Ecocide

Written By: - Date published: 7:26 am, September 9th, 2011 - 64 comments
Categories: climate change, law, sustainability - Tags: , ,

Visiting lawyer, activist and author Polly Higgins has caused quite a stir:

Eco-crimes are crimes against humanity – author

A visiting author is calling for crimes against nature, or “ecocide”, to be recognised as the fifth crime against humanity.

British environmental lawyer and writer Polly Higgins said current environmental laws are not fit for purpose and corporations which do serious, lasting damage to ecosystems should be prosecuted in the International Criminal Court (ICC), similarly to genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and crimes of aggression. … If ecocide were adopted by the Hague, she proposed three categories for criminal charges.

Individuals, such as chief executives and energy ministers, could be charged with unintentional ecocide, ecoslaughter, or ecocide. Their sentences would be equivalent to death caused by dangerous driving, manslaughter and murder.

The definition of ecocide she proposed was the mass “damage, destruction or loss of ecosystems 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 suggested lignite mining in Southland and proposed deepwater drilling in the Great South Basin could qualify as New Zealand examples of ecocide because they would create enormous greenhouse gas emissions.

Her proposed legislation has gained significant interest since the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill last year, the United States’ worst environmental disaster. …

Her seminar cited United Nations research from 2008 which showed that the world’s top 3000 corporations caused $2.2 trillion of damage to the global environment each year. If serious environmental damaged was outlawed, she said, this money would flow into innovation. …

Asked after her speech if her proposals were too radical to gain traction, Higgins said: “Something is always radical when it is innovative. The origin of the word radical means to pull out from the roots. I’m not anti-profit, but this is what I’m suggesting to turn around this sinking ship very fast.” …

Higgins said the idea that non-human nature had rights was also already ingrained in Buddhist culture – 750 million people worldwide – and there was a strong appetite for it in indigenous cultures, including Maori.

“It is the developed world that has the disconnect,” she said.

Check out the resources on Polly’s web site.

If a corporation can have the legal rights of a person, I can’t see why the environment can’t have the legal protections of a person, can you?

64 comments on “Ecocide ”

  1. Draco T Bastard 1

    Good. We need to accept that destroying the environment is not acceptable. That the financial economy is not more important.

    • aerobubble 1.1

      I think its all very well repeating what has been said for countless decades, I’m sure
      centuries about the abusive nature of industrialisation on the ecology. And I can
      see how the less informed would see the need to start from ignorance to build
      a environmental movement. But bureauarcy and appeals to the rulers, have never worked
      in all that time. Sure when under extreme pressure, and the costs risks are weighted
      up then governments have move some way. But if you had been listening to the Green
      movement, when you can get access to their more radical views, you would know
      that its too late when you have to debate, e.g ants don’t have debates, they just do the
      minimum necessary to fit their niche. Bureaucracy, debates, laws, take time, and
      serve a number of systemic power interests whos need to be in the loop, to be
      on the page, with veto rights, will always mean that the minimum efficient path
      is missed. Now oil will be gone, so will coal, so will, natural gas, (yes even nuclear)
      all the non-renewable forms of energy will not available for Humans and our niche.
      So its madness to grow off the backs of non-renewables to swarm proportions,
      we must always live within the capacity of the planet and the sustainable technology
      of the times. Oil is an extra, a luxury, a one time gift, it is not the basis for our
      way of life, and until government stop growing people by distorting them to have
      large families. Whether via religion, or by exploitation, remembering that people
      only had large numbers of children when they HAVE to, most women were
      not that fertile, most people did not live long after their 40s, through recent
      history. People will lower their birth rate if well educated, entertained, and
      confident of stable futures. Exploitation and stress causes all species to
      have more children. We seen this in most third world countries, if you
      want to lower the population ban the Paul Henries of the world and find
      ways to bottle the rage conservatism that plays on emotions.

      As I keep saying why FOX news exists there will be no change, we
      will have the massive collapse of the swarm Human plague.

