Why we need a law against ecocide

From claiming lives to threatening the country’s native wildlife population, the Australian bushfires have had an immense impact on the drought-stricken country

Australia is guilty of ecocide.

More than one billion animals have been killed in the multi-state bushfires, and that toll is expected to climb sharply. The scale of the loss of life is unprecedented and beyond comprehension.

However, we humans are so selfish and narrow-minded that animal lives merely form a footnote to our calculations about losses from bushfires and other disasters. We tally the human lives cut short and the property damage, but animal life comes a distant third in our evaluations.

A photo from the front page of The Times last week, featuring a kangaroo in front of a burning house. More than a billion animals are feared to have been killed in the recent bushfires.
A photo from the front page of The Times last week, featuring a kangaroo in front of a burning house. More than a billion animals are feared to have been killed in the recent bushfires. THE TIMES
One billion dead animals are a tragedy for each individual animal: the lives lost and the incomprehensible suffering. Each of those animals felt pain and fear,  exactly as humans do,  and died in terror. The fact that we don’t really care about that, and barely pause to contemplate it, says much about us as a species.

However, although the loss of animal life is shocking, it is neither surprising nor was it unforeseeable.

Australia is a climate-change denier and has failed utterly to act to mitigate the destructive effects of human activity. It has ignored – and continues to ignore – the scientific consensus on what action is required.

It is the world’s second-largest coal exporter and its main political parties support continuing to extract and export coal. Politicians keep focusing on the “cost” of combating climate change, while closing their eyes to the far greater toll that is being paid for failing to act. Australian MP Craig Kelly appeared on British television this week and continued to deny the link between climate change and the Australian bushfires.

Now is the time to change that.

The late British barrister Polly Higgins led a decade-long campaign to make ecocide a crime. In a submission to the United Nations Law Commission in 2010, she explained ecocide as being “the loss, damage or destruction of ecosystem(s) of a given territory … such that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants has been or will be severely diminished.”

Ecocide covers the direct damage done to sea, land, flora and fauna, as well as the cascading impact on the world’s climate. The term was first used in the 1970s at the Conference on War and National Responsibility in Washington, and academics and lawyers have in the decades since then argued for the criminalisation of ecocide.

Ecocide would sit alongside the four other international crimes – genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and crimes of aggression – which are set out in the 1998 Rome Statute that established the International Criminal Court.

Female koala Anwen recovers in Port Macquarie Koala Hospital from burns suffered in bushfires in November.
NATHAN EDWARDS/GETTY IMAGES
Female koala Anwen recovers in Port Macquarie Koala Hospital from burns suffered in bushfires in November.

Higgins’ website, www.ecocidelaw.com, explains that there is currently no international, legally binding duty of care towards the Earth. This means that companies can destroy environments and communities for profit without fear of prosecution.

The website states that existing laws put shareholders first, meaning that the laws of individual nations are regularly contravened in the pursuit of financial returns – often with the consent of governments that issue permits to pollute.

Higgins’ vision was that a crime of ecocide would act as both a brake on companies by making senior executives personally criminally responsible, and discourage government ministers from facilitating harmful activity and make banks and investors less likely to finance it. Like senior executives, ministers would face the prospect of criminal proceedings.

Ecological Defence Integrity was founded by Higgins and Jojo Mehta in June 2017 to lobby for the creation of a crime of ecocide under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court. It launched the public campaign Stop Ecocide in November 2017.

Barrister and journalist Catriona MacLennan says it is time to enact laws against ecocide.
Barrister and journalist Catriona MacLennan says it is time to enact laws against ecocide. Cat MacLennan is a barrister and founder of Animal Agenda Aotearoa
Four elements would comprise the crime of ecocide:

* A perpetrator’s acts or omissions causing ecocide

* The actions severely diminishing peace

* The perpetrator having knowledge of actual or possible outcomes; and

* The perpetrator being a senior official.

Ecocide law would also provide legal backing to the campaigns of indigenous communities in many nations to protect their lands.

