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Climate change & our ‘Developed ‘ Society:
Reading ‘Soil, Not Oil ‘ by Vandana Shiva

by Michelle Boelee

November 23rd, 2023 | Climate

In this blog post I will be sharing my thoughts on the Dutch elections 2023, Dutch farmlands, polluting cars, the climate crisis, our [read: not so] ‘developed ‘ Western society, the need for change, plant-based diets and a green movement

Writing this post started before the Dutch elections (on november 22nd 2023) took place, and was actually inspired by some thoughts related to the ‘polders’ (the typical Dutch grassy farmlands) I often bike through and visit. It turned into a heartfelt rant about our ‘developed’ Western society and climate change, contemplating the role of cars, the role of our diet (discussed only briefly) and the felt hopelessness our current system stimulates, and finishing with a call for change, for our voices to be heard, for strengthening the much-needed movement, in parallel being inspired by content of the book ‘Soil, Not Oil’ by Vandana Shiva (2016) 📚

The Dutch Election of the ‘second chamber’ (Tweede Kamer)

And right now, after the elections, it feels even more urgent to share these thoughts about climate change. Dutch society seems to have clearly polarised to the right, and a substantial part of the people here are, frankly, supporting a racist and climate change-denying party (PVV). And the party that has been in power for so long (VVD), that has failed us time and again, still emerged as the third biggest party. One consolation is green and left party (GL-PvdA) emerging as the second biggest party. We’ll see which parties will form a coalition, but damn… This is shocking and depressing.

The 2023 Dutch Election: can we do this again (soon), but better?

Besides the obvious fact that the election results show that apparently a lot of Dutchies don’t condemn this racist, Putin supporting, and climate change-denying party (PVV), I’d like to think that it also shows a certain panic, a certain ‘we need a change but we don’ t know how, but it at least has to be a different power than before’ mentality among some of these voters, that, apparently, this party was able to exploit. If so, there might be a tiny bit of hope for the next election (is it time yet?). Unfortunately, we have to make do with the cards that have been dealt, despite that this election turned out to be a shocker. But let’s turn to other matters. I will leave the analysis of the political landscape to more politically educated writers. These are just my first thoughts, feelings and guesses (read: yuk! muhhh… and hmmpff) 💭

Keep reading!

What’s sure: a lot of people are scared. As if there was not enough already to be scared of. Let’s just hope for the best possible turn of events, and that Dutch politics will be able to actively engage with mitigating climate change (among other things). Why? I will try to unpack some of the reasons of why we should be scared. And if you are among the people who do not really understand the urgency of tackling some of the current issues related to climate change and thus the need for changing the current system(s), keep reading. This blog post focuses on the climate crisis, one of the many crises we’re facing – but the climate crisis specifically has so many implications for and connections to other urgent issues and / or crises, such as the food crisis, pollution, (mental and physical) health, and displacement (Shiva, 2016). And I do not intend to give an extensive analysis of the situation, as it would need a much longer post. This post will consider different related issues somewhat briefly, but tries to give more of an overview of all the interrelated issues, to demonstrate the urgency of the problem, and the need for change. And before you are like: oh more of that climate panic… Then this post is for you. And if you’re not sure what I am talking about: then this post is a must-read for you. And if you’re worried as well: this post is clearly for you too! ✌🏼

Dutch farmlands: polders

So let’s just start where I originally started this post: my bike ride through the polders, enjoying the views over the fields of grassland, bog, meadows, hedges, emerging patches of trees, yes, that far-away view that soothes the eyes, the sounds of the grassland birds chatting away and the geese and swans honking away, the whispers of the tall grasses and reeds, a place of calm and peace, a mix between farmland and nature, and the home of the mill in ‘our’ care (officially just Ryan’s haha). Don’t you already feel way more relaxed just imagining this view? 🌻

Polder nostalgia

My dad used to spend so much time of his youth in the same ‘polders’, and has fond memories of the times he would help his friend with the haying, and it’s easy to say he developed a certain nostalgia for this area (now he lives in the Philippines). This patch of green in the semi-rural area (because how ‘rural’ is the whole Randstand area really?) so close to the city of Leiden and in between so many other towns and roads feels like home-coming every time I come back and/or bike through (which is quite often) 🏡

And all is well – or not?

