- Cautionary Notes on Sustainability Principles
The large auditorium was packed when Vandana Shiva visited Arizona State University (ASU) in the fall of 2014 as the public guest speaker for the HfE North American Observatory's third workshop, Transdisciplinary Imagination(s) for the Anthropocene: Dinner 2040. Shiva is among many activists and theorists who have reached broad general consensus that global society should strive for a high quality of life that is equitably shared and sustainable for all species (Adamson 2016, 136). She is also part of a wider movement among international actors toward new forms of grassroots political organizing and intergenerational justice (Di Chiro 1992, 2013).
Shiva is particularly well known for her efforts to preserve seeds, promote traditional foods, and oppose the dominant pesticide- and proprietary-seed-based model of agribusiness, as well as many other food-system issues. She is perhaps best known (and most vilified) for her opposition to genetically modified foods (GMOs). Her arguments on these issues, which she iterated in her lecture, are compelling. They reflect the disastrous history of corporate and government manipulations of the world's food supply, which has left us with an unsustainable and nutrient-poor food system. Factory farming kills vital species on which humans depend. Government subsidies for major crops have reduced biodiversity in plant species and displaced many nutritious whole grains, such as millet, with refined carbohydrates, such as white wheat flour and polished rice. In addition, those subsidies have glutted the world's diet with corn syrup. Fertilizers and chemicals promoted by [End Page 85] major chemical companies have depleted the soil and poisoned the water supply.
The answer to feeding a hungry world, Shiva insists, is support for local, small-scale agriculture, which provides needed jobs; community seed banks; a renewed sense of the commons for water and seed (without patents); collective action by small farmers, including indigenous women; and the decline of corporate ownership and control of the world's food supply. (Shiva notes that US corporations have the rights of people, without any accompanying responsibilities.)
Shiva's talk complemented the North American Observatory's commitment to the integration of environmental sustainability and social justice. Her talk also supported many of the principles that Paul Hirt and I distilled and adapted from a variety of international documents and expert consultants to create a list of environmental sustainability and social justice principles and values, as part of the Archive of Hope and Cautionary Tales.
As we composed the list, our expert consultants included steering committee member Julie Sze, visiting expert Giovanna Di Chiro, and HfE co–principal investigator Joni Adamson, as well as sustainability scientists and social scientists associated with ASU's Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute for Sustainability. Our document sources included existing international agreements and guidelines, such as The Principles of Environmental Justice, drawn up in 1991 by community leaders from the United States, Canada, Central and South America, and the Marshall Islands, at the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit in Washington, DC (Alston 2010; Ciment 2015, 635–36). We also drew from the 1987 Brundtland Report, Our Common Future, which redefined sustainable development in terms of meeting current needs without sacrificing the needs of future generations (World Commission on Environment and Development 1987), and from the 1992 Rio Earth Summit's Agenda 21 and Local Agenda 21 (Commission on Sustainable Development 1992). Additional sources included the "Rights of Mother Earth" (2010), which urged the "recovery, revalidation, and strengthening of indigenous cosmovisions based on ancient and ancestral indigenous knowledge," as well as "The Future We Want," drafted at the 2012 Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development and signed by all UN member states (UN General Assembly 2012). [End Page 86]
In addition to these important international documents and experts, we extracted principles evident in the narratives included in the HfE's Archive of Hope and Cautionary Tales. The stories in the archive represent community debate and action in the US and elsewhere in the world for combining the goals of environmental sustainability and social justice. For the sake of simplicity, we created four main imperatives to represent our synthesis...