Ecocide is already recognised as a crime in 10 nations, including the Russian Federation, Ukraine, Vietnam and Belarus.

Scientists have warned humans about climate change for decades, and we have ignored those warnings. As recently as last month, Australia and the United States worked with other nations at COP25 to block stronger action on climate change.

A crime of ecocide would prohibit harmful activity and force governments, businesses and financiers to prioritise clean generation and production.

New Zealand is included in that imperative. We are watching on in horror at the Australian bushfires, but our own action to combat climate change is woefully inadequate. SOURCE

OMNICIDE: Who is Responsible for the Gravest of All Crimes?

Danielle Celermajer calls for accountability for the destruction unfolding in Australia – a crime against humanity she believes is akin to genocide.

As the full extent of the devastation of the Holocaust became apparent, a Polish Jew whose entire family had been killed, Raphael Lemkin, came to realise that there was no word for the distinctive crime that had been committed: the murder of a people.

His life’s work became finding a word to name the crime and then convincing the world to use it and condemn it: genocide. Today, not only has genocide become a dreadful part of our lexicon, we recognise it as perhaps the gravest of all crimes.

During these first days of the third decade of the 21st Century, as we watch humans, animals, trees, insects, fungi, ecosystems, forests, rivers (and on and on) being killed, we find ourselves without a word to name what is happening. In recent years, environmentalists have coined the term ecocide, the killing of ecosystems, but this is something more. This is the killing of everything. Omnicide.

Some will object, no doubt, that the events unfolding in Australia do not count as a “cide” – a murder or killing – because it is a natural phenomenon, albeit an unspeakably regrettable one. Where is the murderous intent? It is difficult to locate, admittedly, but a new crime also requires a new understanding of culpability. Indeed, one of the most serious problems with the laws against genocide is that they were written in a way that requires that the specific intent to destroy a people can be shown to have existed. Even where it did exist, such intent most often remains hidden in people’s dark hearts.

We can, however, identify the political representatives who refused to meet with fire chiefs who had tried to warn of, and act to mitigate, the impending disaster. The same political representatives who approved, and continue to approve, new coalmines in the face of scientific consensus on the effect that continuing to burn fossil fuels will have on the climate in general, and drought and temperatures in particular. The same political representatives who approve water being diverted to support resource extraction, when living beings are dying for want of water and drying to the point of conflagration.

We can identify the media owners who sponsor mass denial of the scientific evidence of the effects of a fossil fuel-addicted economy on the climate. The same media owners who deploy the tools of mass manipulation to stoke fear, seed confusion, breed ignorance and create and then fuel hostile divisions within communities.

We can identify the financial institutions that continue to invest in, and thereby prop up, toxic industries and who support the media owners to protect themselves from accumulating stranded assets. We can identify the investors who use their financial and social capital to support politicians who will protect their financial interests. We can identify a corporate culture and a legal system – populated by lawyers, management consultants and financial analysts – that incentivise or even require companies to maximise short-term shareholder profit and externalise costs to the future and the planet.

And then we can identify  those closer to home.

Business owners and investors whose profits depend on systems of extraction and resource exploitation. Consumers addicted to lifestyles based on resource extraction and the exploitation of the natural world. Citizens who prioritise narrow, short-term interests over the sustainability of the planet. Citizens who lack the courage or fortitude to undertake the social and economic transformations required to give our children and the more-than-human-world a future. Citizens who do not bother to take the time or to make the effort to develop well-informed opinions, but would rather run to the comfort of the truisms of their tribe.

We can also identify the humans and human cultures that have told themselves that they are superior to, and thus have the right to dominate and exploit, other animals and the natural world. That they are the ones who get to flourish and that everything else that is here is here for our use. That other beings are not life but resource.

None of those mentioned in this list developed a specific intent to kill everything. But all of us have created and are creating the conditions in which omnicide is inevitable.

