Sir David Attenborough
A Life on Our Planet: My Witness Statement and A Vision for the Future
"rewild the world," and other wise quotations by david attenborough
Anyone and everyone should read and watch A Life on Our Planet, regardless of however much or little experience they have in matters of our natural world.
If Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring is how it started, A Life on Our Planet is how it’s going.
David Attenborough’s well-known career both as a talented film maker and as passionate explorer of worlds puts him in the perfect place to tell us about the changes in our world and what they mean for humanity.
At the age of 94, many would have already slipped into a mellow retirement, understanding that they would not be the ones to take the brunt of climate change, however much they contributed to its occurrence. However, Attenborough’s dedication to us and our world have motivated him to continue his environmental activism via writing this stunning, heartbreaking, and truly universal publication of what we are destroying and how it, in turn, will destroy us.
As Attenborough walks us through what has happened to our only planet and what will happen to those of us living on it – decade by decade, decision by decision – I would like to highlight a few of his incredible odes related to our dying planet.
Dr. Vandana Shiva
Who Really Feeds the World? - The Failures of Agribusiness and the Promise of Agroecology
"We have the duty and the right to defend life on Earth," and more from Dr. Vandana Shiva
Dr. Shiva is an amazingly intelligent woman from India. After graduating with her doctorate in 1978, she has continued to spend decades diving into both interdisciplinary research and incredible activism in her home country, including but not limited to founding the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, which led to the starting of Navdanya, an organization dedicated to seed saving and seed sharing along with fighting against oppressive policy, writing over thirty publications, including many books, and assisting several grassroots organizations worldwide.
Her specialties are diverse and deeply interconnected to each other, but if I had to summarize, I would say that they are agroecology, Indian history, environmental policy, writing, feminism, bioethics, and grassroots movements. She is a strong supporter of localization rather than globalization, promoting the recognition of indigenous and women’s traditional farming knowledge, and protecting our soils.
In one of her books, Who Really Feeds the World? - The Failures of Agribusiness and the Promise of Agroecology, Dr. Shiva enlightens us with what is really happens throughout our grocery stores, agricultural land, corporations, and government legislations.
In this book, Dr. Shiva describes attempts to “improve” agriculture with pesticides, herbicides, and other chemicals as violent. I would have to agree with her; violence is causing harm to another, and covering our food in poison certainly hurts innumerable amounts of people, plants, animals, insects, bacteria, and other important aspects of the food cycle. Moreover, it has also led to violence against the indigenous peoples of the world who have suffered disproportionately at the harm to their ways of life.
She even cites how, in 1889, Dr. John Augustus Voelcker—who was sent to advise Indian farms on how to grow food—said that “there is little or nothing that can be improved.” Sadly, what is mostly known as the Green Revolution substituted thousands of years of knowledge for industrial agriculture, which supported monocropping, poison, subsidies, GMOs, etc. This overrides the careful evolution of relationships that had formed between our soil, water, and food. Now, soils are being depleted of nutrients, crops are much more vulnerable to disease, practices are water intensive, and our food is lacking in nutrition and full of carcinogens.
“While farmers breed for diversity, corporations breed for uniformity. While farmers breed for resilience, corporations breed for vulnerability. While farmers breed for taste, quality, and nutrition, industries breed for industrial processing and long distance transportation in a globalized food system.”
The goal for corporations is to make money. Anything that threatens not only the money that they are making but also the money that they could theoretically be making, must be stopped. Several corporations, and Monsanto is used as a specific example in the section “Seed Freedom Feeds the World, Not Seed Dictatorship,” have influenced legislations worldwide to make it illegal for anyone to save seeds (to keep the seeds grown from a plant they grew with seeds they already paid for). First, Monsanto patented its seeds, saying that its seeds were its own special invention. However, the thing about plants is that many are pollinated; try as one might, cross-pollination between people who use Monsanto seeds and people who have been using their very own for millennia can still happen.