    • insider 1.2

      Defne ‘destroy’

      • Draco T Bastard 1.2.1

        Tear it up until it’s dead – just like we’ve been doing for the last 200+ years. the pollution in our lakes, streams and rivers from farming is proof of the destruction that we’ve been participating in.

      • bbfloyd 1.2.2

        insider… do you know what a dictionary is? if so, then i suggest you consult one… then you could stop wasting space asking silly and irrelevant questions…

        • insider 1.2.2.1

          So could I be done for ripping up my front garden, destroying the ecosystem to build a drive, or a garage or a home? Could a farmer be done for knocking down a stand of pines to put in a pasture? What about if the govt bulldozed a road through an environment, or a power company builds a nice renewable energy dam? All cause some form of destruction of an environment. Where are you going to draw the line and why?

          • Draco T Bastard 1.2.2.1.1

            Typical RWNJ reply – straight to the most extreme interpretation possible without taking into account the qualifier.

            Yes, what we do impacts the environment but it doesn’t have to kill it as we have been and still are doing. NZ needs enough farms to feed 4.5m people and no more – we have enough to feed 10s of millions (and yet we still have starvation in NZ) and those farms have replaced the ecosystems that renewed the land so that nothing could live on it without artificial fertiliser that runs into the rivers killing them and the ocean where they flow into it. We need enough industry to supply us with what we need but no more. Some mining for raw materials, recycling of items that are worn beyond use and, most importantly, we need to stop the expansion of our population.

            The capitalist paradigm that is killing us and the world demands that we produce more, more, more without consideration for where it will lead us.

            PS, private cars should be outlawed immediately as they are completely unsustainable, ergo, you don’t need a driveway.

    • AAMC 1.3

      Perhaps we could learn from Bolivia.

      “Bolivia will this month table a draft United Nations treaty giving “Mother Earth” the same rights as humans — having just passed a domestic law that does the same for bugs, trees and all other natural things in the South American country.”

      http://www.shamanswell.org/shaman/proposed-un-paper-give-mother-earth-rights-bolivian-amaryan-indian-minister-leading-charge

  2. Nick K 2

    It must be April Fools Day, because that last sentence of the post is very funny.

    • Do you think a tree should get the DPB if it seeds a small tree?
      If I prune a tree should I be done for grievous boughily harm?
      If a tree falls in a forest should other trees be told by sign language because they can’t hear?

      • r0b 2.1.1

        That makes as much sense as asking if a corporation should get DPB if it spawns a new corporation.

      • prism 2.1.2

        What a bunch of airheads come out from under rocks when something vitally important to us all is put up for discussion. Like complex environmental law and why it would be of value based on knowledge of human behaviour under different types of control, with duress or without using self-regulation, whether the duress is human or enforced by nature.) The depth of analysis leading to understanding is beyond many with our traditional level of education with lack of coaching in critical thinking. (I should think this will be accelerated by National Standards limitations.)

        • Draco T Bastard 2.1.2.1

          The depth of analysis leading to understanding is beyond many with our traditional level of education with lack of coaching in critical thinking. (I should think this will be accelerated by National Standards limitations.)

          Yes, in fact, IMO, that seems to be the point of National Standards – to prevent people from thinking critically about our society and how it only benefits a few.

    • r0b 2.2

      Is it any funnier than a corporation having the legal rights of a person?  If so, why?

      • James Stephenson 2.2.1

        How does a corporation have the legal rights of a person? I don’t see anyone pursuing action against Google for damn near killing Yahoo.

        • MrSmith 2.2.1.1

          Having had dealings with Google and Yahoo, the latter just couldn’t compete on the advertising front anyway, so Google got my money and I guess a lot of people felt the same way, evolve or die unless you have a monopoly which in Googles case they virtually do now, so really they (Google) need to be broken up and the market regulated to allow competition, as they are getting greedy and lazy, as you do when you have a virtual monopoly.

          On a side: Corporations are already trying to have written in law the right to pursue compensation for changes in governments policy that affect there profit, and profit is all that drives these faceless, headless, beasts.