And thinking about the Munniken- and Achthovense polder in Leiderdorp, had me suddenly also thinking about the moments that peace and calm was hard to be found: with the ‘wrong’ direction of the wind, this peaceful place filled with birdsong, happy honking and whispers of the grasses changes into yet another piece of nature overshadowed by the screaming sounds of automobile traffic… 🛑

Polluting cars: implications?

And this made me wonder and consider: could we ever escape the cars? Yes, a car is super convenient. I also sometimes wish we’d own a car, just for our conveniences. But I am more and more convinced we should try to move beyond fossil fuels and thus using the car as we do now. Because do we really realise the impact normalising and having normalised the car has. As Vandana Shiva points out:
‘Today the car has become inviolable. Culture and constitution can be violated to protect the car. Humans and other species can be sacrificied to make way for the car. […] Cars need highways and overpasses, they need fossil fuels, and they need aluminum, steel and petrochemicals. Cars redesign the countryside and the city.’ – Shiva (2016, p.49)
We live in such a car-focused society with it’s capitalist and energy-intensive mindset, heading into a deeper climate crisis in an aggravating pace – nature and greens have to make place for concrete roads and highways and parking lots: cars and all it’s facilities take up so much space that could have been green and sequestering the carbon dioxide that cars are putting into the air. And we should consider this: isn’t the air also a commons? We need to take care of our commons (see ‘dilemma of commons’), or we’ll destroy it in the process of just enjoying our comfort, but more importantly and prominently, in the case of the companies: making profit just for the short-term monetary gains, and in the process destroying a future for the coming generations on this Earth. Because let’s face it, we just have one 🌍

Stripping the world bare like locusts

Consider the following quote, from Soil, not Oil (Shiva, 2016):

‘India in the 21st century needs to be building on Gandhi’ s legacy […]. It needs to avoid repeating the ecological and social mistakes of the West. India has offered alternatives based sustainability and pluralism. Gandhi observed:
God forbid that India should ever take to industrialism after the manner of the West. The economic imperialism of a single tiny island kingdom [England] is today keeping the world in chains. If an entire nation of 300 million took to similar economic exploitation, it would strip the world bare like locusts’. 
[Shiva continues] We are today 1 billion. And we are being asked to adopt the lifestyles and economies of the 20 percent of humanity who have been using 80 percent of the world’s resources. If 100 million rich Indians want to live like their Western counterparts it would take more resources than the world has to offer and the attempt would force their brothers and sisters to give up their water, their land, their homes, and their livelihood. The highway project is not uniting India; it is dividing India. It is creating an automobile apartheid in which the rich drive at high speeds on highways built by cutting through villages and forests, tearing down homes, farms, and trees. They drive through without even seeing the brothers and sisters whose livelihoods they are robbing. Superhighways are not our destiny or the lines of the nation’s palm. They are the graveyards of cement and coal tar, which are burying our soils, our villages, and our freedoms. […]’ (p. 62). 💬

Let that sink in.

That’s what our (Western) mindset does, what it implicates and has caused so far, and what continuing on this path will mean. ⚠️

‘Developed’ society?

This short-sightedness of an industrialised ‘developed’ society (broadly speaking: West and/or North), now also contaminating the farmer-focused ‘undeveloped’ societies (broadly speaking: East and/or South), has led to climate injustice, which I hope to unpack in more detail in a follow-up blog, and it ensures that there’s no (bright) future for the coming generations with its current mindset. There are simply not enough resources. Think about the yearly ‘overshoot day’ and what it means. We need to change. Our mindsets need to change. We have to really understand the urgency. The governing bodies need to immediately halt the polluting big corporations, and let them take responsibility. Sizing down, local markets, de-globalisation, regenerative agriculture, renewable energy sources, and slowing down ⏳

Changing our mindsets

To elaborate a little more on the need to change our mindset, we have to be able to move beyond our short-term ideas of what living the good life means. Because our current ideas of this are based on the patterns of production and consumption we’re so used to now, but to which the use of fossil fuels gave rise to (Shiva, 2016).