When I was growing up, my parents used to play a Bob Dylan song called Who Killed Davey Moore? about a boxer who died in the ring when he was just 30 years old. Each verse begins with some party – the coach, the crowd, the manager, the gambling man, the boxing writer, the other fighter – answering the title’s question: “Who killed Davey Moore?” They each respond with “not I” and then explain that they were just doing what it is that they do: going to the fight, writing about the fight, throwing the punches and so on. And, of course, they each told the truth.

We Can Only Walk as Fast as the Slowest Among Us when it Comes to Climate Change—CJ Werleman

We too are just doing what it is that we do: ensuring that the largest political donors support our political campaigns, maximising profits, ensuring a high share price, living a comfortable lifestyle, avoiding change, lazily buying back in to the conceit that we humans are special.But, sometimes, just doing what it is that we do is sufficient to kill – not just Davey Moore, but everything.

Omnicide is the gravest of all crimes. And, as with all crimes, those responsible must be held accountable. SOURCE

Vulnerable Nations Call for Ecocide to Be Recognized As an International Crime

The nations of Vanuatu and Maldives are spearheading an effort for the International Criminal Court to consider wide-scale environmental damage a global crime. Photo credit: Stop Ecocide

The Pacific island of Vanuatu has called for ecocide— wide-scale, long-term environmental damage—to be considered an international crime equivalent to genocide.

At a meeting of the International Criminal Court in the Hague on Tuesday, ambassador John Licht of Vanuatu said the court should consider an amendment to the Rome Statute, which sets the court’s legal framework, that would “criminalize acts that amount to ecocide. We believe this radical idea merits serious discussion.”

The International Criminal Court is currently responsible for prosecuting four internationally recognized crimes against peace: genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression. A fifth could be included through an amendment to the Rome Statute.

The court’s authority extends only to the 122 nations that have ratified the Rome Statute, a list that does not include the United States, China, India and Israel.

Vanuatu, which is particularly vulnerable to sea level rise, has been an advocate of climate justice at international forums for many years, but has been more vocal since 2015, when Cyclone Pam devastated the island, an example of a major storm whose impact was made significantly worse by climate change.

Vanuatu’s statement is a major victory for the Stop Ecocide campaign, which was launched by British lawyer Polly Higgins two years ago. The organization wants any agreed-upon criminal definition of ecocide to include the impacts of climate change as well as other forms of environmental harm.

Until now, Vanuatu was the only state to have formally announced it was working with the campaign, which provides diplomatic and practical help for countries to get to the negotiation table. The Republic of Maldives announced on Thursday that it was adding its support as well.

Ahmed Saleem, member of the Maldives parliament and chair of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Climate Change and Environment, said in a statement the “time is ripe” to consider an ecocide amendment, emphasizing how serious a threat climate change posed to his nation.

“We see little or no concrete action at multilateral level to bring about transformative changes necessary to prevent the repercussions of climate change,” Saleem said. “It is time justice for climate change victims be recognised as part and parcel of the international criminal justice system.”

To change the Rome Statute, the head of a state that is party to the International Criminal Court must submit a formal amendment. If a two-thirds majority approve the change, it can be adopted into the Rome Statute and countries can formally ratify it.

The idea of ecocide has been around for nearly 50 years and had been under serious consideration in early drafts of the Rome Statute. But it was dropped due to resistance from a few countries including the United States and the United Kingdom.

According to the Stop Ecocide campaign, it is the first time since 1972 that a state representative has formally called for ecocide to be recognized at this kind of international forum.

Jojo Mehta, spokesperson for Stop Ecocide and co-ordinator of its international diplomatic and campaign teams, said she is optimistic that a formal amendment could be submitted as early as next year, although others believe it is unlikely to happen until at least 2021.

“This is an idea whose time has not only come, it’s long overdue,” said Mehta. “It’s committed and courageous of Vanuatu to take the step of openly calling for consideration of a crime of ecocide, and it was clear from the response today that they will not be alone. The political climate is changing, in recognition of the changing climate.  This initiative is only going to grow – all we are doing is helping to accelerate a much-needed legal inevitability.”

