Ecocide is a Crime

Politics has failed so far to safe the planet. Should we turn our head towards law to finally come up with a solution?

The Earth Law activist Polly Higgins writes about how that could be possible and more in her new book Earth is Our Business. Changing the Roles of the Game.

First of all, Polly Higgins is a lawyer and during her practice in that job she started to take on an unsual client: she wanted to represent the Earth. However, she soon had to discover that there was a lack of law to base her work on. Law does not protect the Earth.

Before that, Higgins had actually represented companies and made sure that they get the money they claim, she told Red Pepper.

Polly Higgins coined the notion of Ecocide which she defines as “the destruction, damage and loss of ecosystems. It is happening on a mass scale, every day and it is getting worse. But we can change this – by making it a crime.” Examples are many, let’s just thinkg about the Gulf of Mexico oil spill or the case in Ecuador. Higgins proposes as international law of Ecocide which will hold states and companies responsible for their crimes against the environment. Only then “people and planet would become the number one priority.” Ecocide is only part of what we need according to Higgins, she imagines a whole body of Earth law. Here’s a video introduction to the project:

Higgins plans for Ecocide are big: “For the past ten years Polly has campaigned to have ecocide recognised by the UN as the fifth ‘crime against peace’. This would place it on a par with genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and crimes of aggression.” She believes that Ecocide is a crime like any other which could be stopped by implementing laws which make it punishable.

What is new about this idea? So far, we have been relying on politics to solve our environmental problems. The political arena, however, is not very likely to find any sustainable solutions. Law seems to be stronger in making people and companies change their behaviour. The same goes with governments: “if you make policies that allow the destruction to go on then you will have to answer in an international court of law and the offence is sanctionable by being put in prison. The minimum [custodial] sentence under international law is two year and it would apply to ministers, CEOs and investors. This is about individuals taking responsibility.”

After her first book Eradicating Ecocide where she describes Ecocide and how to act upon it, her second book Earth is Our Business “sets out a route-map for changing the minds of CEO’s and business by the creation of a new law for the Earth.” Regarding the contradictions of her stand you can read the full Red Pepper article.

Polly Higgins believes that “there are certain times in history when we say the moral has to trump the economic. We did it with the abolition of slavery, even though all our economies ran on it. We did it again with the civil rights movement and the ending of apartheid, because a lot of people made a lot of money out of that.”

To know more on how to safe the planet with law read also: Crime against the environment

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7 thoughts on “Ecocide is a Crime

  1. Very interesting premise Rahel…If we can manage to safeguard the earth for future generations it would all be worthwhile. Making greedy corporations and big business lobbying and swaying government policy liable for being the antagonists in this debate and giving them the negative publicity, the threat of litigation where it hurts them most (their profit margins) and the prospect that someone out there will be watching and waiting for them to stuff up would be enough to make them at least think about what they were doing. They have been doing whatever they like with impunity because no law exists to penalise them (funny that eh? Methinks there may have been a degree of lobbying done to ensure this outcome…) for their greed. Surely the adventitious looting and pillaging of what we now know are scarce and non renewable resources to the detriment of society and to our very existence needs to be reconfigurated as CRIMES against humanity? The problem here is that they have made sure to cover themselves in lawyers, counter litigation and corrupt/bought politicians to ensure that they are able to continue on with impunity. It will be very interesting to watch how this woman’s efforts play out and see if our increasing awareness and discontent about how this is all playing out will be able to be quantified and condensed into new law and the threat of litigation. Cheers for giving me something to think about yet again Rahel. Just finished plotting our design for our sustainable veggie garden using lateral problem solving and making it extremely specialised and pertinent to our situation. Time to switch off and head off to dispatch a few more roosters…nothing like some random slaughter in the evening to make you forget about big business and the corruption they drag along behind them…have a great day and keep up those posts 🙂

    • Hahahah…usually there’s not slaughtering on this blog (if it’s not of companies or the like) but I’m gonna be looking out for more posts on your gardening!! I can’t wait to put up our own sophisticated veggie garden 😉

      • If you start a sophisticated garden please let me know…I have always wanted to say that I am friends with someone with class 😉

  2. You know, this isn’t a new concept. Indeed, more laws are becoming flavoured by this brand of thinking. In Australia at least, there have been some in-roads to move to this state of environmental protection, but Australias legal efforts are hindered by state level discord.

    Example: one of my lecturers is going to the Environmental Law Court to give expert testimony on the impact of chopping down an acre of trees on gliders and possums. (The landowner chopped down the trees knowing they were under government protection cause they were on his property and he felt like he could use the land better. He has admitted to this. Now the courts need to determine what impact his actions will have so they can level a just judgement / conviction.)

    • I agree, the voice of the earth is represented in court in many places once in a while. However, what is missing is the global level. Multinational corporations can hardly be put on trial on a national court because they tend to just leave a country if things get bad… that is when we need something like Polly Higgins is suggesting.

      • I agree. We were actually talking about the crimes of multinationals such as Coke and Caltex, BP, ect ect.

  3. Pingback: What do You Want from Rio? | Kosmos 9

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