  3. Jim Nald 3

    There are a number of very compelling threads in Polly’s arguments regarding the initiative for a crime of ecocide. Just quickly and briefly for now …

    1. The approach taken by the law is largely in terms of property rights with the accompanying burden of proof that is often impractical to achieve (eg evidentiary grounds, and datasets needed to have been tracked and collated from way back), has no real practical outcome or would not be timely (the damage has already been done) and provides only limited remedies. The ‘property right’ approach tends to fall short and not reach out far enough to hold specific persons accountable (retrospectively) and, just as or more importantly, to shift the mindset and to encourage change in the behaviour of companies and nation states to do things differently for the better (prospectively).

    2. The proposal being advanced by Polly is to advocate for the use of another approach available to the law – going after the ‘natural’ person and not just the corporate entity (after all a company, as a legal construct, is really only a piece of paper, ie its articles of incorporation). Current laws in the area are typically of the nature of ‘catch me if you can’ that aid and abet in letting living and breathing persons off the hook, ie company board directors and CEOs.

    3. A trusteeship model (or you can say guardianship, stewardship, custodianship model .. or even kaitiakitanga at the international and highest level!) that the law already recognises in many areas can provide effective remedies, and also incentives, that would be a step up in terms of making a difference.

    4. Given the elusiveness of nailing down liability these days (eg of corporate behaviour), thanks to globalisation, Polly has pointed to existing international bodies and tools that can be used more effectively: eg the United Nations Trusteeship Council. In Polly’s words:

    “Some existing mechanisms that have been lying defunct such as the United Nations Trusteeship Council can be dusted down, taken out of abeyance and put to good use once again. We can do all of this and so much more. …”

    5. To help businesses, nation states and peoples make conscious and concerted effort to shift their thinking and behaviour would be about not just criminalising past behaviour (not just punitive), but also about transforming current normative behaviour by – when a crime of ecocide is recognised – introducing a specifically defined ‘moratorium’ period or amnesty to allow and encourage them to ‘get their house in order’.

    6. Corporates need not fear about the crime of ecocide. It is an opportunity to position themselves for more opportunities and more jobs … more opportunities and more jobs under a new legal, social and environmental climate and ‘greener order’.

    New Zealand can help champion this. We can help ourselves, together with similarly minded countries with our Pacific neighbours and nation states in further oceans, to shift to healthier economies. We will be able to deservedly earn and more authentically declare and celebrate our countries as Pure New Zealand.

    Have fun reading the book and thinking. The quickest and cheapest source for the book seems to be http://www.bookdepository.co.uk (and, no, I do not get a commission).

    Podcast at

  4. Creating rights for nature has been on the agenda in Bolivia in April

    “Indigenous and campesino (small-scale farmer) movements in the Andean nation of Bolivia are on the verge of pushing through one of the most radical environmental bills in global history. The “Mother Earth” law under debate in Bolivia’s legislature…”

    “As the law states, “Mother Earth is a living dynamic system made up of the undivided community of all living beings, who are all interconnected, interdependent and complementary, sharing a common destiny.””

    “The law would give nature legal rights, specifically the rights to life and regeneration, biodiversity, water, clean air, balance, and restoration. Bolivia’s law mandates a fundamental ecological reorientation of Bolivia’s economy and society, requiring all existing and future laws to adapt to the Mother Earth law and accept the ecological limits set by nature. It calls for public policy to be guided by Sumaj Kawsay or Vivir Bien (an indigenous concept meaning “living well,” or living in harmony with nature and people), rather than the current focus on producing more goods and stimulating consumption.”

    http://climate-connections.org/2011/04/22/the-law-of-mother-earth-behind-bolivias-historic-bill/

    I need to get an update on where this is at but if you enjoy reading about indigenous empowerment then check out this site – http://intercontinentalcry.org/

    • Jim Nald 4.1

      Cheers.