Pope Francis has lent his support to the idea of making ecocide a crime, proposing in November that ‘sins against ecology’ be added to the teachings of the Catholic Church. SOURCE

PRESS RELEASE: Criminal Climate Change Obstruction

PRESS RELEASE: County Sustainability Group, December 29, 2019

 

While the ‘Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms’ is designed to protect individuals from unconstitutional acts by the government,  the International Criminal Court prosecutes Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity. The legal test for criminal liability is whether one knew or should have known that an action or lack of action resulted in criminal behaviour. This is the approach the youth are taking in cases coming before Canadian courts.

Since the United Nations Paris conference in late 2015, climate change indicators have risen sharply. The IPCC reports have issued scientific predictions warning political leaders of the catastrophic results of overshooting a 1.5 Celsius climate target. An unprecedented emergency response is imperative if we are to avoid global ecocide and eventual collapse.

We are in an unparalleled  climate emergency. It is criminal to fail to act immediately to reduce greenhouse gas emissions including methane and nitrous oxide.  It is criminal to promote the expansion of the tar sands ecocide and to build pipelines to export tar sands bitumen. It is criminal neglect to fail to set hard targets for compliance.

Solutions to climate change are well known and available.

The Parliament of Canada should immediately act to 

    • stop the tar sands ecocide expansion and stop building pipelines to export tar sands dilbit
    • remove all direct and indirect subsidies to fossil fuels, extractive industries, and cement production. 
    • introduce strict regulations to minimize greenhouse gasses 
    • establish a carbon tax regime with firm targets and timelines to keep emissions at or below 1.5 degrees Celsius
    • Redirect tax revenues to support renewable energy: offshore and onshore wind, solar, geothermal, hydro, and ocean power.
    • Invest in R&D for renewable development and climate mitigation 
    • Develop robust, smart power transmission corridors to electrify everything in the new green economy.  For example, building a transmission corridor between Onttario and Quebec would allow cheap, renewable energy from Quebec’s wind and hydro power surplus to flow to Ontario, saving billions, and allow the closure of Pickering Nuclear and cancellation of the Darlington expansion.

Climate criminals are thwarting action. Act to protect future generations.

-30 –


RELATED:

Canadian youth suing federal government over climate change

Image result for canadian youth climate protestA group of Canadian youth have officially filed a lawsuit against the federal government for what they say is the government’s contribution to “dangerous climate change.” Shutterstock

Making Ecocide Punishable Under International Law

Image result for tar sands ecocide
Alberta’s tar sands toxic tailings ponds
Dear EarthTalk: I’ve heard of suicide, homicide and genocide, but what is ecocide?

—Leslie P., Carrboro, NC

While the concept of “ecocide” may be new to many of us, the practice of willfully destroying large areas of the natural environment has been around about as long as humans — although we got a lot better at it using the machinery we developed during the industrial revolution. Bioethicist Arthur Galston first started batting the term around in the 1970s to describe intentional widespread ecological destruction, especially as it pertained to ruining inhabited environments so people couldn’t live there anymore.

Scottish barrister and activist Polly Higgins led the charge to get “ecocide” recognized as a “crime against peace” by the International Criminal Court. Credit: Elevate Festival, FlickrCC.

One classic example of ecocide in modern history is American troops’ widespread application of the toxic herbicide Agent Orange across Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War in the late 1960s. It was used to clear some 12,000 square miles of tropical rainforest to enable flushing out the “enemy,” despite the toll on civilians and the environment.

There are also plenty of present-day examples, including: mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia whereby miners blast through hundreds of feet of earth to access thin seams of coal; the “fracking” for oil and gas across wide swaths of Canada’s Alberta tar sands that has so far destroyed thousands of square miles of boreal forest and peat bogs while releasing hundreds of tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere; the dumping of crude oil and toxic waste into Ecuador’s Amazon by oil companies too focused on profits to do the right thing about waste removal; and deep sea mining whereby the use of heavy machinery to ply veins of precious metals from the seabed is ruining marine ecosystems we still know little about.

