The Corner

Energy & Environment

‘Ecocide’ Would Criminalize Resource Development

(File photo: Mike Blake/Reuters)

I have written often here of the threat posed by the nature rights movement, designed by radical environmentalists to thwart large scale development and extraction of natural resources by allowing anyone to sue to uphold nature’s rightsto exist and persist. The movement has been gaining ground for the last several years, most recently with voters in Toledo granting rights to Lake Erie.

Think of nature rights as a metaphorical shield against human thriving from the bounties of the earth. But radical environmentalists also have a spear — the “ecocide movement. Ecocide activists are striving to enact international laws that would punish those who make large-scale uses of nature as criminals, equivalently odious as perpetrators of genocide and ethnic cleansing. In other words, oil-industry executives and the like could find themselves in the dock at the Hague facing years in prison.

Ecocide, like nature rights, was once fringe within environmentalism. But like its nature rights cousin, that is no longer true. Over the last several years the movement’s primary spokeswoman, Polly Higgins, traveled the world proselytizing to much fanfare and increasing acceptance. She even presented at the UN.

Higgins is apparently dying of cancer. But the ecocide cause won’t die with her. For example, it was just endorsed by the Guardian’s environmental columnist, George Monbiot. From, The Destruction of the Earth is a Crime. It Should be Prosecuted”:

This [ecocide] means serious damage to, or destruction of, the natural world and the Earth’s systems. It would make the people who commission it – such as chief executives and government ministers – criminally liable for the harm they do to others, while creating a legal duty of care for life on Earth.

I believe it would change everything. It would radically shift the balance of power, forcing anyone contemplating large-scale vandalism to ask themselves: “Will I end up in the international criminal court for this?” It could make the difference between a habitable and an uninhabitable planet.

No, it could make the difference between our continuing prosperity and a return to pre-industrial standards of living.

Monbiot’s description of ecocide does not adequately describe its radical depth and scope. Here is the movement’s own definition:

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

Note that “peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants” is a very broad term that is not limited to human beings. Rather it includes everything from grass, fish, and insects, to mice, snakes, and people.

Moreover, diminishment of “peaceful enjoyment” would not require actual pollution, but could mean a declining supply of forage or a loss of foliage caused by almost any use of the land, perhaps even simple urban growth. Add in the global-warming element and you have the potential for criminalizing almost all large-scale uses or development of the natural world.

Back to Monbiot’s endorsement:

“If this is my time to go,” she [Higgins] told me, “my legal team will continue undeterred. But there are millions who care so much and feel so powerless about the future, and I would love to see them begin to understand the power of this one, simple law to protect the Earth – to realise it’s possible, even straightforward. I wish I could live to see a million Earth Protectors standing for it – because I believe they will.”

She has started something that will not end here. It could, with our support, do for all life on Earth what the criminalisation of genocide has done for vulnerable minorities: provide protection where none existed before. Let it become her legacy.

No. Let it not. The harm ecocide laws would cause to humanity cannot be quantified. We must resist this advocacy thrust at every opportunity.

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