      I was going to buy a second laptop battery to leave it at work so I don’t have to ferry it when I bike. Convenience, I thought. But then I came across Polly’s initiative and read the following about Bolivia and lithium mining:

      “We Should Look to Bolivia for Inspiration”

      “Bolivia needs to industrialise – it can’t go on importing everything forever. Hydrocarbon and mineral deposits (like lithium) are its ticket out of poverty, and they need to be developed and sold abroad. So there are inevitable contradictions and hypocrisies between government rhetoric and political reality.

      “But there is no doubt that Bolivia is seeking a development model based on equality and environmental sustainability, of the kind other governments occasionally mention in speeches but never try seriously to enact.

      “The Morales administration’s policies are similar to some traditionally leftwing positions, but this ecological focus, emanating from deep cultural values, makes it unique and worthy of serious attention.”

      http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/poverty-matters/2011/apr/19/bolivia-inspiration-development-model-evo-morales

      • Draco T Bastard 4.1.1

        Hydrocarbon and mineral deposits (like lithium) are its ticket out of poverty, and they need to be developed and sold abroad.

        No they don’t. They need to be developed with the resources used locally and sustainably. Sell them overseas and Bolivia will then have no resources left to support their own country. The same is true for NZ and every other country.

        • Jim Nald 4.1.1.1

          Agree with you on that;
          disagree with Jonathan Glennie, the author for that piece on Bolivia.

        • insider 4.1.1.2

          So if they have the capacity to produce n lithium for 50 years but their ability to absorb lithium is 0.1n, you are saying keep it all just in case for a rainy day? What if they were able to afford a big umbrella by selling some of that lithium?

          • aerobubble 4.1.1.2.1

            Scrap metal is recycled. Sustainability means globally we dig up resources
            and continually recycle them. So Boliva should open up its resources
            to mining, then demand that the world recycle its lithum, thus extending
            the life of their resources. The Arabs sell oil too cheap, they should be
            demanding that the west end the cult of the personal private petrol engine.

            • AAMC 4.1.1.2.1.1

              Why aren’t we mining landfill rather than chopping the top off mountains, we’ve dug it up already, then buried it and should dig it up again, from the place WE buried it.

  5. Afewknowthetruth 5

    It is excellent that such a topic is given prominence. We just have to ignore the idiotic comments made by ‘Orcs’ and Trolls who think that destroying the planet we live on is ‘amusing’.

    Dr James Hansen, head of the NASA Goddard Institute and arguably the world’s leading climatilogist, participated in the demonstration against the constuction of a pipeline to take oil extracted from tar sands in Alberta to refineries in the US. I believe he was arrested, along with dozens of others who wish humanity to have a future.

    The ’empire’ that corporations have constructed puts them above the law because corporations have been writing the laws for decades. The laws, especially those of the United States, are primarily designed to facilitate the looting and despoiling of the planet we live on for short term profit.

    We are now witnessing the ultimate tragedy of the commons, as the economic system progressively destroys all the natural systems that make the Earth habitable. What is particularly sickening is that uninformed fools have been so brainwashed by the propaganda put out by corporations that they endorse the system which is destroying them.

    Much of it is clearly expalined in this book:

    http://www.publishme.co.nz/shop/theeasyway-p-684.html

    People (and entire societies) will either learn the easy way or learn the hard way. There is much evidence they will learn the hard way.

  6. queenstfarmer 6

    Who is surprised that a lawyer such as Ms Higgins would say this? This would be the biggest money-making opportunity imaginable for Higgins and her colleagues, just like Al Gore’s shameless vested interest in hyping carbon trading schemes.

    • Jim Nald 6.1

      Politics of envy from you?
      Touche.

      • queenstfarmer 6.1.1

        Envy? No, because it won’t happen. You can’t blame her for trying though.

        (btw I don’t think you are conceding to my point, in which case you aren’t using touche correctly. I will return your touche for you to use on another occasion :-))

      • bbfloyd 6.1.2

        atually jim, queeny is simply indulging in transferrence… he hasn’t the depth to understand that not everyone is motivated by mindless greed….

        we should pity those like him, “for they know not what they do”…

    • prism 6.2

      qstf – You would know about the self-centred attitudes that are labelled shameless. I would say you are an expert.

