Contribution to GTI Roundtable "Against Ecocide"
An exchange on the viewpoint Against Ecocide: Legal Protection for Earth

Paul Nieuwenhuis

Despite the various issues raised by commentators, embedding something like what Wijdekop proposes in law will set a stake in the ground. This value is why many in the environmental movement still refer to the sustainability principle in The Great Law of the Iroquois Confederacy and why the Ley de la Madre Tierra (“Law of Mother Earth”) in Bolivia is considered significant.

However, we must be mindful that this should only be a first step on a much longer journey. For one, protecting nature in this sense still confines our thinking within the “conservation” model, itself a result of our conceptual separation from “nature.” This view—which allows us to “protect the planet” if and when it is convenient, rather than 24/7 as an integral part of all our decisions, as it should be—is gradually being challenged. We are slowly moving (back) to a position where we see ourselves as an integral part of ecological and planetary systems, a position from which the very concept of “nature,” becomes meaningless. Protecting other parts of these systems therefore becomes integrated with looking after ourselves, and seeking to balance our activities with the interests of “others” becomes “natural.”

Too many in the environmental movement still operate within the confines of current mainstream thinking, dominated as it is by what the ecologist Charles Krebs would describe as an “economic” rather than an “ecological” worldview. We are now, hopefully, in the process of making a gradual transition from a conservation model of environmentalism to a much more integrated, systems view of our role in wider ecological and planetary systems. Within this thinking, which should also allow that transition from the current economic model of society to an ecological model of society, the concept of “nature” itself should be challenged, as the very term implies it is something separate from us.

We need to recognize that we are an integral part of the systems on our planet, an integral part of various ecological systems and thereby gain an understanding that whatever we do to other systems, species, or organisms will eventually impact on us. For this reason, we need to develop respect not only for those fellow travelers who are “animal” or “vegetable,” but also those who are “mineral,” whether man-made or not—an artificial distinction that is itself man-made. Any move to provide legal status for those “others” is therefore welcome, even if it is only the first step on a long conceptual journey.

Paul Nieuwenhuis
Paul Nieuwenhuis is co-director of the Centre for Automotive Industry Research and the Electric Vehicle Centre of Excellence, both at Cardiff University, and author of Sustainable Automobility.

Cite as Paul Nieuwenhuis, contribution to GTI Roundtable "Against Ecocide," Great Transition Initiative (August 2016),

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