Indian activist calls upon cleaner, more natural alternatives to petroleum
On Mar. 12, every available seat in the Hall Building’s main floor auditorium was taken as people gathered to listen to a free lecture by world-renowned environmental activist, Dr. Vanada Shiva, titled “Soil, not Oil.”
Hosted by the Concordia Student Union (CSU) and the Sustainability Action Fund, the talk was focused on how the relationship between fossil fuels and industrial agriculture is contributing to climate change.
“We are eating oil,” said Shiva. “Synthetic fertilizers are based on fossil fuels and we’ve made all of our agriculture dependent on these synthetic fertilizers. We have this false idea that soil on its own can’t feed us.”
In her lecture, Shiva argued that “oil-based agriculture” is justified by corporations and politicians be- cause of its ability to process more food. However she said it is leading to the “destruction of the earth” and “war with the earth, soil, atmosphere and climate change.”
According to the fifth assessment report released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), agriculture, forestry and land-use changes made up 20 to 25 per cent of total greenhouse gas emissions in 2010. In regards to in- dustrial agriculture, these emissions come from the use of herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers, industrial farming equipment, transportation, and large-scale animal production.
A significant portion of Shiva’s work is centered on protecting seed diversity and rejecting genetic engineering of seeds. “What an achievement,” she said Thursday night, about genetically modified organisms (GMOs), “to destroy what supports life and call it progress.”
Shiva explained in the lecture how genetic modification of seeds, carried out by companies like Monsanto, is “biopiracy,” or putting a patent on life. “It’s a very crude way to function. We must choose, as a society, to be part of the web of life.”
Shiva also discussed the importance of biodiversity, specifically of seeds. She said the number of seeds used to grow fruits and vegetables we purchase at grocery stores is very small. “We are losing species one thousand times faster than before. Ninety per cent of diversity loss is due to industrial agriculture.” She explained how monocultures, pesticides, synthetic fertilizers and GMOs are all contributing to this loss.
Nevertheless she remained hopeful and praised Concordia University students for their work in promoting sustainability projects and addressing climate change. Shiva received an award at Concordia’s Sustainability Champion Award Gala, which took place ear-
lier that evening.
She was preceded at the podium by guest lecturer Dominic Champagne, an award-winning writer, direc- tor and theatre stage producer. Champagne led the movement that resulted in a province-wide shale-gas ban in Quebec.
He began his lecture addressing a statement from Prime Minister Stephen Harper, released that day, in which Harper invited Greenpeace to be more concerned with citizens. Harper’s statement comes after the Mayor of Saguenay, Jean Tremblay, said in an online video that he wants to start a movement “against Greenpeace and intellectuals of the world,” in an effort to preserve jobs in Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean.
“We live in a country where our own Prime Minister is trying to antagonize ecologists, as if we are eco-terrorists,” Champagne said. “I think the first statement I’d like to share with you tonight, is that I’m proud to be an intellectual and an ecologist.”
The focus of Champagne’s lecture was the influence of citizens, democracy and ecology movements. Speaking from his own experience, he emphasized the power of groups. “If we involve ourselves in democratic action, we can win this war,” he said.
Forty-five minutes before the lecture started, a line of people wound around the first floor of the Hall Building and led out the front doors. By 8 p.m., every seat in the audito- rium was filled, with some wishful late-arrivals unable to attend due to an unavailability of seats.
The event was organized the CSU’s VP Sustainability, Jessica Cabana, and VP External Affairs and Mobilization, Anthony Garoufalis-Auger. It comes a month before the CSU participates in the Act on Climate demonstration in Québec City, set to take place on April 11. The CSU is a member association of Students Against the Pipeline (ECO), a coalition of Quebec up to 150,000 students and their associa- tions that oppose oil pipelines in the province.
The lecture was also held in collaboration with the Concordia Council on Student Life (CCSL) and Citizens in Action, a non-profit group that is made up of people committed to social and economic justice issues.