    • Draco T Bastard 6.3

      Ah, the normal it’s all about the money cry from the right – just as expected. They really are so stupid as to think that the only reason for someone doing something is for the money. They really have no capability to think that that person is doing something because it is morally right to do it.

      • queenstfarmer 6.3.1

        Who says it’s all about money? That seems to be your suggestion. I have no idea about her other motives. But it is highly relevant that Polly Higgins would appear to have (and in Al Gore’s case, definitely does have) a direct financial interest in what they are promoting.

        Just look at how the “green dollar” has grown, with big multi-nationals using purported environmentalism primarily as a marketing ploy, with only a token-at-best environmental impact. The same scrutiny applies here.

        • Draco T Bastard 6.3.1.1

          But you didn’t apply any scrutiny – you just accused her of doing it only for the money.

          • queenstfarmer 6.3.1.1.1

            You are wrong. Look at what I said – “This would be the biggest money-making opportunity imaginable”. Nothing about doing it “only for the money”. As I said above, I have no idea what her other motives may be, but it is perfectly relevant to note the apparent financial interests.

            • Draco T Bastard 6.3.1.1.1.1

              Only if it was the main motive which it is unlikely to be. In fact, it’s probably not a motive at all and that’s what I’m getting at. All you RWNJs accuse every one else of only doing things for money which is complete bollocks. The only people who do things for money is psychopaths.

  7. Afewknowthetruth 7

    By the way, the system is not just ecocidal, it is omnicidal and suicidal.

    Anyone who is not an environmentalist has a death wish, either for themsleves or for the next generation (or both), depending on their age.

    • aerobubble 7.1

      Everyone needs to stop using petrol cars that cares about the planet.
      They cost lots of money to keep on the road, there are lots of people
      who make money selling and repairing them.
      if enough people stop using them then it becomes much more costly
      to those with them.
      Demand your local councils put on more public transport,
      car pool, cycle, etc. Hell buy a moped.

    • Bored 7.2

      So true, well put. I need a few more of us to plant things where they should not be as a sort of symbolic counter offensive.

  8. randal 8

    Hey look you guys. If I want a 500 acre upstate estate in the Hamptons with a roll up drive and crystal chandeleirs and a ten car garage and a chopper to take me to New York in the mornings to go to work then the only way to get this stuff is to tear the world apart and that is the way of the world and/or kill anyone who gets in the way. It doesnt look like it is going to stop any time soon. i.e. until it is all gone!

  9. MrSmith 9

    When we had started pursuing the executives here in New Zealand through the commerce commission, along comes National, here.

    “Proceedings have been dropped against six Air New Zealand executives by the Commerce Commission” 
    “Commission general counsel of enforcement, Mary-Anne Borrowdale, said: “Discontinuing against these parties is part of the commission’s overall strategy to streamline and focus the case on those airlines with large turnover in New Zealand markets.”
    An analogy of the current situation would be ‘we are still taking the car to court instead of the drunk driver’. 

    How many cars have we crushed by the way? 

  10. alex 10

    Only the Greens would stand up to big business over the environment. Labour would fudge their position to the point where it was meaningless, but the Greens would be very firm on this. If you want to stop big business trampling on our environment, theres only one place to put your vote.

  11. Stuart Baker 11

    I think one of the most powerful bits of her argument is that ecocide is actually already illegal, DURING wartime. Yet in peacetime, it’s acceptable. And obviously there would be limits in place if it was made law. I think the three points she had were something like the ecosystem is not damaged for more than 3 months, is over a certain area, and something else – which is the same wording of the wartime version which came about because of vietnam

  12. AAMC 12

    “What if solar energy received the same subsidies as fossil fuels?”

    http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/science-and-not/what-if-solar-energy-received-.html

  13. Afewknowthetruth 13

    aerobubble.

