Vandana Shiva: Fanatic or Fantasist?

A couple of days ago the environmentalist Mark Lynas gave an impassioned speech calling for environmentalists to drop their opposition to genetically modified crops. It is perhaps the best summation of the hole the environmental movement has dug for themselves on GM and all sides of this debate should watch it.

07 Mark Lynas from Oxford Farming Conference on Vimeo.

Perhaps as a sign of the change in attitudes on GM the reaction to Lynas’s speech from environmentalists has been somewhat muted. As was the case with the attempt to destroy Rothamsted’s GM wheat trial in May 2012 most environmentalists are simply ignoring what Lynas has said. However there has been one notable exception: Vandana Shiva. According to the Guardian she is one of “the top 100 women in the world.” Lynas’s speech drew this response from her on Twitter:

Here we have perhaps the world’s foremost opponent of GM crops suggesting that growing GM crops is the moral equivalent of rape. A vile statement I hope you will agree, but will this mean the environmental movement will consider ostracising her? My feeling is that it won’t.

Let’s consider some previous statements made by her. The following is probably among the silliest thing uttered in history of humanity by a supposedly serious thinker:

Terminator seeds are genetically modified to kill their own embryos, making them sterile at harvest. This means that if farmers save the seeds of these plants at harvest for future crops, the next generation of plants will not grow. Farmers would thus need to buy new seeds every
year.
After studying these seeds, molecular biologists warned of the possibility of terminator seeds spreading to surrounding food crops or to the natural environment—the gradual spread of sterility in seeding plants would result in a global catastrophe that could eventually wipe
out higher life forms, including humans.

I hope I don’t need to explain the flaw in her thinking. However, despite regularly flaunting her scientific credentials (she is forever calling herself a physicist despite only having an undergraduate degree in the subject) she does not seem capable of understanding the basics of sexual reproduction. This is not some trivial misunderstanding.

Consider however something a lot more sinister. Outlets such as the Huffington Post have frequently given her the opportunity to make quite stark claims about suicides among Indian farmers. She was recently invited on to the BBC’s Hard Talk series to make some rather astonishing statements on the subject:

In simple terms what she is claiming here is that every single farmer suicide in India is caused by the seed companies, and she often implies that it is caused mostly by the introduction of Bt cotton. Only a few days ago she repeated the claim, using the recent rapes in Delhi as a launchpad for her fanatical views:

 If there was a social audit of corporatising our seed sector, 270,000 farmers would not have been pushed to suicide in India since the new economic policies were introduced.

This claim also appeared in a report, commissioned by many NGOs including Friends of The Earth, given fawning coverage by the Guardian’s environment editor John Vidal.

In India, Monsanto’s advertising slogan is: “India  delights as cotton farmers’ lives transform for the
better.” But the widows of the more than 250,000
farmer suicides in India related to GM cotton
crop failures are certainly not delighting

As Mark Lynas wrote here these claims quickly fall apart when confronted by the facts. Yet these outright lies are often at the heart of claims made by the mainstream of the environmental movement, and even the future King of the United Kingdom.

The real issue however is whether Vandava Shiva is simply deluded, or actively malicious. In either case it is high time the environmental movement recognised that she is a deeply dangerous figure.

[Update: Vandana Shiva responded to a tweet challenging her on her view. Her response is perhaps as fanatical and dangerous as her original tweet:

]

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49 thoughts on “Vandana Shiva: Fanatic or Fantasist?”

  1. I have been livid about that rape statement for hours now–it’s only making me angrier every time I think about it. A woman in India was just brutally murdered, and she thinks this is even a little bit of a valid comparison? Appalled. Shocked. But I’m sure that’s her goal. Sick as it is.

    But yes, it’s not just an incident. It’s a pattern of dishonest rhetoric that’s gone on for a long time. She is smart enough to understand plenty of things, including that she’s been lying about terminators for years.

    1. My own view is that she actively malicious. Her statements on farmer suicides shift around too much for these things to be views she has really thought out. It’s just disgraceful opportunism.

      If anyone else made similar remarks trivializing rape they would no longer be given platforms by the left wing press. I suspect though that the Huffington Post will just keep inviting her back.