In recent years Scottish activist Polly Higgins championed the cause of getting the International Criminal Court (ICC), an independent judicial body created by the United Nations in 1998, to recognize ecocide as a “crime against peace” in the eyes of international law. Her work focused on getting the ICC to add ecocide as the fifth prosecutable “core international crime” (along with genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes of aggression). Sadly, Higgins succumbed to cancer at age 50 in April 2019, but her efforts to institutionalize ecocide as a major international crime lives on with other activists.

“Destroying the planet is currently permitted,” says Jojo Mehta of the non-profit Stop Ecocide. “That is how ecosystems are being destroyed every day by dangerous industrial activity, exacerbating the climate emergency and destroying our forests, our soils, our rivers and the lands that we love.”

Mehta points out that any of the 122 member states of the ICC can formally suggest adding ecocide as a major international crime. Stop Ecocide is working with small Pacific island nations which are already “feeling the sharp end of climate change” to urge ICC to finally adopt ecocide as another crime it prosecutes.

“Serious harm to the Earth is preventable,” urges Mehta. “When government ministers can no longer issue permits for it, when insurers can no longer underwrite it, when investors can no longer back it, when CEOs can be held criminally responsible for it, the harm will stop.” SOURCE

The big polluters’ masterstroke was to blame the climate crisis on you and me

Fossil fuel giants have known the harm they do for decades. But they created a system that absolves them of responsibility


 Illustration: Eva Bee

Let’s stop calling this the Sixth Great Extinction. Let’s start calling it what it is: the “first great extermination”. A recent essay by the environmental historian Justin McBrien argues that describing the current eradication of living systems (including human societies) as an extinction event makes this catastrophe sound like a passive accident.

While we are all participants in the first great extermination, our responsibility is not evenly shared. The impacts of most of the world’s people are minimal. Even middle-class people in the rich world, whose effects are significant, are guided by a system of thought and action that is shaped in large part by corporations. 

The Guardian’s polluters series reports that just 20 fossil fuel companies, some owned by states, some by shareholders, have produced 35% of the carbon dioxide and methane released by human activities since 1965. This was the year in which the president of the American Petroleum Institute told his members that the carbon dioxide they produced could cause “marked changes in climate” by the year 2000. They knew what they were doing.


BP’s oil refinery complex in Grangemouth, central Scotland. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

A paper published in Nature shows that we have little chance of preventing more than 1.5C of global heating unless existing fossil fuel infrastructure is retired. Instead the industry intends to accelerate production, spending nearly $5tn in the next 10 years on developing new reserves. It is committed to ecocide.

But the biggest and most successful lie it tells is this: that the first great extermination is a matter of consumer choice. In response to the Guardian’s questions, some of the oil companies argued that they are not responsible for our decisions to use their products. But we are embedded in a system of their creation – a political, economic and physical infrastructure that creates an illusion of choice while, in reality, closing it down.

We are guided by an ideology so familiar and pervasive that we do not even recognise it as an ideology. It is called consumerism. It has been crafted with the help of skilful advertisers and marketers, by corporate celebrity culture, and by a media that casts us as the recipients of goods and services rather than the creators of political reality. It is locked in by transport, town planning and energy systems that make good choices all but impossible. It spreads like a stain through political systems, which have been systematically captured by lobbying and campaign finance, until political leaders cease to represent us, and work instead for the pollutocrats who fund them.

In such a system, individual choices are lost in the noise. Attempts to organise boycotts are notoriously difficult, and tend to work only when there is a narrow and immediate aim. The ideology of consumerism is highly effective at shifting blame: witness the current ranting in the billionaire press about the alleged hypocrisy of environmental activists. Everywhere I see rich westerners blaming planetary destruction on the birth rates of much poorer people, or on “the Chinese”. This individuation of responsibility, intrinsic to consumerism, blinds us to the real drivers of destruction.