Dr. Shiva frequently talks about “seed freedom,” which of course does not come as a surprise considering that is a focus of Navdanya. The creation of Navdanya itself was a response to legislations that corporations, like Monsanto, pushed for that not only forbid farmers from saving any seeds from corporations but also punished them if any genetic material wound up in a farmer’s crop (even by accident, like when plants are pollinated, which farmer’s would have no control over, and even might despise, not wanting Monsantos poisoned and inefficient seeds). In the section “Seed Freedom Feeds the World, Not Seed Dictatorship,” Dr. Shiva describes the idea of seed freedom in the following excerpt:
We use the term ‘seed freedom’ to talk about the right of the seed as a living, self-organized system that can evolve freely without the threat of extinction, genetic contamination, or termination through technologies designed to make seeds sterile. Seed freedom is the freedom of bees to pollinate freely, without extinction due to poisons. Seed freedom is the freedom of the web of life to weave itself in integrity and resilience, fostering interconnectedness and well-being for all. Seed freedom is the right of farmers to save, exchange, breed, and sell farmers’ varieties—seeds that have been evolved over millennia—without interference by the state or corporations. Seed freedom is the freedom, of eaters to have access to food grown from seeds bred for diversity, taste, flavor, quality, and nutrition.
Shiva says food is our leader—everyone needs to eat food to survive, therefor food is something that influences our decisions—but that we must have a food democracy, and organization of food dynamics based in the local needs of the people and not a food dictatorship based on the wants of corporations. Currently, we are subject to the rule of monopolies. Dr. Shiva tells us that “the idea that free trade is based on competition is a myth.”
She reveals that five companies control our seeds: Monsanto, Syngenta, DuPont, Bayer, and Dow. Five companies control our grain: Cargill, Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), Bunge, Glencore International, and Louis Dreyfus. Five processing companies control our food and beverage: PepsiCo, JBS, Tyson Foods, Danone, and Nestle. Five retail companies control our “food retail”: Walmart, Carrefour, Metro Group, Aeon, and Tesco.
These companies have a conflict of interest with us. Companies do not live or die. They do not need clean water or biodiversity. They will keep exploiting the Earth to make money until they cannot continue to do so. And while companies may have people working within them, those people are simply a means to an end and the future is not thought about. We have limited time to respond. The best time to do so was years and years ago, but the second-best time? Now.
“If we do not respond, or if we have a fragmented and weak response, species will irreversibly disappear. Agriculture, including the food and cultural spectrum dependent on biodiversity, will disappear. Small-scale farmers will disappear, healthy food diversity will disappear, seed sovereignty will disappear, and food sovereignty will disappear.”
However, all is not lost. Dr. Shiva knows that “we are capable of making a transition to a better design that is ethical, just, and sustainable.” She gives us guidelines on how to make that transition:
“First, countries should give priority in their budgets to support the poorest consumers so that they have access to sufficient food. Second, countries should give priority to their domestic food production in order to become less dependent on the world market.”
These are not the only suggestions Shiva has for us, though. The source of the organization’s name, Navdanya means “nine seeds” and it also means “nine gifts." I cannot fit all the important points she makes in these few pages, but I have summarized “The Way Forward” below, which describes those nine transitions that Dr. Shiva says we need to make:
One: Fiction to Reality: erasing the idea that we need corporations to feed us.
Two: Mechanistic, reductionist science to an agroecological science based on relationships and interconnectedness.
Three: Seed as the “intellectual property” of corporations to seed as living, diverse, and evolving: toward seed as the commons that is the source of food and the source of life.
Four: Chemical intensification to biodiversity intensification and ecological intensification, and from monocultures to diversity.
Five: Psuedoproductivity to real productivity: psuedoproductivity focuses on simply counting monocrops, real productivity “must internalize all social, health, and ecological costs,” as well as the benefits of “ecological agriculture for public health, social cohesion, and ecological sustainability.”
Six: Fake food to real food, from food that destroys out health to food that nourishes our bodies and minds.
Seven: The obsession with “big” to a nurturing of “small,” from global to local.
Eight: False, manipulated, and fictitious prices based on the Law of Exploitation to real and just prices based on the Law of Return.
Nine: The false of idea of competition to the reality of cooperation.
Dr. Shiva seems very hopeful that these changes can happen if we take action. In her last sentence, one that is truly inspiring, she says, “When we come together in harmony, we can cultivate a paradise on Earth.”
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