      1. It’s starting to hit the fan now, and there’s awareness now and some good support from big hitters. Nice to see:

    2. Most of the statements by men it seems about Dr. Shiva’s comment reject it without any rational argument or thinking. As others here and elsewhere point out, the analogy strong, though it is is accurate. Rape is a act of power, it poses that – ” because I physically can, I have control over your body, I have the choice to violate you…..” That is the same as corporations and farmers who use their products are doing the same thing…..Some of those farmers are cajoled or forced cajoled, enticed or forced ( by market control etc) by business, or government, but they are still perpetrating the act.

      Terminator Gene technology was defeated years ago not by lies, but by a world that recognized the potential dangers of genetic contamination. Yes I understand the irony the way you quoted words out of context, But there was enough questions in the scientific and regulatory community to stop it.

      Lastly, while it is true that Dr Shiva’s PhD was not in the Physics Dept, she was trained as a physicist and her dissertation topic at the University of Western Ontario, Canada, in 1978 was “Hidden variables and locality in quantum theory.”

      1. “Terminator Gene technology was defeated years ago not by lies, but by a world that recognized the potential dangers of genetic contamination.”

        This is akin to saying: “I inherited my sterility from my father”.

        “Terminator” was defeated because it did’nt work. At least it did’nt work the way it was described by the scaremongers: as a tool to force farmers to go back to the market every year for their seeds.

        Just sit back and think, if you can (think, sit back should be easy): which farmer would be ready to buy “Terminator seed” and give up his ability to grow his own seed for the next season?

        “Lastly, while it is true…” Well, what is true in her resume? Credibility starts with honesty and transparency, and, unfortunately, Ms. – pardon! Dr. – does’nt display either.

    3. The frustrating thing is that there are some valid arguments to be made, not against GMO crops per se, but about making absolutely certain that every such crop has its impact on human health thoroughly tested before releasing it to the world. Some studies have indeed demonstrated worrying effects on the health of animals, and it would be careless for both the environmental and scientific communities not to take these seriously. But that does not mean we should throw the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak.

      There are also valid arguments to be made about the conduct of various companies who have claimed ownership of intellectual rights over various crops that had been selectively bred by generations of small farmers, particularly in India. This has led to massive crop failures over the years, due to the failure of prescribed monocultures to take into account differences in regional climate. Diversification was how farmers used to deal with this issue.

      This can definitely be seen as a cause of farmer suicide, but GMO crops are not to blame. It’s a case of corporate greed, that has now for some years been playing itself out in courts, as the Indian government also buys back the rights to many of the selectively bred species of rice in particular. Many of these selectively bred crops already have properties desirable in GMOs, and it would be nice to see these both acknowledged and used.

      Shiva is nothing but a disappointment to those who are educated about the facts of GMO farming, as her pseudo-scientific explanations and her rhetoric, which ranges from exaggerated to malicious to baseless argument, makes it much harder for those with reasonable, legitimate concerns to be heard.

  2. What are her qualifications for speaking on this subject anyway? And in the context of the recent rape atrocity in India I am outraged! Giving any space to her statements is a mistake, she is merely stirring trouble .

  3. Looking over twitter, I see some people I follow in the food movement who follow her (thanks twitter!) and I certainly hope some will publicly criticize this kind of false equivalency despite their own anti-GMO positions. But, like you, I don’t really hope that they will.

    But, I don’t really think this is all that surprising from Shiva. She’s long held an extremely paternalistic view of farmers. She doesn’t seem to believe that farmers who voluntarily choose hybrid seeds (or GMO seeds they can’t legally save and re-plant) are making a free choice (wonder what she thinks of American farmers?). GMO seeds (in her mind) keep farmers in poverty and destroy the earth. She might think a rape analogy is the only language shocking enough to express her beliefs about them.

    Now, since I’ve just imagined a mindset where a rape analogy “makes sense”, I must go wash.

    1. Many farmers don’t really have a choice. If the entire food distribution network is monopolised by a few corporations, they have no choice but to grow a certain type of crop (usually a monoculture). Otherwise, they will be outcompeted out of farming. They will not be able to recover their costs.

      I think it will be great when farmers have a real choice : what type of crop to grow, whether to use organic practices or pesticides, whether to use crop rotation, whether to use GMO .. But the reality today is that this choice only exists in theory. In practice, there is only an illusion of choice.

