Biopiracy: The Plunder of Nature and Knowledge

Biopiracy: The Plunder of Nature and Knowledge

by Vandana Shiva

In this intelligently argued and principled book, internationally renowned Third World environmentalist Vandana Shiva exposes the latest frontier of the North's ongoing assault against the South's biological and other resources. Since the land, the forests, the oceans, and the atmosphere have already been colonized, eroded, and polluted, she argues, Northern capital is now carving out new colonies to exploit for gain: the interior spaces of the bodies of women, plants and animals.

  • Language: English
  • Category: Environment
  • Rating: 4.08
  • Pages: 148
  • Publish Date: July 1st 1999 by South End Press
  • Isbn10: 0896085554
  • Isbn13: 9780896085558

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Shiva is arguing that there have been three waves of globalization the 1st through the initial colonization by European powers, the 2nd through the imposition of the Western idea of development during the postcolonial era over the past five decades, and the 3rd unleashed approximately 5 years ago through free trade and the commodification of life itself. The violence against nature, and the disruption of its delicate interconnections, was a necessary part of denying its self-organizing capacity. So are many others, luckily, and the intro really gets into it-- 'Piracy Through patents: The Second Coming of Columbus': Columbus set a precedent when he treated the license to conquer non-European peoples as a natural right of European men. The colonies have now been extended to the interior spaces, the 'genetic codes' of life forms from microbes and plants to animals, including humans. Resistance to biopiracy is a resistance to the ultimate colonization of life itself--of the future of evolution as well as the future of non-Western traditions of relating to and knowing nature. Patents on life enclose the creativity inherent in living systems that reproduce and multiply in self-organized freedom. They also enclose the free spaces of intellectual creativity by transforming publicly generated knowledge into private property. Intellectual property rights on life forms are supposed to reward and stimulate creativity. The creativity of modern scientists in university of corporate laboratories who find ways to use living organisms to generate profits. (14) Only the third kind of creativity is acknowledged under Intellectual Property Rights systems as defined under GATT, the biodiversity convention, or the lovely U.S. Trade Act which includes the Special 301 clause this is, she argues a prescription for a monoculture of language (15) All of this marks the ongoing shift from common rights to private rights, as well as a world where knowledge is recognized only when it generates profits, rather than when it meets social needs. The corporate argument for the right to patent such things is that they are new, invented' by human beings. First, life forms are treated as if they are mere machines, thus denying their self-organizing capacity. Second, by allowing the patenting of future generations of plants and animals, the self-reproducing capacity of living organisms is denied. Second-order reductionism amplifies the ecological risks of first-order reductionism, while introducing new issues, like the patenting of life forms. The freedom for diverse species and ecosystems to self-organize is the basis of ecology. 3. The Seed and the Earth Regeneration lies at the heart of life: it has been the central principle guiding sustainable societies. Modern industrial society, however, has no time for thinking about regeneration, and therefore no space for living regeneratively. (47) Only capitalism and the placing of profit above all things, including life itself, would strive to erase the capacity to regenerate, because that is just insane. People were separated from nature, and the creativity involved in processes of regeneration was denied. While the colonisation of land became possible through new technologies of guns etc, Biotechnology as the handmaiden of capital in the post-industrial era, makes it possible to colonize and control that which is autonomous, free, and self-regenerative. The patriarchal construct of the passivity of earth and the consequent creation of the colonial category of land as terra nullius served two purposes: it denied the existence and prior rights of original inhabitants, and it negated the regenerative capacity and life processes of the earth. (50) Colonialism redefined indigenous peoples as part of natural flora and fauna, while the Green Revolution served as a second colonisation of earth defined as terra nullius through an erasing of the existence and importance of the ecological diversity of soil. Another definition I quite love, and hope to think through more are these conceptions of ideological boundaries defined and contested: The transformation of value into disvalue, labour into nonlabour, knowledge into non-knowledge, is achieved by two very powerful constructs: the production boundary and the creation boundary. 5. Tripping Over Life This focuses on the TRIPs agreement in GATT (get the chapter title now?), and how it: allows for the monopolization of life; promotes monocultures so destructive to biodiversity; requires more and more chemical inputs and thus causes more pollution as well as new forms of pollution through GMOs and resistant weeds and pests; undermines any ethic of conservation trough instrumentalisation of people and other species. Without centralized control and coercive force, this world filled with the richness of diversity cannot be transformed into homogenous structures, and the monocultures cannot be maintained. Monocultures are also associated with ecological violencea declaration of war against natures diverse species.

Maybe Im just too tired to appreciate this.

Molecular biology in her world is exclusively for profit, and I think a lot of molecular biologists would be offended by that. It's clear to me from this book that there need to be well-defined, intermediate forms of property rights, between private and common pool - such as a democratically governed property right held on the level of the community, or a federation of communities if the knowledge is spread over a wide range.

But arguments that end up looking like caricatures are not the best way of informing the public or fighting the types of trends that hurt us all.

After pushing people, like in India, off their land in the name of the "Green Revolution" (read: monocultural industrial agriculture benefitting investors and wealthy land owners), Capital now wants to take people's traditional knowledge and sell it.