Mighty Greta motivates massive Montreal climate march

Greta Thunberg shows her sign, Skolstrejk för klimatet (school strike for climate) at the Montreal climate march on Sept. 27, 2019. Photo by Josie Desmarais

When it was announced a few months ago that Swedish activist Greta Thunberg had accepted an invitation by Montreal-based environmental activist student group La Planète s’invite au Parliament to march as part of a global climate strike, we all knew it was going to be momentous.

Yesterday’s “Fridays for Future” was largely expected to be the largest climate change march in the country. According to the organizers, not only was it the biggest protest in Quebec history, it was also the biggest climate protest worldwide this month.

Half a million people descended on the streets of Montreal on Sept. 27, the organizers said, to call on politicians to do more to tackle climate change.

Crowds gather for the climate march in downtown Montreal on Sept. 27, 2019. Photo by Josie Desmarais

​​​​​People of all ages and all backgrounds gathered

In anticipation of the big day, Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante announced that public transit and bicycle sharing system Bixi would be free for the day, in order to encourage everyone to leave cars at home and join the march.

Several school boards, universities and other educational institutions in Montreal cancelled classes. Many businesses also closed their doors for the day, encouraging staff to attend the historic event.

I was already in the metro, on the way to the climate march, by the time I absentmindedly looked down at the cup of coffee I had picked up in a hurry at my local café.

The cup was recyclable, but the plastic lid was conspicuously not. I hadn’t even made it to the march, and I felt like I had already failed the credibility test.

Perhaps events like these are primarily aimed at forcing us to take a good, hard look at our own harmful habits, shaming us into action.

By the time I reached the Sir-George-Étienne Cartier monument on Avenue du Parc, at the foot of Mont Royal, I knew this event was going to be both huge and diverse.

People of all ages and all backgrounds were gathered, patiently waiting for the start of the march. More kept coming and there didn’t seem to be an end in sight.

Greta Thunberg signs the Golden Book at Montreal City Hall alongside Mayor Valérie Plante on Sept. 27, 2019. Photo by Josie Desmarais

‘Learn to change, or learn to swim’

The student contingent was everywhere — and it was loud. Dancing, chanting, carrying loudspeakers and drums. Some of the signs were caustically angry, some were hopeful, and most were humorous with a level of creativity that was highly entertaining:

“Learn to change, or learn to swim”; “I ditched school because you ditched my future”; “Maybe if it was called Father Earth, you’d give a shit”; “What use is a diploma if I don’t have a future?”

A young, shirtless man perched on his friend’s shoulders had “Winter Wear 2030” scribbled on his bare chest in black marker.

There were multiple signs reminding us that Greta is vegan, asking, “Do you really love hamburgers more than the earth?”

Our Canadian tendency to apologize occasionally slipped out. “Sorry for the inconvenience, we’re here to save the world,” said another sign.

Environmental advocates hold up signs during the march in Montreal on Sept. 27, 2019. Photo by Josie Desmarais

Festive mood, but gravity of moment understood

I find myself at the tail end of the march. During the long wait at Avenue du Parc to get going, I watch everyone around me. Despite the impossibly crowded conditions and the accidental elbow bumping, everyone is in a jovial, festive mood.

I watch as a group of young teens pull and prod at a Liberal campaign poster featuring Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that’s attached to a light post and then, with one final jerk, manage to remove it. I see the poster disappear into the crowd amid loud cheers. I see that happen twice more.

Virginia Champoux is marching with her two teenaged girls. She says she’s here because “the level of changes we all have to make are a lot bigger than just plastic straws and taking the bus.”

While they do what they can to make a difference — eat less meat, reduce and reuse, have a hybrid electric vehicle as a family car — she doesn’t think it will be enough. “The Amazon is burning, the ice caps are melting, and not enough people are concerned.”

Sarah, her sixteen-year-old daughter is carrying a sign that says, “I will clean up my room when you clean up your shit.” She says she’s here to remind people that climate change is happening and that we need to fix it as soon as possible. She also wants to hear Greta speak.

NJ, her 14-year-old sister says that older generations don’t seem to be thinking enough about younger generations and how they will be living in a polluted environment. “We’ll have to pick up the slack if we still want human life in 100 years,” she says. “We will be voting soon, and we need to look at politicians who will help our country pollute less.”

