As the Climate Crisis Grows, a Movement still tries to Make ‘Ecocide’ an International Crime Against the Environment
from InsideClimateNews. 7 Apr 21, By Nicholas Kusnetz, Katie Surma and Yuliya Talmazan
International lawyers, environmentalists and a few polituicians say “ecocide”—widespread destruction of the environment—would serve as a “moral red line” for the planet.
Humans have always exploited the planet while replenishing little or nothing. Modern Capitalist insane mass consumerism is devouring vital and often irreplaceable ecosystems for short term profits and usually with zero obligation to pay the real ecological costs. The Earth is no longer a seemingly infinite treasure storehouse, as corporations ”are obliged to” loot resources to win the rat race to disaster.
In 1948, after Nazi Germany exterminated millions of Jews and other minorities during World War II, the United Nations adopted a convention establishing a new crime so heinous it demanded collective action. Genocide, the nations declared, was “condemned by the civilized world” and justified intervention in the affairs of sovereign states.
Environmental ‘Ecocide’ Lawyer Polly Higgins Dies Age 50… Environmental lawyer Polly Higgins, best known for campaigning for ‘ecocide’ to be recognized as a crime against humanity, has died from cancer aged 50. The British barrister gave up her high-level job and sold her home to dedicate herself to her cause, lobbying legislation makers and writing the book Eradicating Ecocide, among many other actions.
Now finally, a small but growing number of world leaders including Pope Francis and French President Emmanuel Macron have begun citing an offense they say poses a similar threat to humanity and remains beyond the reach of existing legal conventions: ecocide, or widespread destruction of the environment.
The Pope describes ecocide as “the massive contamination of air, land and water,” or “any action capable of producing an ecological disaster,” and has proposed making it a sin for Catholics.
The Pontiff has also endorsed a campaign by environmental activists and legal scholars to make ecocide the fifth crime before the International Criminal Court in The Hague as a legal deterrent to the kinds of far-reaching environmental damage that are driving mass extinction, ecological collapse and climate change. The monumental step, which faces a long road of global debate, would mean political leaders and corporate executives could face charges and imprisonment for “ecocidal” acts.
To make their case, advocates point to the Amazon, where fires raged out of control in 2019, and where the rainforest may now be so degraded it is spewing more climate-warming gases than it draws in. At the poles, human activity is thawing a frozen Arctic and destabilizing the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica.
Across the globe, climate change is disrupting the reliable seasonal rhythms that have sustained human life for millenia, while hurricanes, floods and other climate-driven disasters have forced more than 10 million people from their homes in the last six months. Fossil fuel pollution has killed 9 million people annually in recent years, according to a study in Environmental Research, more than tuberculosis, malaria and AIDS combined.
A young boy plays with a ball as his mother searches through the ruins of their family home on March 16, 2015 in Port Vila, Vanuatu. Cyclone Pam hit South Pacific islands in 2015 with hurricane force winds, huge ocean swells and flash flooding and caused severe damage. Credit: Dave Hunt- shared with thanks
A young boy plays with a ball as his mother searches through the ruins of their family home on March 16, 2015 in Port Vila, Vanuatu. Cyclone Pam hit South Pacific islands in 2015 with hurricane force winds, huge ocean swells and flash flooding and caused severe damage. Credit: Dave Hunt-Pool/Getty Images
One in four mammals are threatened with extinction. For amphibians, it’s four in 10.
Damage to nature has become so extensive and widespread around the world that many environmentalists speak of ecocide to describe numerous environmentally devastated hot spots:
- Chernobyl, the Ukrainian nuclear plant that exploded in 1986 and left the now-deserted area dangerously radioactive;
- The tar sands of northern Canada, where toxic waste pits and strip mines have replaced 400 square miles of boreal forest and boglands;
- The Gulf of Mexico, site of the Deepwater Horizon disaster that killed 11 people, spilled at least 168 million gallons of crude oil into the ocean over 87 days and killed countless marine mammals, sea turtles, fish and migratory birds;
- The Amazon, where rapid deforestation encouraged by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro prompted Joe Biden, during his presidential campaign, to propose a $20 billion rescue plan and threaten the Brazilian leader with economic sanctions.
Fire boats battle a fire at the off shore oil rig Deepwater Horizon April 21, 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana. Credit: U.S. Coast Guard via Getty Images shared with thanks
The campaign to criminalize ecocide is now moving from the fringe of advocacy into global diplomacy, pushed by a growing recognition among advocates and many political leaders that climate change and environmental causes are tied inherently to human rights and social justice.
The effort remains a long shot and is at least years from fruition, international and environmental law experts say. Advocates will have to navigate political tensions over whether national governments or the international community have ultimate control over natural resources. And they’ll likely face opposition from countries with high carbon emissions and deep ties to industrial development. …………………
Into the Mainstream
While the campaign for an ecocide law could take years—if it is successful at all—advocates say the effort could bear fruit much sooner: The ecocide campaign has thrust the concept into public discussion.
In this aerial view, abandoned, partially-completed cooling towers stand at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant as the new, giant enclosure that covers devastated reactor No. 4 stands behind on Aug. 18, 2017 near Chernobyl, Ukraine. On April 26, 1986 reactor number four exploded after a safety test went wrong, spreading radiation over thousands of square kilometers in different directions
Mehta doesn’t expect the campaign to catch fire in the United States, but after four years of President Donald Trump, she’s heartened by the arrival of John Kerry, Biden’s special climate envoy. “We don’t expect the U.S. to join the ICC any time soon, but that said, the conversation around ecocide itself
, we don’t see any reason why it can’t start happening in the U.S.,” she said.
The State Department released a statement saying that the U.S. “regularly engages with other countries” on “the importance of preventing environmental destruction during armed conflict,” but added, “We do not comment on the details of our communications with foreign governments.”
Mehta’s campaign is also part of a wider effort by activists who have been looking to the courts to force more aggressive action on climate change.
As of July 1, 2020, at least 1,550 climate change cases have been filed in 38 countries, according to a U.N. report.
In the landmark Urgenda case, a Dutch court ruled in 2015 that the government had acted negligently by failing to take aggressive enough action to limit its greenhouse gas emissions. The decision, upheld by the Supreme Court of the Netherlands in 2019, ordered the government to hit specific emissions reductions targets and sparked a series of similar lawsuits in other countries……