In her book, Soil Not Oil: Environmental justice in an age of climate crisis, the author, Vandana Shiva, offers a comprehensive nexus between commercial agriculture and climate change. Shiva envisions a world that can thrive without fossil fuel dependency. She highlights industrial agriculture as primarily responsible for economic and ecological disasters and vouches for the small, autonomous farms. Shiva argues that such farms offer greater productivity and an expanded social justice potential since they empower the poor with more resources. The farms are also cultivated using traditional farming practices that are characteristic of small-scale agriculture. She continues to argue that the world must now rethink its agricultural approaches, especially in the face of the prevailing climate change, whose devastating effects include widespread famine.
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Today, the world needs farms that are not only biologically diverse but also sustainable as well. Biological diversity helps farms to resist drought, floods, and diseases (Shiva, 2008). Shiva maintains that both the problems of climate change and poverty have the same solutions. The book outlines the socially and environmentally sound principles that are vital for nourishing the planet. She escalates this to the broad issues of climate change and globalization, arguing that a just world and a healthy environment are as Siamese twins. Indeed, the Soil Not Oil is a truly visionary book that the author unwaveringly proposes a host of solutions bordering on sustainability, community, and self-organization instead of profits and corporate power.
Outline of the Chapter Contents
In this section, Shiva introduces the topic by first providing a historical overview of climate change. Human survival is threatened by climate change, energy crisis, and food insecurity. She highlights three problematic areas associated with the climate change crisis. She argues that the climate change crisis poses a significant threat to the survival of the human species. Second, she asserts that this challenge is of global scope, implying that every corner of the world is affected. Third, different human activities are responsible for causing climate change. Climate change is caused by how people move, eat, shop, and live. Therefore, the solutions to these problems are found in all sectors of the economy and human lives.
In this chapter, Shiva advances a strong argument against the use of biofuels for cars instead of addressing food insecurity. Biofuels are fuels sourced from biomass, traditionally associated with the poor. However, in recent times, there have been intensified campaigns on the uptake of biofuels as alternative sources of energy. The increased promotion of biofuels as green energy is nonetheless leading to a promotion of monocultures, which in turn destroy biodiversity. Incidentally, as the rich continue to enjoy the luxury of using biofuels, the poor are being deprived of their basic sources of food.
In this chapter, Shiva questions the rationality of prioritizing globalized food systems and industrialized agriculture as sources of abundant and cheap food when it is evident that food is no longer cheap. Times are long gone when people used to speak of cheap food and oil. Using India as a case study, Shiva vividly elaborates how the prices of basic food commodities have been on an upward trajectory over the years. She partially attributes this to globalization that has created an atmosphere of import dependency.
Shiva begins by declaring that climate change is a global crisis that threatens the survival of the human species. The problem of climate change is being reflected in the increased incidences of droughts, cyclones, and floods that have become everyday news pieces today. If nothing substantial is done to reverse the situation, then the world is at the risk of witnessing worse events. Other than climate change, humanity is facing another global problem of oil peak. The world seems to have reached its highest possible oil production level. This implies that the supply of oil to drive the global economy is on a rapid decline. Therefore, it is imperative that people change the way they live, move, and eat.
The convergence of climate change chaos and peak oil gives rise to a food crisis, which is a by-product of globalization and industrialization of agriculture. Incidentally, globalization promised people uninterrupted availability of cheap food. However, this is not the case as it continues to push the prices of food beyond the reach of many. All over the world, food prices have been on a steady increase causing some 33 countries to witness food riots (Shiva, 2008, p. 2). Thus, it is apparent that globalization has failed to deliver what it promised but instead drove up food prices for the poor.
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The industrialization of agriculture is viewed in some quarters as a form of development caused by globalization. However, according to Shiva, the drastic impacts of this form of industrialization are worse than traditional modes of farming. Not only do the fossil fuel-powered machines used in agriculture massively contribute to global warming, but they also lead to the creation of disposable or “redundant” people. Farms that were traditionally worked on by hundreds of people only require one machine operator today. The farmhands who have been displaced as a result of this are now left idle, a situation that can easily cause political and social instability and violence in a country. Shiva summarizes the crises facing the world today into three: climate, energy, and food. Incidentally, these problems thrive and inflict more miseries on the people because of the concepts of globalization and development.
The food crisis is the worst of the three problems because it significantly threatens the survival of the world’s poor. Interestingly, the food crisis problem is a result of processes that revolve around globalization and development, namely the industrialization of agriculture and displacement of indigenous and smallholder farmers. Globalization effects and liberalization of agricultural trade on food sovereignty and food security is the most recent problem that is affecting many people. The food crisis around the world is further exacerbated by climate change’s effects on agricultural production. According to Shiva, this is compounded by deceptive solutions that have been prescribed for climate change. The use of biofuels as a solution to climate change is counterproductive. This is because it leads to the diversion of food and land from the peasant farmers to energy needs that are unsustainable and only benefit the rich. Shiva hence maintains that in as much as climate change is a crisis that should be urgently addressed, some of the solutions prescribed only end up harming the poor.
The concepts of globalization and development in the Soil Not Oil book can be seen in the rapid rise in the adoption of biofuel products. Massive ethanol industries have been established in Brazil, the United States, and the European Union. Many governments around the world are running massive campaigns to encourage their citizens to adopt the production of biofuels. There seems to be an aggressive push to create a biofuels market around the world to satisfy the world’s insatiable appetite for oil. However, this comes at heavy prices, and food prices, particularly soybean and corn, have been forced to rise by up to 75% (Shiva, 2008, p. 85). Additionally, the prices of feedstock have also shot up as a result of biofuel.
Personal Perception Discussion
The book, Soil Not Oil, could not have been published at a better time. In 2008 when the book was published, the world was going through a global economic recession that caused an upsurge in the prices of most commodities. I like the fact that Shiva traces all these repercussions to poor decision-making approaches as solutions to climate change. At a time when the world is facing this biting crisis of climate change, many people will come up with all manner of solutions to abet the situation. However, not all these proposed solutions are productive and can solve the problem amicably. Shiva has proven through this book that it is always imperative to scrutinize these proposed solutions to establish their efficacies and viabilities. I like the fact that Shiva has pricked our conscience to rethink some of these solutions that we have all along been persuaded to believe are sound.
Considering the frequency of natural disasters such as droughts, floods, and cyclones that visit us quite often, it is evident that climate change is here with us. Since it is mainly caused by human activities, there are genuine fears that things will only get worse in the future. Therefore, urgent and drastic actions need to be made to reverse the looming destructive and deadly effects of climate change. However, when selecting the best alternatives to the current practices, care must be taken to ensure that only those alternatives that are sustainable are selected.
Shiva, V. (2008). Soil Not Oil: Environmental justice in a time of climate crisis. South End Press.