A senior woman marching quietly behind me with her friend refuses to give me her name but tells me her age: 77. When I ask her why she’s marching, she quickly replies: “Guilt, I suppose.” She tells me that, when they were around the age of the students marching, they were oblivious to the problem.

“We’re leaving a mess for them. I have grandchildren who live in coastal areas…this march is for them.”

The crowd chants during the Montreal climate march on Sept. 27, 2019. Photo by Josie Desmarais

‘I am marching for the youth and their dreams’

Holly Friesen is a professional landscape painter. Her work, featuring depictions of forests, lakes, and trees, is a celebration of the world’s natural beauty. She’s used her skills to paint a large colourful canvas protest sign that politely says: “Do everything YOU CAN with everyone to CHANGE EVERYTHING you can.”

“I’m marching for the natural world and non-human species who have been considered inert commodities instead of the living, sentient beings they are, for far too long,” she says.

“I am marching for the youth and their dreams and I’m marching for unborn generations who have a right to coexist with this magnificent planet as much as us. I want to see a complete overhaul of the system and the way things are currently done.”

My attempts to live-tweet the march keep failing as the cell network is overloaded, but I still manage to catch a glimpse of a few drone shots posted by Radio-Canada and CBC on Twitter.

The aerial views of the throngs of people marching down Avenue du Parc are awe-inspiring. It’s hard to wrap my head around the fact that I’m a tiny dot somewhere in that mighty mass moving along at a snail’s pace.

People have been marching for hours and I barely feel like we’ve moved more than 500 metres. It makes me proud that Montrealers have come out to make such a strong statement, but I’m starting to feel a little claustrophobic.

The aerial views of the throngs of people marching down Avenue du Parc are awe-inspiring. Photo by Josie Desmarais

Trash piles did not materialize as predicted

As a neuropsychologist, Vivian Akerib is focused on mental health – her son’s and the world’s. “I’m here because I have a son and I want him to have a future,” she says.

“We are ruining, not only our physical health, but our mental health as well with our actions. It’s all connected… how we take care of earth, how we take care of the animals, it affects us all. I know my son is worried and I know he’s serious about change.”

Asked if she thinks any of this will make a difference, she quickly replies, “Oh, I certainly hope so!”

“I hope this isn’t for show and I hope things change. I see young people suffering from eco-anxiety these days…we didn’t even study this in university, this is new. I’m not even sure how to treat it. I can’t think of anything worse than young people feeling despondent and hopeless. We need for things to change.”

Despite the cynical comments I saw on social media, predicting that marchers would leave behind a wake of garbage that city workers would be forced to clean up, I saw the contrary.

Two young people with garbage bags are busy cleaning up garbage that I’m positive has nothing even to do with this march. I see no signs of littering or careless, entitled behaviour exhibited. Even the Montreal police and public transit workers are on their best behaviour, smiling and patient in a way I wish I could see more often.

Rows and rows of Bixi bikes are lined up near Pine Avenue, and it’s obvious that Montrealers have heeded the mayor’s call to use them to get to the march. A Bixi brigade is standing guard over the bikes that keep piling up.

I know Greta doesn’t like depictions of her as a heroine, because she’s always urging us to save ourselves, but someone goes by me with a large, beautifully illustrated poster depicting the climate activist as Joan of Arc.

Greta Thunberg addresses the crowd in Montreal on Sept. 27, 2019. Photo by Josie Desmarais

Greta depicted as Joan of Arc

Her stance in the image is warrior-like, her gaze piercing and steadfast. It’s a gorgeous image and it manages to communicate Greta’s laser focus and quiet determination that endears her to this crowd. They see her as someone who is genuinely fighting for a cause worth supporting, against all odds and all derision by men in power.

In a press conference before the march Greta is asked by a reporter: “Why do you think grown men in powerful positions are so afraid of you?”

“I don’t know why grown-ups would choose to mock children and teenagers for just communicating and acting on the science, when they could do something good instead,” she replies.

“But I guess that they might feel like their world view or their interests are threatened by us. And that, we should take as a compliment, that we are having such an impact that people want to silence us.”