      Pointing this out is not being paternalistic.

      1. You’re basically arguing that because the market currently demands certain crops and farmers thus can’t make money unless they grow those crops, they don’t have choice? So does everyone who has to get a job that actually pay denied choice as well? Moreover, I have talked to some US farmers online (google the excellent The Farmer’s Life blog for example) and I think it’s absurd to claim farmers (at least in the US) don’t have choices in agricultural practices. Farmers overwhelmingly (in the US) choose certain methods because they largely work. But even there, there’s a lot more variation than people realize.

        In any case, I hardly think limitations and complexities in the agricultural markets excuses Shiva’s paternalistic claims. She seems to think that any farmer who choses a GE crop (like many Indian farmers who chose Bt cotton seed — even sadly from dealers who sell fake seed) are manipulated and being duped. I think that is an incredibly negative view of people’s ability to decide for themselves. There’s no evidence all those farmers are being duped — it’s just necessary to claim that because otherwise she’d have to explain why farmers repeatedly make choices she claims don’t work.

      2. That’s how markets work. Unless you want to take away the consumer’s right to choose. Deciding what other people should eat (and how much they should pay) is either paternalism or crony-capitalism.

      3. Kiran, basically you are saying it’s not fair that farmers have to worry about making money? That’s basically it, right? That they should be able to plant whatever is their “passion” and receive just as much money? money from whom? The reason farmers plant what they do is because that’s what people want to buy. Actually they do have a choice right now. They are free to plant whatever they want. they can put in all organic heirloom tomatoes if they want, Why don’t they? Because they want money. To you that may seem dirty and yucky, but it’s reality. We farm eighty acres and we alternate between corn and beans. We do this because they grow well and make us money. Money puts a roof over our heads and buys us ipads and cars and stuff. Perhaps you would rather we live in quaint thatched cottages, tilling the land by hand. If you wish to pretend that economic reality doesn’t exist go ahead but don’t bother the grown ups.

      4. One other thing. Enough with this whole “farming is controlled by corporations” crap. In reality, most farms in the US are NOT controlled by corporations but by families. Corporate farms only account for FOUR percent of all US farms. Family’s choose the methods they do because they work, plain and simple.

  4. Vandana Shiva is not the only prominent “environmentalist” who loudly claims to be a physicist despite having only a tenuous academic claim to that title. At least she HAS an undergraduate degree in the subject. My favorite false physicist claimant is Amory Lovins, who does not have an earned degree in ANY subject.

    He has been known to make some pretty emotional statements about people who advocate for nuclear energy, another target where people on the left seem to feel like those who engage in the science or the technology are doing the unspeakable and deserve obnoxious comparisons.

    Just last week I had to block someone on Twitter for comparing my work on new nuclear power plants to working on concentration camp gas chambers.

    The sad thing is I am probably farther to the left than either of the Clintons and perhaps farther left than President Obama.

    1. Rob, you mean an “expert” like your self? ” Rod Adams gained his nuclear knowledge as a submarine engineer officer and as the founder of a company that tried to develop a market for small, modular reactors from 1993-1999. He began publishing Atomic Insights in 1995 and began producing The Atomic Show Podcast in 2005.” from your own website

      no Phd, not even a claim to a bachelor’s degree…. I do think your experience counts, and I bet you have done a lot of non academic research on your topic of expertise and your views are interesting, but you should not go around calling the kettle black

      1. @Robert Wilson

        > “Now, go fuck off.”

        More evidence that you are not someone any should heed. You have no credibility here.

  5. Interesting references to who is qualified to speak out on a topic.
    In part, Mark Lynas’ speech engaged me, and doubtless many others, because it detailed his own journey:

    “I had to learn how to read scientific papers, understand basic statistics and become literate in very different fields from oceanography to paleoclimate, none of which my degree in politics and modern history helped me with a great deal.”

    While it’s surely right to denounce someone that uses trumped up or false claims on qualifications to further their own position, I wouldn’t rule out the voice of others because they have no such title.
    As Mark again showed in the subsequent post on the farmers’ suicides, it is a rigourous application of facts that should count.

  6. I don’t think the rape analogy is off the bend. It is a logical outcome of a worldview that equates earth / nature as a divine feminine being who is constantly at the threat of being violated by greedy (masculine) corporations with the technological aggression.