‘We cling to these patterns without reflecting on the fact that they have become a human addiction only over the past 50 years and that maintaining this short-term, non-sustainable pattern of living for another 50 years comes at the risk of wiping out millions of species and destroying the very conditions for human survival’ – Shiva (2016, p. 130).

Industrialization and this addiction to fossil fuels to maintain our destructive patterns of production and consumption does not equal progress and development. We should not define progress and development with destruction. According to the fossil fuel paradigm, progress and to be developed is to be industrialized, and all the destructive consequences associated with industrialization. But if we would approach progress and development from a biodiversity paradigm, to be developed would mean to ‘leave ecological space for other species, for all people and future generations of human’ and thus to be undeveloped would mean ’to usurp the ecological space of other species and communities, to pollute the atmosphere, and to threaten the planet’ (Shiva, 2016, p. 131). Our current understandings of what progress, growth and development mean, are actually outdated and based on false premises. ‘We need to change our minds before we can change our world’ (Shiva, 2016, p. 131).

So, what are those destructive consequences?

To understand why we need to change our minds, redefining what we understand ‘development’ and ‘growth’ to be, we need to look at these false premises. And these false premises are those destructive consequences of industrialisation, of a fossil fuel paradigm. Because industrialization seems to bring forth comfort, productivity and abundance. But these premises are false, because they are narrow-minded, not considering all factors and consequences of industrialization, and the snow-ball (/cascade) effect using non-renewable sources as if they are infinite has. Let’s consider, for starters, these three premises: comfort, abundance and productivity.

~ Comfort and abundance? 

Only for the rich, for the ones who can afford it, for the ones not suffering the consequences of industrialization. Consider pollution, droughts, floodings, poor working conditions, displacement due to land-grabbing, health issues, suicides, and food scarcity.

~ Productivity?

Let’s consider the context of industrial agriculture: Only if you don’t take into account the effects the use of fossil fuels, to replace human power and to transport produce due to our globalized food systems, has on the climate, the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and GMO seeds have on the soil and/or our health. Current productivity is measured by a crops to human input ratio, but forgets the input it needs in terms of fossil fuels and thus the effects the use of those fossil fuel actually have – on our climate, and that means on so many other closely related factors such as food, air, biodiversity and yes, that means millions of species of flora and fauna, and also: the future of humankind.

Usurping ecological space from others

Another quote from Soil, not Oil (Shiva, 2016):
‘India’s tradition of leaving a small ecological footprint on the planet is being erased in a race by India’s elite to imitate and outdo the industrialized West in consuming the Earth’s resources – in usurping the ecological space of other beings, indigenous and rural communities, and the urban poor’ (p. 59). 💬
This quote highlights the disparity between the these (poor, marginalized, rural and/or indigenous) communities versus the industrialized West, and how globalization has also meant globalization of industrialisation. These communities are often robbed of their lands. These communicties are often the ones being most affected by the effects of climate change. These communities are often the victims of pollution – pollution by big corporations from the West. The perverse ethics of the current economic logic justifies relocating and allowing an increase of pollution to the global South (Shiva, 2016) on the devaluation of life in the poorer countries:
In 1991, Summers wrote in a memo to senior World Bank staff: “Just between you and me, shouldn’t the World Band be encouraging more migration of the dirty industries to the LDC [Less Developed Countres]?” [Shiva continues] Summers had justified the economic logic of increasing pollution in the third world on three grounds. First, since wages are low in the South, economic costs of pollution arising from increased illness and death are lowest in the poorest countries. According to Summers, the logic “of relocation of pollutants in the lowest wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that.” Second, since in large parts of the Soutcg, pollution is still low, it makes economic sense to Summers to introduce pollution: “I’ve always thought,” he writes, “that countries in Africa are vastly underpolluted; their air quaity is probably vastly inefficiently low compared to Los Angelos or Mexico City.” Finally, he argues, since the poor are poor, they cannot possibly worry about environmental problems: “The concern over an agent that causes a one in a million change in the odds of prostate cancer is obviously going to be much higher in a country where people survive to get prostate cancer than in a country where under five mortality is 200 per thousand.” 
[Shiva continues] Summers has recommended the relocation of hazardous and polluting industry to the Soutch because, in narrow economic terms, life is cheaper in poorer countries. No matter how an economist might value life, all life is precious. It is equally precious to the rich and the poor, the the white and the black, to men and women.” – Shiva (2016, p. 33-34).