Greta spoke with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau privately ahead of the rally. After her meeting with Trudeau, who also walked with the crowds and his family in the Montreal march, Greta told reporters, “my message to all politicians is the same. Just listen to the science, act on the science.”

An anti-pipeline protester later attempted to throw eggs at Trudeau but was quickly intercepted by his security. Quebec Premier François Legault did not attend the march.

Greta Thunberg spoke with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau privately ahead of the rally on Sept. 27, 2019. The prime minister also marched in the crowd with his family. Photo by Josie Desmarais

Canada’s climate reputation means ‘nothing’

Before we begin marching, Greta receives a gift from Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde, who greets her as a “young warrior lady.”

Greta asked Indigenous youth to lead the Montreal march because “Indigenous people have for centuries and millenniums protected the local environment…they are at the front line, so we need to be able to hear their voices.”

Despite her young age, Greta seems incredibly aware of her privilege, and using every opportunity to point the spotlight at other activists of colour and amplify their voices.

The four-hour-long march along a four-kilometre route from Jeanne-Mance Park to Old Montreal ends with a rousing speech by Greta, who’s greeted by the huge crowds with the kind of enthusiasm usually reserved for rock stars.

Smiling shyly, she utters “Bonjour, Montreal” and then proceeds to list the ways Sweden and Canada are similar. Hockey, pine trees, moose, and cold winters, if you’re interested.

Then, her tone takes a serious turn and we’re quickly reminded why politicians fear her and why activists respect her.

“You are a nation that is allegedly a climate leader; Sweden is also allegedly a climate leader,” she says. “In both cases, it means absolutely nothing.”

A thunderous roar erupts from the crowd. “In both cases, it’s just empty words.”

Greta Thunberg receives a gift from Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde, who greets her as a “young warrior lady” on Sept. 27, 2019. Photo by Josie Desmarais

‘We are the change, and change is coming’

The message the young environmentalist wants the political establishment to remember is simple: “We will not be silenced.”

She reiterates that throughout history, significant change has always come from the bottom up.

“If the people in power won’t take their responsibility, then we will. It should not be up to us, but somebody needs to do it. This is an emergency and we cannot be bystanders. We are the change, and change is coming.”

Everyone cheers again. The numbers start trickling in and she announces that 6.5 million people marched around the world for climate action. Montreal’s protest is confirmed as the largest in the country.

Was the “Greta factor” instrumental in getting this many people out? There’s no doubt. But those on the streets sound purposeful and committed to change. They were inspired by Greta, but actively looking for local solutions to a global crisis.

An attendee of the climate march holds up the peace sign in Montreal on Sept. 27, 2019. Photo by Josie Desmarais

Montreal mayor calls Greta ‘trailblazer’

Claudine Bonner isn’t a Montrealer. She’s a professor at Acadia University, in Nova Scotia, visiting the city. But since she’s here, she decided to attend the march. She’s listening enthralled to Greta’s speech, like the rest of us.

She believes that every generation has a moment, a tipping point where they need to face the enemies of their time. “For our parents, it was civil rights and the women’s movement,” she says.

“For our youth, it’s the Earth in crisis. What we’re doing is making and has made a difference. Now we need to make governments listen.”

After her speech, Greta quickly made her way to Montreal’s City Hall where she met with Plante, the mayor, during a brief one-on-one private meeting.

Introducing her to the media, Plante refers to her as a “trailblazer” and then presents her with the keys to the city, an honour only seven people before her have been given in Montreal’s history.

Greta is quite diminutive up close and it’s astounding that someone so soft-spoken, so unassuming, has become such a role model for so many and such a target of vitriolic scorn for climate-change deniers.

She signs the Golden book and shortly after quietly slips out from the back while young activists waiting for her yell out that they love her.

Smiling shyly, she utters a barely audible “thank you” and proceeds to walk towards Champ-de-Mars metro station, on her way to most probably much-needed rest.

One can’t help but wonder how many times Greta has repeated this routine, and how many times she’s expected to repeat it in future. Photo by Josie Desmarais

The sign that started it all

It’s already 6:30 p.m. and it’s been an incredibly long day. One can’t help but wonder how many times Greta has repeated this routine, and how many times she’s expected to repeat it in future.

