We are not shoppers in a global supermarket; we are citizens of the earth.’
Dr Shiva is a renowned activist, with a background in quantum physics, who has written many books and led many campaigns on a broad range of issues, including globalisation, biotechnology, agriculture and biodiversity. She founded the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, and Navdanya, an organisation that protects biodiversity conservation and farmers’ rights. Working locally with farmers in India, and campaigning internationally, she has led three successful challenges against transnational biotechnology companies, preventing the patenting of seeds.
Quantum theory has helped me tremendously. It has helped first and foremost in developing a worldview that recognises there aren’t essential qualities in things; the world is made of multitudes of forces in interaction, and out of this, things are some expression of it. The most important point about quantum theory is it tells you there’s nothing like a fixed quantity; what you have is potential. A particle can have a spin up or a spin down and it has both potentials, and which potential will get expressed depends on the context you create, which is why in quantum theory it’s also said that the observer makes a difference to what is observed. But the reality of it is, there are no determinate quantities. As in classical mechanics, they are potential, and that is why I can totally question the absurdity of genetic engineering and the absurdity of genetic determinism that says, We have found a gene that is going to do this that and the other.’
The expressions of genes are results of multiple interactions between multiple genes. The behaviour of a particular seed is a result of the water you give to it, the soil fertility you give to it, the care you give to it. In and of itself you can put any seed into a totally impoverished soil and give it no water, and you are not going to get a yield. That’s why these claims of miracle varieties, high-yielding varieties ó these are all false claims. I couldn’t have seen that falsehood if my mind had not been trained through quantum theory to recognise that properties are created through interactions between systems, they don’t inhere in individual parts and fragments of systems.
Quantum theory informs me a lot in thinking about progress. Any stable atom has a nucleus, around which an electron moves. The fact that the electron moves does not mean that the electron goes out of its stationary level. It moves in the same orbit and it keeps moving. The earth is also moving in an orbit. In quantum theory you can see the mobility of that electron, as you can see the movement of the earth in astrophysics, but you do not imagine that the earth should have the freedom to break out of its orbit, just as you do not imagine that the electron should break out of its stationary state. A crude classical mechanical thinking sees stationary and thinks static; it does not think stability, and that is the core problem with our thinking of progress.
Every society has constantly moved; every human being has to evolve; every seed we plant must grow into a mature plant and give us seed. But in the fact that we replenish a cycle, people who have a linear mechanical concept of progress think, Oh, static.’ What they would like to see is the kind of movement that we see when an electron collapses into the nucleus and unleashes uncontrollable energy. For them, devastation has become movement, and that is why constantly there is an assault on sustainable societies which do progress, change and evolve, but in a pace that can be sustained over time. Today, progress is literally riding on a bulldozer; you have progress when you can bulldoze the earth, tear down a tree, build a highway or a runway ó that is progress’. The bulldozer has become the symbol of progress, not the electron.
These are excerpts from interviews featured in the book Be The Change: Action and reflection from people transforming our world consists of a series of inspiring interviews conducted and compiled by Trenna Cormack and published by Love Books, ISBN 978-09555-213-00, £12.99. It’s available now from all good bookshops and at www.lovebooks.co.uk and www.bethechange.org.uk