A protester is detained during an Extinction Rebellion demonstration in Whitehall, London. Photograph: Henry Nicholls/Reuters Pinterest 

The power of consumerism is that it renders us powerless. It traps us within a narrow circle of decision-making, in which we mistake insignificant choices between different varieties of destruction for effective change. It is, we must admit, a brilliant con.

It’s the system we need to change, rather than the products of the system. It is as citizens that we must act, rather than as consumers. But how? Part of the answer is provided in a short book published by one of the founders of Extinction Rebellion, Roger Hallam, called Common Sense for the 21st Century. I don’t agree with everything it says, but the rigour and sweep of its analysis will, I think, ensure that it becomes a classic of political theory.

It begins with the premise that gradualist campaigns making small demands cannot prevent the gathering catastrophes of climate and ecological breakdown. Only mass political disruption, out of which can be built new and more responsive democratic structures, can d

By studying successful mobilisations, such as the Children’s March in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963 (which played a critical role in ending racial segregation in the US), the Monday Demonstrations in Leipzig in 1989 (which snowballed until they helped bring down the East German regime), and the Jana Andolan movement in Nepal in 2006 (which brought down the absolute power of the monarchy and helped end the armed insurgency), Hallam has developed a formula for effective “dilemma actions”. A dilemma action is one that puts the authorities in an awkward position. Either the police allow civil disobedience to continue, thereby encouraging more people to join, or they attack the protesters, creating a powerful “symbolism of fearless sacrifice”, thereby encouraging more people to join. If you get it right, the authorities can’t win.

Among the crucial common elements, he found, are assembling thousands of people in the centre of the capital city, maintaining a strictly nonviolent discipline, focusing on the government and continuing for days or weeks at a time. Radical change, his research reveals, “is primarily a numbers game. Ten thousand people breaking the law has historically had more impact than small-scale, high-risk activism.” The key challenge is to organise actions that encourage as many people as possible to join. This means they should be openly planned, inclusive, entertaining, peaceful and actively respectful. You can join such an action today, convened by Extinction Rebellion in central London.

Hallam’s research suggests that this approach offers at least a possibility of breaking the infrastructure of lies the fossil fuel companies have created, and developing a politics matched to the scale of the challenges we face. It is difficult and uncertain of success. But, he points out, the chances that politics as usual will meet our massive predicament with effective action are zero. Mass dilemma actions could be our last, best chance of preventing the great extermination. SOURCE

 

Protesters Dump Fake Blood On Charging Bull; Dozens Arrested

Cops cuffed 27 people Monday as environmental activists covered the iconic statue with fake blood and blocked traffic on Broadway.

Activists splashed fake blood on the "Charging Bull" statute on Wall Street during a Monday protest demanding action to address climate change.Activists spashed fake blood on the “Charging Bull” statue during a Monday protest demaning action to address climate change. Photo courtesy of @Postcards4USA/twitter

FINANCIAL DISTRICT, NY — Dozens of protesters were arrested after activists splashed fake blood on the Financial District’s “Charging Bull” sculpture during a Monday morning protest demanding action to combat climate change.

Cops cuffed 27 people during the demonstration in front of the Wall Street icon, which started about 11 a.m., the NYPD said. They will likely be charged with disorderly conduct, a police spokesperson said.

Dozens of protesters — some of them also covered with red paint — also blocked traffic farther up Broadway near Pine Street after splattering the statue in their bold effort to draw attention to the climate crisis.

“Denying it is — I’m not religious — but it’s sinful,” said Ben Watts, a protester from Brooklyn. “It’s totally immoral. I have a kid. The way it’s going, she may have no real future.”
The activist group Extinction Rebellion took credit for the protest, which drew more than 100 people to the Financial District. A video posted to Twitter shows an activist holding a flag emblazoned with the organization’s logo standing atop the bloodied bull.

Extinction Rebellion NYC 🌎@XR_NYC

Financial sectors profit from ecocide, so we must rebel

Embedded video

“Financial sectors profit from ecocide, so we must rebel,” the group said on Twitter.

RELATED: