Physicist Turned International Activist to be Honored

Environmentalist Vandana Shiva will be in Pittsburgh on November 3 to receive the Thomas Merton Award. Vandana Shiva is noted for her work on issues ranging from agricultural workers' rights to seed saving. The Allegheny Front's Hal B. Klein reports.

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HOST INTRO: One of the worldís foremost environmentalists will be in Pittsburgh this week to receive a peace and justice centerís award. The Allegheny Frontís Hal B. Klein has more on Vandana Shiva.

KLEIN: The Thomas Merton Center is an antiwar group that also fights for social justice. The center has been trying to focus more on environmental issues, so it chose physicist and philosopher Vandana Shiva for its annual award this year. Sheís been at the forefront of the environmental movement for over 30 years. Earlier this year, Shiva spoke with interviewer Laura Flanders about what she views as corporate dominance.

SHIVA: I think we are at a watershed for human evolution. We will either defend the rights of people and the earth, and then for that we have to dismantle the rights corporations have assigned for themselves--or corporations will within the next two or three decades destroy this planet in terms of human possibility.

KLEIN: During the 1970s, Shivaís interest in the environment was awakened when she took part in the Chipko movement. A group of women started hugging trees to protect native Himalayan forests from commercial logging operations. The term ìtree huggerî was born from this practice. In 1982, she created the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology in her motherís cowshed in the Himalayan foothills. Sheís gone on to write numerous books on topics ranging from water rights to the need for crop biodiversity. Michael Drohan, president of the Merton Center board of directors says all these accomplishments led the group to honor her this year.

DROHAN: Above all, I guess, because of her involvement in the issue of getting the United Nations to pass a universal declaration in respect to the rights of Mother Earth.

KLEIN: Prominent in Vandana Shivaís environmental work is her defense of farmers from genetically modified seeds sold by bio-agricultural giants like Monsanto and Cargill. These seeds contain a ìkill switch,î forcing farmers to purchase new seeds every year. Drohan says this fairly recent (and growing) development stands in contrast to thousands of years of saving the previous cropís seed and replanting it the next year.

DROHAN: This is a very regressive type of thing that she is militating againstÖseeds are the product of the Earth and the product of centuries of human development and human experimentation. But now we have these very powerful corporations who are modifying these seeds, patenting them. She has formed an organization in India called Navdayna. And Navdanyaís specific purpose and aim is to store and to maintain control over these seeds.

KLEIN: Shiva calls herself an eco-feminist, and believes feminism and environmentalism are inseparable. She critiques patriarchal capitalism by saying ìwomen who produce for their families and communities are treated as 'non-productive' and economically inactive.î Drohan elaborates on her philosophy:

DROHAN: Food in many parts of the world, in India where she comes fromÖthe major producers of food are womenóthat women actually do in those countries of the world most of the agricultural work. They run the farms, so itís intimately connected with womenís rights because if you take away that power and control over the production of food, you disempower them.

KLEIN: Drohan hopes that raising public awareness of Vandana Shivaís work will empower others to act on behalf of the environment. For The Allegheny Front, Iím Hal B. Klein.

HOST OUTRO: The award dinner for Dr. Vandana Shiva takes place at 6PM on November 3rd at the Sheraton Hotel. Tickets can be booked through the Merton Center. For more information, go to