Even for such a young person, the energy and focus it requires must be exhausting.

I watch her walk away, a tiny figure next to the tall police officers walking alongside her. She’s still holding her sign with “Skolstrejk för klimatet” scribbled on it tucked under her arm.

That sign that started it all…the one she held during that first protest in Sweden all alone, the one that sparked a global movement. SOURCE

8 simple ways to help the birds

baltimore oriole
© Baltimore Oriole (Photo: Gary Mueller / Macaulay Library at Cornell Lab of Ornithology)

Bird populations in the US and Canada have plummeted by 30 percent since 1970 – here’s why, and what we can do.

You may have seen the news about a recent study revealing that we’ve lost almost 3 billion birds since 1970 – that is one in four birds in less than a human lifetime. We are talking ecological crisis here; a “canary in a coalmine” situation gone viral. We are losing once-common species across most biones, everything from swallows and sparrows to warblers and meadowlarks. A world without birds would be an ecological disaster and decidedly less delightful.

The American Bird Conservancy (ABC) points out these grim details from the study:

• Grassland birds have seen a 53-percent drop in population (more than 720 million birds) since 1970.

• Shorebirds, already dangerously low in numbers, have lost more than one-third of their population.

• The volume of spring migration has dropped by 14 percent in just the past decade.

You can see more about the study in the ABC video at the bottom, but in the meantime, there are things that each of us can do to help the birds (and many of these actions will help other organisms as well).

A number of the country’s important bird groups and institutions (ABC, Audubon, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, et cetera) have partnered to create the fantastic 3BillionBirds.org (3BB) in response to the study. The group has published a guide of simple actions that we can take to make a difference, which has inspired the list below.

1. Make windows bird friendly

Up to an estimated 1 billion birds die in the U.S. each year after hitting windows. You can install screens or break up reflections using film, paint, stickers, or string. Talk to friends and businesses about doing the same.

2. Keep cats inside

Aside from habitat loss, cats are the number one killer of birds in the United States. Cats are a non-native domesticated species, when they go outside they prey on native bird species – and it is devastating.

3. Ditch the lawn, plant native species

More than 10 million acres of wilderness in the U.S. were developed from 1982 to 1997, meaning that birds (and everything else) have lost habitat. Lawns and pavement provide little for wildlife – and get this, these is more than 63 million acres of lawn in the U.S. alone. If all of that were replaced with native species, wildlife would be doing much, much better.

Also, think outside of the box when planning your landscaping, like this idea: Plant a wildlife hedge instead of building a fence.

4. Avoid pesticides

They may be intended for insects, but it’s not that simple. The U.S. uses more than 1 billion pounds of pesticides every year. “The nation’s most widely used insecticides, called neonicotinoids or ‘neonics,’ are lethal to birds and to the insects that birds consume,” notes 3BB. “Common weed killers used around homes, such as 2, 4-D and glyphosate (used in Roundup), can be toxic to wildlife, and glyphosate has been declared a probable human carcinogen.” Insecticides also kill the insects that birds would like to be eating.

For these reasons, buy organic produce whenever you can and use non-toxic pesticides around your home: 8 natural & homemade insecticides: Save your garden without killing the Earth

5. Drink bird-friendly coffee

How do coffee plantations in faraway places harm birds in The States? More than 42 species of North American songbirds migrate south to winter in coffee plantations, including orioles, warblers, and thrushes. Seventy-five percent of coffee farms destroy the forests that birds (and other creatures) need, so that they can grow their coffee in the sun. But coffee can also be grown in the shade, which keeps the the forest canopy in tact and helps migratory birds survive the winter.

6. Reduce your use of plastic

The planet is becoming covered in plastic; recycling is ineffective and since plastic does not degrade naturally, it sits around polluting the environment for centuries. 3BB notes, “It’s estimated that 4,900 million metric tons of plastic have accumulated in landfills and in our environment worldwide, polluting our oceans and harming wildlife such as seabirds, whales, and turtles that mistakenly eat plastic, or become entangled in it.” As it pertains to birds, at least 80 seabird species ingest plastic, thinking that it is food.

