This ‘Mother Earth Day’, we must pledge to resist new-age colonisers intent on owning nature itself

Robber barons who gave us oil and climate change want to create new markets of carbon, reducing biodiversity and nature into financial assets to be owned and traded

Representative image
Representative image

Vandana Shiva

The theme of the 2022 Mother Earth Day, which is on Friday, April 22, is “invest in our planet”. The original meaning of the word “invest”, from the root “vest” and the Latin “vestis” (garment) was to “make beautiful”, and to clothe. I have often heard tribal peasants as they go to work in their fields say, “I am going to beautify the earth”.

But the word “invest” almost universally has a different connotation today. The change has an ugly colonial history. A mere 10 years after the creation of the East India Company in 1600, the meaning of investment changed from being diverse ways of clothing and "surrounding” to "use money to produce profit” in connection with corporate colonial trade.

It was John Locke who extended it to the “circulation of money” to suit the needs of private property and the money-centred structures that were then being built by colonial commerce.

The currency of life is life, not money. Our planet connects us to her life and the earth family through flows of living currencies of energy and breath, water and nourishment. Currency means flow. It is the flow of life and love through the web of life in nature and society which sustains as one.

It should, therefore, be plain that food, water, breath, care are the currencies of life. The diverse currencies of life grow the infrastructure of life so all lives can thrive. That was the meaning with its roots in Latin till the 17th century.

Money is a mere means of exchange of real goods and services produced by earth and through real work by people.

GDP “growth”, which is much treasured and even revered today, has been a journey in which money has mutated into a mysterious construct named “capital”, which could create wealth by denying and appropriating the creativity of nature, women, farmers, workers; it could enclose the commons and own the commons as private property.

This “capital” then mutated into “investment”, which further mutated, through multiple follow-on constructions into “returns on investment” under which those who do no real work control wealth created by exploitation of nature. People can thus accumulate more wealth, and use the wealth to further exploit nature and society. The ecological crises grow. Poverty, misery, exclusion also grow.

Financialisation of nature is a further mutation of “invest” from giving care to meaningless profits for a few and relentless money-making. The delusion that money is the currency of life has allowed money-making and money makers to be rewarded and even worshipped, while our sense of interconnectedness is extinguished, and our potential for compassion is lost.

It is therefore significant for all citizens to understand the meaning of the theme for this Earth Day, with the word “invest” boldly planted in there. We need to return to the original meaning of “invest”, as clothing, and making beautiful.

We need to clothe the earth with biodiversity of trees on our farms and forests, biodiversity of crops in our fields and gardens. We need to intensify biodiversity to intensify photosynthesis to intensify nature’s flows of life. We need to plant seeds and care for the living soil so the seed, soil and sun can intensify the flow of their living energies, healing broken cycles.

This can only happen when we further invest in love, care and compassion to regenerate the earth and stop the wars against the earth and her peoples.

For the money machine, “invest in the planet” means extract the last drop of life from the complex array of living and breathing earth systems, extract the last freedom from humans and other species.

The robber barons who gave us oil and climate change want to create new markets of carbon, new property in nature’s ecological services, reducing biodiversity and nature into financial assets to be owned and traded. Some are plain extractive capitalists. Others are neo capitalists. And some others are philanthro-capitalists trying to own and privatise all of nature and our lives.

They are mutating into “life lords” to whom we will have to pay rent to breathe, eat, drink. What nature provides for free as a gift will now be a commodity we “buy” at high cost and through “digital social credits” in the new economy which builds on the old colonisation.

Consider that in 2021, we saw the launch of an Intrinsic Exchange Group (IEG), which says it is “pioneering a new asset class based on nature and the benefits that nature provides (termed ecosystem services)”.

IEG says these “services include carbon capture, soil fertility and water purification, amongst others.” This is called the “foundation of a new form of corporation called a NAC, short for Natural Asset Company, whose “primary purpose … is to maximise ecological performance, the production of ecosystem services, to which they have rights and authority to manage.”

The IEG works in partnership with the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) to create “a world-class platform to list these companies for trading, enabling the conversion of natural assets into financial capital.”

In this, consider how earth systems have been further tortured to produce capital in a venture that has the among its investors these entities: NYSE, The Rockefeller Foundation, Inter-American Development Bank (founded 1959, considered the largest source of development financing for Latin America and the Caribbean) and Aberdare Ventures, a venture capital firm based in San Francisco.

Citizens must be alert to what essentially is a new form of colonialism, a new ownership, a new enclosure of the commons that seeks to not only own nature but also its ecological services. The assets include “biological systems that provide clean air, water, foods, medicines, a stable climate, human health and societal potential.”

IEG is one example of a larger thinking that is at the root of our crisis. The crisis is of greed, of the attempt to own natures life-giving gifts like seeds and water and forest and the farms that are created with love to invest them with beauty. The more the real world is turned into a financial asset, the more homelessness and hunger will grow.

We must recognise this Earth Day that this is a violation of nature’s economy, the rights of mother earth, the rights of all beings and of human rights.

The human race can convert nature into cash through extractivism. But we cannot turn cash into nature. An African peasant captured the ontological and ecological difference between money and life with a simple statement: “You cannot turn a calf into a cow by plastering it with mud.”

To quote from the book ‘Africa in Crisis’ (Lloyd Timberlake, 1985), “The analogy is subtle but the meaning is clear…change must be organic and come from within; slapped on solutions from outside do not work.”

(The writer, a physicist, globally-renowned author and eco-feminist, is the founder of Navdanya movement which works to conserve traditional seeds) (Syndicate: The Billion Press)

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Published: 21 Apr 2022, 9:00 AM