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This is Ecocide

Here’s the thing. You see yourself as basically a good person who would like to make the world a better place. But after Copenhagen you also feel that you’re losing ground in a globalized world where corporate interests reign supreme, your voice is marginalized, and the environment continues to be trashed with impunity. Welcome to the club.

But things may be about to change. Dramatically.

A London barrister, Polly Higgins, has proposed to the UN Law Commission that Ecocide become a fifth Crime Against Peace under the mandate of the International Criminal Court. The four other crimes are Genocide, Crimes Against Humanity, War Crimes and Crimes of Aggression.

At the same time, Higgins has written a new book, Eradicating Ecocide, that may prove to be the most important environmental insight since Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. Both the book and her companion website,( flush out her proposal and serve as a springboard for an international campaign to carry it forward.

Ecocide is defined as the extensive destruction, damage to or loss of ecosystem(s) of a given territory, whether by human agency or by other causes, to such an extent that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants of that territory has been severely diminished.

Higgins argues that Ecocide in itself is so undesirable it merits the imposition of a criminal punishment irrespective of that person’s knowledge, state of mind, belief or intention. Ecocide is a law of strict liability—one that ignores individual intent and focuses instead on consequences.

In a single stroke, the crime of Ecocide would expose corporate criminals who relentlessly pursue commercial gain at the expense of Earth and its inhabitants. For years criminals in business suits have escaped personal responsibility by hiding behind an impenetrable corporate shell. This law closes that legal loophole, exposing those with superior responsibility for acts of ecocide, and holding them accountable in a court of law.

The proposal would be a real game-changer–forcing business, governments and individuals to reconceptualize how we interact with the Earth. Instead of viewing the Earth as a commodity to be exploited, Higgins uses Trusteeship Law creatively: Earth is a living being with intrinsic value where each individual, as a trustee, has a duty of care to protect Earth from Ecocide.

The law creates a preemptive obligation at both the national and international level. Now all governments, businesses, and individuals would have an overarching duty of care to place the sacred trust of civilization over commercial considerations.

Like the other Laws Against Peace, an Ecocide provision is designed to act as a preventative.

The result would be a much better world.

This campaign has the potential to unite a host of people working to combat mankind’s oldest enemies: greed, fear and ignorance.

It provides any number of entry points where you can contribute—take your pick. It has the potential to coalesce many disparate groups around the campaign: spiritual leaders, environmentalists, peace activists, democracy activists, animal rights activists, trade unionists, conservationists, those seeking redress and fundamental justice, whistleblowers, and, in fact, all concerned citizens. Taken together, united, a massive public campaign can put pressure on governments to ratify the proposal in the UN General Assembly.

The demand is for governments to stand up and do something now- not in twenty years time, not in fifty years but right now.

Of course, local action is really important too because little ecocides do happen and it’s not just about massive scale destruction. It’s also about asking the very important and powerful question, ‘Whose interest are we protecting in any given situation: corporate, governmental, peoples or planet?’

Sounds like a plan.

Ron Hart

– Ron Hart is an environmental activist interested in fundamental justice. As former Executive Director of Relatives and Friends of Dead and Dying Smokers (RODDS), he promoted the idea of bringing tobacco executives to justice using Canada’s Criminal Code by arguing that tobacco directors knew or ought to have known that tobacco products cause premature disease and death.

Filed Under: Letters and Opinion


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  1. Doris Lane says:

    Great article Ron and we can be hopeful that Ecocide may be taken seriously

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