    The whole point about local government is that they need submissions from well educated people in the comminity who know what they are talking about so they have something to ignore. Nothing anyone says or does makes any difference. Hence, everything that actually matters gets worse by the day.

    Note that Texas is close to complete environmenal collape, being in its tenth month of severe drought and experiencing unprecedented conditions.

    http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/

    But that will not make one iota of difference politically. Big oil will continue to do whatever big oil wants to do, i.e. keep looting and polluting till there is nothing left to loot and pollute, and they have rendered the Earth largely uninhabitable.

    • alex 13.1

      Thats actually really scary the position that Texas is in, given the media attention on Texas as the home of booming American exceptionalism. It begs the question, does a high growth economy require raping the environment?

  14. randal 14

    the world is fucked. its all going to peter out. slowly. what began with a bang is going to end with a wimpy.

  15. Drakula 15

    Ecocide should be the new prevailing legal term to enter the common vernacular.

    Then there is another legal term that Jim intimated, ‘limited liability’, yes that has been the legal loop hiole that many corporations have bolted through since the days of the British East India Company.

    Maybe ‘limited liability’ (Ltd) should be re-defined to serve the purposes of investigating corporates of Ecocide.

    The reasons it came about was early companies on the other side of the world could not hold investors or owner families personaly liable should accidents or revolutions etc. happen.
    Correct me if I’m wrong but it was a bit like incorporated societies and it was practical in the time that it was drafted.

    Now we have instant global communication and in todays context why shouldn’t we have corporate CEO’s personally liable for any environmental disaster.

    Thats why people like Mr. Reynolds (?apelling) of Telecom who get $5million payout should also be personally liable for environmental damage and that if this was addressed, then we could have a radical change in the prevailing corporate culture.

    THE BUCK HAS TO STOP SOMEWHERE !!!!!

    • Afewknowthetruth 15.1

      Drakula

      The buck stops with the next generation, who will have to try to cope with the horrendous mess created by eco-vandals (a term I have been using since 1999) currently in charge.

      The meltdown of the Arctic region is accelerating, much as expected when CO2 emissions are risng out of control.

      http://thinkprogress.org/romm/2011/09/07/313873/arctic-death-spiral-continues-sea-ice-volume-hits-record-low-for-second-straight-year/

      The positive feedbacks triggered by this meltdown are forecast to make the Earth largely uninhabitable by the end of this century. So we can imagine what it will be like at the halfway point: diabolical.

      How do politicians respond to this planetary emergency? They ignore the energy supply issue and ignore the burgeoning environmental catstrophe, and instead of dealing with anything of consequence they harp on about economic growth and tax cuts!!!!

      And budding politicians like Ben Clark tell us how wondeful the rugby is!!! (squandering energy and resources on corporate lunacy apparently being right up his alley).

      As randal put it: ‘the world is fucked’

      And who is responsible? Corporations and the politiicans who serve the interests of corporations instead of serving the people.

  16. johnm 16

    Prince Charles agrees with AFKTT that our number’s up unless we retreat rapidly from BAU.
    “Prince Charles warns of ‘sixth extinction event’
    Mankind faces extinction, the Prince of Wales has warned, unless humans transform our lifestyles to stop mass consumption, run away climate change and destruction of wildlife.”
    Ecocide = Eventual Human extinction or severe permanent Human degradation leading to delayed extinction.
    Refer link: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/earthnews/8749863/Prince-Charles-warns-of-sixth-extinction-event.html
    My opinion is it’s too late too stop the momentum. However we are still lucky here in NZ having a small population. What ever happens we should be able to survive reasonably here trusting that the surrounding oceans will dampen down climate change. We should try to reduce our population and certainly learn to be self-supporting in every way.

  17. belladonna 17

    Until we stop eating meat the environment will continue to go downhill. 50% of the destruction of the environment could be halted if we adopted a plant based diet. Selfish meateaters need to give this serious thought if the children of the world are to have a future.

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