7. Become a citizen scientist

There are not enough scientists to track the world’s birds, which is where the rest of us come in. “To understand how birds are faring, scientists need hundreds of thousands of people to report what they’re seeing in backyards, neighborhoods, and wild places around the world. Without this information, scientists will not have enough timely data to show where and when birds are declining around the world,” explains 3BB. To that end, all of us can help by joining a bird project; see a great list here.


Birds need the government to show some consideration for their plight. They need leaders who don’t weaken wildlife acts, who don’t open up protected areas, and who don’t OK “emergency” use of harmful pesticides, for starters. The birds need leaders who will not do all of the above, and who WILL treat our natural resources as the precious treasures they are, who will defend and strengthen the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and who will advance climate solutions. Is that so much to ask? Since the birds don’t have a say in who is running things, it’s up to us to vote on their behalf.

For more specific information on all of these, visit 3BillionBirds.


Skip the rake and leave the leaves for a healthier, greener yard

fallen leaves
CC BY 2.0 Oregon DOT

Nature’s autumn bounty of fallen leaves isn’t usually a problem for lawns and gardens, and mulching the ground with them actually helps to feed the soil for a healthier yard.

If you grew up in a neighborhood with lots of trees, chances are you had to put in plenty of hours each fall raking them all together, bagging them up, and then sending them off somewhere, most likely to the landfill. And you were probably told that the reason for this was not only so that the yard would look ‘tidier’ but also so that the leaves wouldn’t kill the grass. This myth has probably sold more rakes and bags than anything else, and while raking may have enriched the pockets of neighborhood kids (assuming you got paid to rake leaves), the practice actually removes important nutrients from the yard, which homeowners then usually repurchase, in another format, in a bag or jug of fertilizer from the local garden center.

Well, we’re older and hopefully wiser now, so the idea of removing this important annual input to our local soil biology, and sending it elsewhere, likely to the landfill to be buried instead, doesn’t make nearly as much sense now as it might have back before we knew better. And while it is at least partially true that excessive amounts of fallen leaves can smother areas of a lawn when they’re left in thick piles all winter, leaving the leaves on the ground as mulch can actually be an effective method of building soil and supporting a healthy yard.

Fallen leaves, as an additional physical layer of organic materials above ground, provide food, shelter, and nesting or bedding materials to a variety of wildlife, as well as overwintering protection for a number of insects, all of which work together to contribute to a healthy yard. The soil itself is also a beneficiary of this autumnal gift of fallen leaves, as the leaves are essentially composted over time into nutrients that feed both the next year’s ‘crop’ of grass, but which also feed a vast number of microbes in the soil, which are actually the most important ‘crop’ you can grow, considering that all plant life in your yard depends on a healthy soil biology.

According to National Wildlife Federation Naturalist David Mizejewski, “Fallen leaves offer a double benefit. Leaves form a natural mulch that helps suppress weeds and fertilizes the soil as it breaks down. Why spend money on mulch and fertilizer when you can make your own?” MORE

This simple tweak could drastically raise our pathetic recycling rates

Telling people what product their trash will turn into makes people more likely to take the time to recycle it.

[Source Image: davidpkfox/Blendswap]

Have you ever thought about what happens to the empty Coke cans and food takeout containers you toss in your recycling bins?

Our research suggests that if you’re like most Americans, you’ve probably never considered this question. This was surprising to us given that, by definition, a recyclable is a product that has future use.

As consumer psychologistswe wondered if emphasizing this transformation in messages promoting recycling would better motivate people to put more of their empty cans, rigid plastic containers, and discarded papers into the blue bins.


U.S. recycling rates are abysmal.

About 75% of American waste is recyclable, yet just 30% of it is actually recycled. The figures are even worse with materials like plastic. Less than 10% of plastics disposed of in the U.S. in 2015 were recycled.

We noticed that most recycling messages tend to emphasize negative environmental outcomes from not recycling, such as “save the planet” and “conserve resources.” The problem with such messaging is that it may be perceived as coercive or induce guilt, which is partly responsible for the growing problem of “aspirational recycling,” or mixing non-recyclables in with your recycling.


So we conducted a series of studies to see if getting people to think about the products made out of recycled material could motivate them to actually recycle more and waste less.