‘Green’ farmlands?

So, let return to the polders for a moment: our seemingly ‘green’ grassy farmlands often mask the lack of biodiversity. There’s so much to be improved that could help biodiversity. Small things could already have a huge impact. Take the example of hedges and the traditional craft of hedge-laying, still practised in England, and (we’re rooting for it to be) making a comeback in the Netherlands: when hedges take up 5% of the farmlands, 95% of all the biodiversity is to be found in those hedges, providing foods and shelter for so many animals. And besides providing shade for cattle, a farm will also benefit from having hedges through the 75% increase in yield due to the hedges functioning as wind breakers and attracting pollinators (Wolton, 2015).

Soil, not oil

But most farmlands over here in the Netherlands do not have those beautiful hedges, buzzing with life. Instead, we have these ‘green deserts’, yearning to be taken care of again, yearning to be regenerated – to heal from the era of fossil fuels, to heal from the devastating consequences of the industrialisation of farming: heavy machines, machines replacing physical labour, air pollution, pesticides and artificial fertiliser, GMO seeds, etcetera. If we would take care of our soil, by allowing nature to build-up that topsoil, by not killing all micro-organisms in the soil (by not using pesticides), by actually providing all needed nutrients to the soil (instead of the NPK based chemical fertizilers which lack the necessary micro-nutrients) and if we would be promoting polyculture instead of monoculture, allowing biodiversity back on the farms, then the actual crop production would actually increase. And we would have to invest and keep investing in fertilizer, pesticides and GMO seeds (Aranya, 2022; Shiva, 2016). And if we would be promoting physical labor back on the farms instead of heavy machines compacting the soil and burning up fossil fuels, and if we would return to local food systems taking global transport out of the equation, we would also be able to move beyond the use of fossile fuels on the farm entirely (Shiva, 2016). And the depressing thing is, when farmers realise change is needed and want to change, it’s really hard, so I / we see you too 👀

Plant-based diet = circular diet

And let’s take this rant even further, let’s just briefly dive into our diet, since it’s closely related to farming practices. Everyone who knows me a little bit knows that I’ve been plant-based for some years. And I am not here to say everyone should go 100% plant-based but if we would cut back tremendously on at least consuming meats and dairy, so much agricultural land would come free (Carrington, 2023; Pyett, 2022). Research shows that a plant-based diet would free up at least 30% of the current land use (Pyett, 2022), to use for both housing and nature purposes instead 🏡🌳

Positive reinforcement, not punishment

The good choices need to be the easy choices, they should be rewarded. Currently, it’s just so damn hard and tiring to (consistently) making the right choices, for ensuring a future. Currently polluting is the norm, is too lucrative. We need change ⚠️