    If one subscribes to this worldview, the GM analogy to rape follows logically. But such analogy is equally valid for any form of technology, including slash/burn agriculture or crop rotation agriculture. Agriculture has never been kind to nature. A phenomenal number of plant and animal species went extinct when man started tilling the land. This is a selective amnesia on the part of environmentalists like Ms. Shiva.

    1. Her idea of proper treatment of plants and seed is similarly weird. Minor genetic tweeks using modern tech is “raping” plants (and the earth) but somehow all the years of breeding, forcing plants to grow how we want, destroying plants not useful to us, etc. isn’t.

  7. A point about the issue of qualifications: it is not about what degree you have, a lot of people who are involved in this debate, including me, are trying to learn as they follow the issues. The point is that a person who can make a remark equating GMO use to rape when this very issue in its most shocking form has shaken a country to the core, is using their public position in an irresponsible manner , diverting the debate with outrageous and alarmist statements so they do not have to discuss the facts.

    1. Your complaining about diverting from the issues, yet are doing so with this comment. I was simply pointing out that is being dishonest about being a physicist, along with many other things.

      1. This was not intended to be a reply to your comment, sorry if it appeared that way. I wanted to say that given how things are in India right now, using this metaphor indicates a willingness to manipulate feelings which I think is dishonest.

  8. Methinks the rise and rise of neo-environmentalists indicates they just don’t get climate change [http://guymcpherson.com/2013/01/climate-change-summary-and-update/]. Nor do they get the historical role of “development” – Shiva understands its impact on India’s millions of 2ha farmers – Lynas clearly does not.

    “The neo-environmentalists [like the financial neo-liberals] are distinguished by their attitude toward new technologies, which they almost uniformly see as positive. Civilization, nature, and people can only be “saved” by enthusiastically embracing biotechnology, synthetic biology, nuclear power, geoengineering, and anything else with the prefix “new” that annoys Greenpeace. The traditional green focus on “limits” is dismissed as naïve. We are now, in [Stuart] Brand’s words, “as gods,” and we have to step up and accept our responsibility to manage the planet rationally through the use of new technology guided by enlightened science.
    Neo-environmentalists also tend to exhibit an excitable enthusiasm for markets. They like to put a price on things like trees, lakes, mist, crocodiles, rainforests, and watersheds, all of which can deliver “ecosystem services,” which can be bought and sold, measured and totted up. Tied in with this is an almost religious attitude toward the scientific method [and economics, as it that were a science]. Everything that matters can be measured by science and priced by markets, and any claims without numbers attached can be easily dismissed. This is presented as “pragmatism” but is actually something rather different: an attempt to exclude from the green debate any interventions based on morality, emotion, intuition, spiritual connection, or simple human feeling.”
    [Paul Kingsnorth, Dark Ecology – Searching for truth in a post-green world, http://www.orionmagazine.org/index.php/articles/article/7277/%5D

  9. It is alarming how alarmist these comments and this article are. Dr. Shiva probably knows more about both these subjects than most know. Anyone who has read ecofeminism will know the comparisons Shiva, Plumwood, and Merchant, just to name a few, make between the earth and women. Yes, obviously the earth can and has been ‘raped’ (metaphorically). Yes, there is likely a connection between the urges that lead us to defile our environment and to defile women. After all, just weeks ago, Republicans with their binders full of women were sanctioning ‘legitimate rape.’ Where is all the outcry against them? Shiva likely knows India’s various situations, and the earth, better than any of these PC commentators here; it is a shame so much moralizing should be wasted on a red herring.

    1. No, Shiva does not know the situation better than the girl who was raped by 6 men and left to die, whose death has made the whole country rise in protest and every human on planet earth can claim to “know” the earth as well as any other so her statement cannot be excused on those grounds. And if you have been following the news in the USA, those who talked of legitimate rape and so on were condemned and the election results let them know where they stood. Those who cannot discuss the issue of GMOs or indeed any other aspect of the food system on facts alone have no option but to resort to red herrings and outrageous statements.

    2. so prateado, i assume you don’t eat. Ingesting gaia’s sacred plants obviously is a gross transgression, one might almost say “rape”. In fact, your very existence is defiling the magical earth-mother.