For the first one, we recruited 111 Boston College students to participate in an “advertising study.” We asked participants to doodle on a piece of scratch paper to clear their minds for the survey. We then randomly showed them one of three ads. One was a generic public service message that showed paper going into recycling bins. The other two also depicted the paper either being transformed into new paper or a guitar.

After answering some survey questions about the ad they watched, participants were asked to clear their stations and dispose of the scratch paper on their way out. Those who viewed the generic PSA recycled about half the time. Those who saw the transformational messages were significantly more likely to recycle at a rate of about 80%.

We saw a similar recycling boost in a very similar study in which participants—187 college students—doodled on scrap paper and then either watched ads for toys and phone cases that are made out of recycled plastic or ads emphasizing that the advertised products were made by a company that recycles plastic.

The image depicts the three different types of ads participants in the first study viewed. [Photo: Karen Winterich/Gergana Nenkov/Gabriel E. Gonzales/courtesy of the author]

So for a third study, we wanted to understand more about what’s going on here. Why do transformational messages work better? MORE

Why engineers in Alberta think they’ve found a way for the oilsands to produce clean fuel

Team is trying to prove its method for extracting hydrogen works for business and the environment

Ian Gates, shown in his lab at the Schulich School of Engineering at the University of Calgary, is working on a way to extract hydrogen gas from oil and bitumen. (Tony Seskus/CBC)

As the world reaches for cleaner energy, hydrogen has long been viewed with a lot of hope.

Often called the fuel of the future, the gas can be used to generate electricity and power vehicles. It produces water — not carbon — when burned.

But among its challenges is the economics of producing the gas in a large-scale and environmentally friendly way. One of the least expensive methods for doing so, for example, using methane, has drawn scrutiny for its carbon emissions.

Now, engineers in Alberta believe they could have an answer — a method capable of extracting hydrogen from underground resources like oilsands deposits while leaving the carbon emissions it produces below the surface.

The team turned heads with their work this summer at the Goldschmidt Geochemistry Conference in Barcelona, making headlines from Britain to Japan.

A hydrogen dispensing pump is seen at the Washington Auto Show in 2015. Hydrogen is a potential fuel for the transportation sector.(Reuters)

Hydrogen can be found in many different organic compounds, including hydrocarbons like oil and gas.

One of the most common ways of producing hydrogen from natural gas is called steam-methane reforming, which uses methane and very hot steam under pressure to create a chemical reaction freeing the hydrogen and capturing it in special filters. The waste emissions are carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide.

“That’s been an industrial technology for over 80 [years],” said Grant Strem, CEO of Proton Technologies, the private company commercializing the new process for creating hydrogen.

“What we’re doing is very similar, but the big difference is, we’re using the ground as a reaction vessel, so our capital cost is a lot lower, and instead of buying natural gas to fuel it, we use the unswept oil in the reservoir as our fuel.”

How the process works

Through lab work and small-scale field testing, the researchers say they found injecting oxygen into the fields raises the temperature and creates a reaction that frees the hydrogen.

“You can envision that the reservoir is simply a hot, bubbling mix of oil, which some fraction of it is now combusting,” said professor Ian Gates, from his lab at the University of Calgary’s Schulich School of Engineering.

“And as it is doing so, it simply keeps producing more and more hydrogen as a consequence of its reactions.”

Gates said palladium alloy filters then allow the hydrogen to come to surface while filtering out the other gases, like carbon dioxide or hydrogen sulfide, which stay below ground.

Conceptually, Gates said, the oil in the reservoir could later be produced.

But the expectation is the process can draw up “huge” quantities of hydrogen relatively inexpensively.

And Canada would be able to tap its resources.

“There’s a lot of work toward renewables, hydro and all those other things, but you still have a huge amount of assets, chemical energy, stored in oil,” Gates said.

“What this is about is how do we make use of oil reservoirs — or even gas reservoirs — and get pure, clean energy out of it.”

