Meeting Vandana Shiva

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

I walked along Diamond Creek from Eltham Station on my way to Montsalvat late yesterday afternoon to listen to Vandana Shiva. Gertrude Stein wrote 'People are the way their land and air are'; this is the current state of the sediment infested Diamond Creek, which feeds into the Yarra River.

I found evidence of both human and more-than-human restoration of the stream-side ecology. However most of the naturalising floras along the creek have no ecological status – chickweed, spear thistle, dock, dandelion, stinging nettle, oxalis and blackberry to name a few. These are all edible-medicinal plants (oxalis in small doses) that fix nitrogen and carbon, build soil structure and mycorrhizal relations, provide habitat and food for all forms of creatures and help reduce soil erosion and thus sediment flows into the river – sediments that could potentially kill aquatic life. The areas of restoration carried out by humans, which have ecological status, is especially marked by pollutants (plastic bags) and soil disturbance created by heavy machinery and the spraying of glysophate poisons. Where there might eventually be some ecological value in this sort of anthropocentric reconstruction of the biosphere (if left to its own devices) the ecological benefits being carried out autonomously by the more-than-human seem far more significant, generating no pollution and requiring no money. This photo shows an example of the two zones – the autonomous and the anthropocentric split down the middle.

Earlier I had walked past the local primary school and noted two large banners on the front fence advertising both Coles and Woolworths supermarkets. These two con campaigns from Australia's industrial food duopoly were something to do with raising money for school sports equipment. After I left Diamond Creek I waited a long time for a break in the traffic to cross Main Road and walked on towards Montsalvat recalling Vandana's brilliant critique of car ideology in Soil Not Oil. Not far from where I was to hear her speak I came across a disturbing sign, which was more evidence of so-called 'green' initiatives really being an act of warfare against the planet. To use money (to be in debt) to buy poisons to kill what freely and lovingly avails itself to us is the very definition of insanity.

I arrived early at Montsalvat and sat in the barn where the event was to take place. Vandana Shiva also arrived early and I introduced myself. She is a remarkable being, fiercely intelligent, a stern defender of the grandmotherly earth. I took around 20 minutes of footage of Vandana speaking before my camera's memory ran out. I then relied on my own, transferring technics for my mind's ecological carrying capacity. I'll upload a short video of excerpts from Vandana's talk shortly.

Afterwards there was time for a few questions. Mine went something like this: 
One environmentalist [Jensen (2006:547)] believes that the only level of technology truly sustainable was developed in the Stone-Age, a million years ago. We know industrial technology is inherently abusive and damaging but what level of technology, between a million years ago and say 300 years ago, do you think should we be employing? 
To which she immediately dressed down my question, attacking the very notion of 'levels', calling them Cartesian, abstract, mechanistic. Jensen has written extensively on the ills of Descartes and favouring abstract and mechanistic thinking, but it's obviously still so entrenched. Vandana's attack on my language is indeed a gift. "Yes," I was thinking as she spoke, "yes levels are these things, and more than this they are also affluence speaking." She went on (and I'm paraphrasing her here): "Collapse is already occurring, people will use what tools they have available to make a life." And of course this is the same argument permaculturalists follow; that biological activity and technical complexity is enabled by what energy is available.


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