  10. non humans have rights too don’t they?

    id hold off a little on the whiteous indignation at Shivas earth rights clarification and consider how our decapitation from the rest of nature allows us to think up evermore cunning methods of abuse

    the science is no doubt fascinating, but agricorporates in neoliberal times will make a tyrannical mess off this and the PR of saving Africa leaves me mourning how scientists can be such unreflexive mugs so much of the time.

    The flour protests in spring prompted the following document

    developmentia.tumblr.com/image/23291175809

    btw
    are you into modelling ecosystems services with your maths?

  11. I think Vandana Shiva’s comments should be read in the Indian context where elderly Right Wing Hindu nutjobs have taken the opportunity presented by the recent horrific rape/murder (one of a number) to condemn Technocratic modernization. Siva does have a (small) rural constituency and her network of NGO’s will be looking to realign themselves with the ‘Saffron’ (i.e. Hindutva nutjobs) element for tactical reasons.
    I may mention that it is absolutely routine in Indian politics to tell outrageous lies. Not millions but billions (more than one billion) of members of Minority communities are said to have been killed by the evil George Bush in complicity with the puppet heads of India, Pakistan etc. Vandana Shiva is actually one of the less repellent people on the margins of Indian politics- I suppose the reason for this is that she can’t go too far because a lot of her funding and support comes from the West.
    Still, what people in the West should realize is that the Greens may tie up with the Reactionary parties in the Third World. The fact is endemic food shortage shores up the power of old elites whereas cheap food liberates the economy- it frees up agricultural labor.
    The recent horrific gang-rape is a case in point. A rural family had been able to take the first couple of steps up the ladder to middle class prosperity. Their daughter was brutalized and left for dead at least partly because the thugs responsible resented what she represented- people climbing out of poverty and powerlessness through education. I may mention, the Indian police has been responsible for just such atrocities against ‘uppity’ females from the oppressed rural classes.
    I don’t say Vandana Siva is a natural ally of the Hindutva obscurantists but the problem is once you start telling lies and indulging in fantasies then you find your allies only amongst liars and fantasists. It’s a pity. I recall considering her a great role model just a decade or so ago.

  12. I really think we should increase our food production to support our growing population. In India, where we are planning for second green revolution, the GM crops have become necessity. However, we should be concerned about the negative effects of GM crops. Biotechnology is evolving day by day. We are getting safer species/varieties. The similar post I read entitled “Why I’m in favour of GM crops. Please read here http://greencleanguide.com/2012/11/15/why-i-support-gm-crops/

  13. ‘money is a prime motive’ as columbo would say.
    global seed corporations have money and motive to tell lies, vandana shiva does not.
    from a personal opinion, ive eaten bread that gave me huge painful stomach cramps and serious intestinal agro.
    am i gluten or wheat intolerant? hardly, bread is one of those things i consume most and generally without problems.
    yet whenever i eat a whole grain granary ‘healthy’ loaf im cramped up bloated and in agony for hours……its so bad i quit eating it in favour of processed white flour bread.
    why do i believe i get cramps with whole grain? Bacillus thuringiensis, that bacterium that the tefal heads at monsanto decided was a good idea to engineer into their BT seeds.
    of course the studies that monsanto pays for will always say that monsanto seeds are good and never toxic, and no harm will ever be posed to humans that consume their produce.

    why do i not get the same cramps from white processed flour? i believe the processing kills the bacterium that is otherwise still active in wholegrain flour.

    the stuff is bad for people no matter what studies monsanto pays for.

    id put money on it that the recent explosion in gluten sensitive people and those with IBS is purely down to an intolerance of toxic food produced with BTseed ingredients.

    vandana shiva is a hero, without people like her global corporations would have a free reign to do as they like, that should never happen, ever.

    1. Can you say psychosomatic? And vandana shiva has no motive to lie? Are you freaking kidding me? By that logic every cult leader and religious crazy person in history must’ve been telling the truth as well because they were not motivated by “greed”. I would trust a greedy corporation long before I trusted some peddler of pseudo scientific garbage. My experience has taught me that greed is not good or bad, but it is very predictable. Corporations have an incentive in making their product safe or at least moderately so, both to avoid bad press and lawsuits. Even at their very worst they are far more benign than those motivated by zealous beliefs in saving the world.

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