Gates said after proving the concept in the field last year, they will soon begin testing to see how it works on a larger scale. A semi-commercial pilot project is in the works for next year. MORE

Why activists want to make ecocide a crime against humanity

Environmental group Stop Ecocide wants the ICC to recognize ecocide as a crime on par with genocide

People take part in a climate change strike in Toronto on Sept. 27, 2019. Activist Jojo Mehta says the message behind the climate strikes, that politicians need to do more to protect the environment, fits with her group’s advocacy around ecocide. (Carlos Osorio/Reuters)

s millions of people take part in global strikes demanding action on climate change, activist Jojo Mehta is hoping to take her message to The Hague.

Mehta co-founded Stop Ecocide, an environmental organization campaigning to get the International Criminal Court (ICC) to recognize “ecocide” as an atrocity crime alongside genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Day 6 host Brent Bambury spoke with Mehta about what that would mean for world leaders, and why she believes it could help accelerate solutions for fighting climate change.

So what is ecocide?

It’s exactly what it sounds like.

“Ecocide is defined as large scale and systematic damage and destruction to ecosystems,” Mehta explained. “In other words: serious damage to the natural, living world.”

That includes the sort of cataclysmic weather events that push people from their homes, or make homes nearly unlivable.

The destruction also needs to have occurred as a result of decisions or mismanagement, by a person or group. Essentially, a specific person or group must be directly responsible for the effects.

“An example would be, potentially, deforestation of the Amazon where huge tracts of land are being destroyed, no doubt hundreds of species being wiped out in the process,” Mehta said.

“And there’s also a kind of cultural ecocide there too, because those who depend on the forest for their way of life are being displaced.”

Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro speaking at the UN General Assembly. Because of the intense negative reaction to fires currently burning in the Amazon, Mehta called Bolsonaro the ‘poster boy’ for ecocide. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

Would we be able to arrest the leader of a foreign country?

In the event a law like this is passed, then yes, Mehta says.

The ability to arrest foreign leaders isn’t new, she argues, and rests on the principle of universal jurisdiction.

According to the International Justice Resource Centre, universal jurisdiction is the idea that countries can prosecute non-citizens who have broken international law, “such as crimes against humanity, war crimes, genocide, and torture — based on the principle that such crimes harm the international community or international order itself.”

Mehta said that if the ICC passed laws against ecocide, as they have done for genocide and war crimes, individuals could be held accountable for crimes against nature regardless of whether their own country recognizes such law.

“Even if a country doesn’t sign up and ratify it, if they are committing those crimes, and they set foot in a country that has ratified it, they can be arrested,” Mehta explained.

The International Criminal Court building is seen in The Hague, Netherlands, Jan. 16, 2019. (Piroschka van de Wouw/Reuters)

But would this ever get ratified?

Mehta says the proposal already has some support.

Any head of state that’s a member of the ICC can propose an amendment to the Rome Statute, the court’s governing document.

From there, what’s needed is a two-thirds majority among the 122 member states to pass. That’s definitely a big obstacle in seeing this sort of law passed — only 18 members are Asia-Pacific states, and the strongest support for this proposal comes from Pacific island states who are more urgently affected by climate change, Mehta said.

One benefit of this setup, Mehta said, is that getting large, industrialized countries like Brazil, India, China, the U.S. or Canada to sign on isn’t actually necessary to see it passed.

“The great thing about it in terms of getting it on the statute books is one doesn’t actually need the big players to do that,” she told Day 6.

Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame addresses a news conference in Kigali, Rwanda. Last year Kagame accused the ICC of bias against Africa, while others have called into question the court’s ability to fairly prosecute leaders around the world. (Jean Bizimana/Reuters)

How would putting leaders on trial save the planet?

While a law on ecocide would give governments the ability to prosecute, it’s uncertain how likely they would be to follow through.

The ICC has been critiqued in the past for being perceived to have focused undue attention on African countries, while completely ignoring others, and for upsetting peace processes by indicting sitting politicians.

Mehta said that in an ideal world, by the time ecocide was recognized by the ICC as an international crime, there would be no one left to convict.

During the time it would take for the law to be proposed and passed, countries would recognize this was coming down the line, and amend their actions to ensure they wouldn’t break the law.

“By the time this is actually on the statute books nobody will be in the dock because everybody will be doing different things in different ways,” Mehta explained.

“We believe that a law like this actually will have to come into play at some point. All we’re trying to do is accelerate that point in order to protect humanity.”

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