilizers and pesticides depletes the soil and requires huge amounts of water. This reduces the carbon-capturing capacity of the soil at the same time that it emits huge amounts of carbon. Climate change is exacerbated, leading to droughts and other weather disruptions, leading to climate refugees, resulting in conflicts in places like Syria. The war on the earth imbedded in our industrial food system leads to violence between people.

If we are honest, we have to admit that our economic and political systems are failing. The election of Donald Trump as president and the near-successful campaign of Bernie Sanders are not just a reflection of bipartisan deadlock in Washington, D.C. They are an indication that an economic system that allocates all wealth to the top one tenth of one percent while trashing the planet is no longer viable. 

The modern industrial era that started in the 1700s with the extraction of coal, rooted in a philosophy of humans as separate from nature, is reaching its limits. This system can no longer meet people’s needs. With climate change and fossil fuel peaks, it is pushing across planetary limits as well. 

A new way of being that sees humans as part of the network of life must emerge from the margins. Central to that system is a way forward rooted in agroecology. Here in the Willamette Valley, with organic farming, farmers markets CSAs and permacultural neighborhoods, we get a glimpse of what is possible. These farms and neighborhoods produce food using horticultural polycropping methods. 

Many varieties of food are produced on the same land resulting in higher food output per acre than the monocrops of industrial agriculture. This builds the soil, making it nutrient rich, making the food better for people’s health. The healthy soil holds water so that there are fewer droughts. It extracts and stores carbon from the atmosphere offering our best hope for addressing climate change. 

These agro-ecological methods leave food production in the hands of the farmer and gardeners and out of corporate control. This makes earth democracy possible, where, according to Shiva, the “organizing principle is to help strengthen the webs of life and all externalities are beneficial.” 

Vandana Shiva is a leader in this earth democracy, peace movement. She is the founder of Navdanya, a network of seed keepers and organic producers in India. She is the director of The Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Natural Resource Policy. She is a world-renowned environmental thinker, activist, physicist, feminist, philosopher of science and author. In 1993 she was the recipient of the Right Livelihood Award, commonly known as the “Alternative Nobel Prize.”

The Lane Peace Center is proud to bring Vandana Shiva to Eugene on Monday, Nov. 21. She will speak at the Lane Community College main campus Performing Arts Theater, Building 6. Her talk, entitled “Soil Not Oil,” is from 6 to 7:30 pm, with doors opening at 5 pm. The event is free and open to the public. For more information go to lanecc.edu/peacecenter or facebook.com/events/947065952066268.