Polluting > Regeneration

We unfortunately still think it’s normal, it’s ‘development’. But how developed are we really if we are continuing on this path of using fossil fuels and other limited resources, contributing further to global warming and messing up nature’s balances and making climate change and injustice worse? And yes, definitely, I agree, policies and the current public transport system need to change. And as explained earlier: our mindsets need to change too. We have to move away from supporting the globalisation, the polluting practices, the superficial consumerism, and not fall for it, not be tempted by it and normalise eco-conscious behaviour and thus working towards true regeneration – to actually be able to give our future generations a liveable and, preferably, beautiful world to live in. And, to be frank, let’s hope it’s not too late already. But we have to at least try 💭


A problem too is that the ones understanding the urgency also often feel hopeless and unheard. No wonder we have so many people suffering from what they call ‘eco-anxiety’. But we have to be careful to pathologize this phenomenon (not always done so but there’s a potential danger), calling it a syndrome or disorder that needs treatment, but instead emphasise it’s a normal reaction to the current state of the climate crisis and the laissez-faire mentality to actually actively tackling the problem on a national and global scale. The ’treatment’ is change. We need to solve the problem, not treat the symptoms. The prevalence of eco-anxiety signals that we humans are alienated from our very own nature, and justifiably worried about the current state of our world and the earth. Furthermore, we also have to realise that we, over here, in the West, are priviliged, and are not suffering the worst from our industrialised patterns. We need change, and we need to change. We need to change our patterns. We we also need this change to be possible, or more importantly, perhaps, feel possible ✊

Social bubbles

Another related problem (in the West) is that it sometimes also feels that this crisis only seems really urgent in our own bubble (may it be that you reading already felt the same, if not: I am happy you continued reading so far!) – only the people you regularly talk too already feel the same. And this might be true for so many issues, you seem to of course befriend people who think the same, or eventually influence each other to think the same. So we need to perhaps go outside that bubble and maybe we need to be a bit more pro-active in doing so and starting those conversations? Which also might sound scary. Because, yes, you do not want to actively pursue confrontations I imagine, definitely not in your circles (outside your bubble). We also have to play it smart and with the right intention, which could mean feeding the people in your circles small bits of the issue, testing what they think, trying to depart from where they are, informing them, showing them and doing so out of love and empathy. What’s not a bigger act of love than wanting a better world for everyone? And perhaps, share the more elaborate rants in the online world. Let your voice and insights be heard. Because, in the end, what’s scarier if you consider the alternative, when we do nothing? So that’s why I decided to just write these thoughts. And hopefully it will, somehow, helps the green movement. Remember: it;s not just our future, it’s a future, and it’s to fight for a better near future for so many others who are off worse, being hit twice by climate change: climate injustice 🌿

Let your voice be heard: Join the fight

A movement needs its voice, and even better: many voices. A lot of people are already working really hard for the much needed change. But it needs more momentum, it needs to be heard and felt in the places of power, with a pressure that can’t be ignored. We NEED to collectively embark on this new regenerative and climate just path. It’s a huge shift, I know. And we have to step outside our comfort zones, for sure. We have to break with our current pace and life style. And that’s scary. And it will feel like: what can I, alone, do? But that’s just it. We shouldn’t be separate islands. If you want a future for the coming generations, you should want to fight for it, and we should stand together, we’re in this together. We are fighting for a better world. For a future. Period. 🌍

Love, Michelle



Aranya (2022). Permaculture Design: a step-by-step guide. Permanent Publications.

Carrington, D. (2023). Vegan Diet massively cuts environmental damage, study shows. Guardian. 

van Dam, A. M., & de Vlaam, C. (2022). Leve de Bodem! Een gezonde basis voor elke tuin. KNNV Uitgeverij.

Pyett, S.C. (2022). The world can be fed with only plant-based food. Wageningen University & Research.

Shiva, V. (2016). Soil, Not Oil: Climate Change, Peak Oil and Food Insecurity. Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.

Speek, T.  (2022). What are we going to eat? Interview with Hannah van Zanten about her views on a circular diet. Resource: WUR from within.

Wolton, R. (2015). Life in a Hedge. British Widlife, 6, 306-316.

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