Contribution to GTI Roundtable "Against Ecocide"
The question of intent is often raised in discussions of ecocide. In Polly Higgins’s proposal, which Wijdekop mentions, ecocide would not be a crime of intent. Nobody intends to destroy nature—it is a side effect, or externality, of gaining profit. And when profit is the driving force, as is the case today, there is no space for caring for nature. Thus, ecocide as a crime would be a great support for powerful individuals—like CEOs—who do not want to destroy nature but essentially have it in their job description.
I am personally active in the movement for an international law against ecocide, working mainly to build momentum around the idea in Sweden. We are quite surprised by the positive response we are getting from businesspeople. Many Swedish companies are supportive of the idea: they say, “We know we need new rules, and this seems like something that would mean a level playing field. We don’t want to destroy nature, but we want to stay in business. If this law would apply for all, it would be good news for us.”
The beauty of an ecocide law is that it would be a systemic response. As other commentators have noted, we are all culprits. Laws are our most clear common agreements. Can we agree to not treat nature like a cornucopia and a sewer? Addressing the most damaging projects, often driven by global corporations, would then be a good strategy that would also affect all our choices down the line. Wijdekop uses the metaphor of slavery. The situation was similar: anyone who could afford to use commodities like sugar or tobacco was complicit in slavery. But to end it, those small and often unconscious decisions were not the target. The target was to abolish the slave trade. And that had an effect not only on all the consumption decisions, but also on our common values, which is perhaps the most interesting aspect of an ecocide legislation. Like with slavery, it will not end ecocide. But it will mean that ecocide is the exception—not the norm, as is the case today. Laws and values are communicating vessels. The law will be broken—but that will mean breaking the law.
Ecocide law is an important step in the much-needed paradigm shift in how we relate to nature, as it calls for a stop to the most damaging activities. Without that, we most likely cannot move on to a regenerating presence on Earth. The behavior of corporations who are culprits of ecocide today is often described as psychopathic (were they people).
As I am locally active in the Transition Network, I very much understand the concerns some raise about how global institutions, like the ICC, are fragile and are themselves part of the problem. However, in the current state of affairs, I think we need them as stepping stones toward more local and healthy ways of doing things. Most of the global ecocidal economy works against local resilience and well-being. This has to stop for alternative responses to flourish.
Ecocide law is just one piece in a larger framework of rights of nature, without which I don’t believe we could uphold any human rights.