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Book Reviews, Food, Nature, redefining

Book Review: ‘Soil not Oil’ case for redefining energy

“It is fruitful to remember that energy has other meanings and other forms.”

I am a huge Vandana Shiva fan, I won’t lie.  She has this way of putting words together that whip you up into a frenzy and make it nearly impossible to disagree with her.  I’ll read out sentences to my fiance, just to hear the beauty and the power out loud.

But this is not a review of Shiva.

Soil not Oil is generally giving a case for the use of people power rather than fossil fuel power.  Shiva writes about the way that cars have replaced people powered movement, and a once walking/alternative transportation infrastructure has given way to a car-only infrastructure.

She then segues into what I found to be the most interesting section the book – a chapter about the role of oil and fossil fuels in food production and food systems. The impact of fossil fuels as encouraged import/export agriculture which is assumed to then need the use of highly mechanized industrial agriculture.  She writes,

‘Industrial, globalized agriculture is a reciepe for eating oil,’

Shiva gives a soild case as to why this isn’t true – truly organic farms that encourage local food systems turn out a higher profit, withstand more freak weather, and are better for the soil.

While her examples tend to be from India (her target audience I believe, and her expert experience) which tend to be hard to really grasp without truly understand the context of Indian history and politics, her main points are clear enough: a fossil fuel fueled economy is unsustainable, and the transition for fossil fuel to sustainable is a cultural and political transition more than anything.

I agree with her on this – to change from a culture that glorifies the car and uses car transport for the basis of almost everything we do, there is an absolute need for a cultural mind shift.  We live in a culture that cannot conceive of going back to people powered movement as our only mode of transportation (I do think that cars have a place in transportation, just not the main place).  Shiva tells a story of the rise of communism in West Bengal, where the rising powers banned hand rickshaws, claiming them to be degrading.  The people protested, saying that not working was more degrading.

This is her main point I think – the idea that we need to redefine what is degrading, what is energy, what is necessary.

‘There is no alternative to fertile soil to sustain life, including human life, on earth.’

Shiva obviously writes to confirm what people reading her will already think and believe.  Yet her words are eloquent and powerful – tools to educate and inform.  Tools to redefine what energy is.

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