Fundamental Justice and Earth Law for the 99% 

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Ecocide Is A Crime

by Polly Higgins

Until we have a law to prosecute those who destroy the planet, corporations will never be called to account for their crimes.

Seeing is believing. Watch this slideshow.

Sophie Scholl, a Munich University student, was executed for revealing the truth about the activities of the Nazi authorities; today 20 brave Ratcliffe whistleblowers have been sentenced at Nottingham crown court for plotting to draw attention to the truth of the activities of another German entity. This time, replace the tyranny of the Nazis with the tyranny of the energy giant E.ON.

Scholl and 20 others stood up and took direct non-violent action. Their crime was the dissemination of leaflets highlighting and decrying the tyranny of the Nazi dictatorship. It was a decision to undertake something unlawful – an act that they believed was a necessity – to halt a greater but unnamed crime, a crime that cost many lives. That crime did not, at the time, have a name. But it soon did: genocide.

The Ratcliffe 20 did the same in April 2009. They too were prepared to stand up and take action. Their crime was planning to shut down Ratcliffe-on-Soar, a coal-powered station that is one of Britain’s largest greenhouse gas emitters. The state was failing to prevent a greater injury from taking place; the loss of life. This time it is not only human life, but all life.

Like Scholl and her fellow activists, the Ratcliffe 20 were motivated to take non-violent direct action. They, along with 124 others, decided to undertake something unlawful: conspiring to close down the offending emitter. It was an act that they believed was a necessity; to halt a greater but unnamed crime, a crime that is already costing many lives.

Their defence was that they were acting to prevent a greater crime, of death and serious injury caused by climate change. We do not currently have a legal crime in place that fits this description but there is one fast looming on the horizon and that crime is ecocide.

Currently there is no law to prosecute those who are destroying the planet. Instead, climate campaigners do not have the support of the judiciary in preventing the corporate ecocide that is daily occurring under our very noses. Ecocide is permitted (as genocide was in Nazi Germany) by the government and, by dint of the global reach of modern-day transnational business, every government in the world. Corporate ecocide has now reached a point where we stand on the brink of collapse of our ecosystems, triggering the death of many millions in the face of human-aggravated cataclysmic tragedies.

Over the passage of time, tyranny revisits. Tyranny is the cruel, unacceptable, or arbitrary use of power that is oblivious to consequence. While the use of coal stations may not be deemed an intentional cruelty, it is certainly an unacceptable use of corporate power. Our governments collude by encouraging excess emissions, contrary to their UN commitment to stabilise “greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system”.

Sixty years ago the tyranny was Nazism. Today it is pursuit of profit without moral compass or responsibility. Despite the planned Ratcliffe protests, it is one that the majority of humanity accepts regardless of the known consequences. We look the other way from the daily reports of destruction of our world by those who are in a position of superior responsibility; the master controllers of our fates are those who determine how we live our lives. It is the heads of the top corporations who gamble with the fate of our planet; those who produce and supply our energy are the most culpable of all.

The failure rests with our governments who are unwilling to intervene to make the destruction of our world a crime. Our police are disempowered and our justice system is unable to protect our greater interests when faced with the superior silent right of corporations to cause injury to persons and planet. Those who stand up and speak out are thereby treated as criminals.

Prior to the Ratcliffe trial, the judge ruled: “the defendants must have the opportunity of putting that contention (that the emissions from the power station do pose an immediate threat) before the jury, no doubt backed by expert evidence.” Expert evidence was heard, from James Hansen, the former head of Nasa’s Goddard Institute, on the immediacy of the threat to life caused by escalation of emissions, to MPs who confirmed government inertia. All of which the jury failed to accept. What will it take for that dense sea fog to dissipate and for the truth to be revealed?

Unlike the Ratcliffe 20, Scholl and her co-conspirators were denied the right to defend themselves in their trial. They too were convicted for resorting to unlawful acts, which they believed to be necessary to expose the truth. At the very end of her trial, she spoke out. It is just matter of time, she said, before the true destroyers are put in the dock. The very same can be said today.

[First published: The Guardian, Jan 05, 2011 ]

What is Ecocide?

Ecocide is massive environmental destruction that is harming people and our planet.

Destruction, damage or loss of ecosystems is happening on a mass scale, every day.

Each day 150 living species become extinct, 1,000 acres of peat bogs are excavated and 150,000 acres of tropical rainforest are destroyed. Each day, 2 million tons of toxic waste is dumped in to our rivers and seas, 22 million tons of oil are extracted and 100 million tons of greenhouse gases are released.

The cost of destruction to the planet by the top 3,000 corporations was estimated at $2.2 trillion in 2008 and this figure is growing. Fines don’t work, they are just factored into corporations’ budgets. Not one of those 3,000 CEOs have been charged with a crime for this destruction.

How do we change this?

Make Ecocide a crime, change the rules of the game and protect all our futures.

There are many ecocides: the slashing and burning of the Amazon rainforest, oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico, Niger Delta and elsewhere. The word “Ecocide” has been around since the 1970s. In 2010 lawyer Polly Higgins proposed to the United Nations that it be made a crime.

There are two types of ecocide; human made ecocide (corporate ecocide) and naturally occurring ecocide.

Human made ecocide includes the loss of the Amazon, mining, the Athabasca Tar Sands in Canada and a nuclear war.

Naturally occurring ecocides include rising sea levels, tsunamis, floods and earthquakes. Human ecocides can be prevented, naturally occurring cannot. What can be done is by creating a law of Ecocide, where naturally occurring ecocides occur, nations will be under a legal duty of care to help.

What will a law of Ecocide do?
By legally defining ecocide, a legal duty of care is created. All companies that cause ecocide, such as oil companies, will become clean energy companies. This needs help and law does that by creating a rule which shifts them away from “polluter pays” to “polluter doesn’t pollute”. All countries will be under a legal obligation to help each other in times of need.

A law of Ecocide will stop the flow of destruction at source. By going upstream to the source of the problem (where the ecocide occurs), it is much cheaper to prevent it the first place. This is good for economies, people and planet. It is always far more expensive to remedy something after it has happened. So, a law of Ecocide is preventative – we want to stop the ecocide before it happens, not just remedy it after the event.

Plans can be made to help people who are at risk of losing everything in natural disasters, from their homes to their livelihoods, by imposing a legal duty of care on all Heads of state to help each other beforehand.

We create an all encompassing law, by placing Ecocide and the Earth’s right to life on the same legal footing as the international crimes of genocide and crimes against humanity. International law, laws which are superior to national laws, create an umbrella over the world. When we make international law it creates a level playing-field for all.

A law of Ecocide creates a powerful preventative measure to govern those in a superior position of responsibility – CEOs, Heads of state and Heads of financial institutions – by making a “think before you act” provision.

People in power will be personally responsible for the decisions that can lead to, support or finance mass damage and destruction are held to account by the courts. This is an important distinction: by levying responsibility on persons, not legal fictional entities (ie, a corporation), it is those who are in a position of superior responsibility who are answerable in a court of law.

It will protect nature, humanity and promote peace. Where territory is destroyed, it is not only the land and all that grows there that is lost, it is also the homeland of others. Inhabitants, both human and non-human, have the right to peace: destroy our land and we destroy ourselves. Destroy the land of others and we leave less for the rest. Ecocide is the missing 5th crime against peace alongside genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity and crimes of aggression.

Whose interests are being protected?
At the moment law protects the polluter. We have laws that provide pollution permits; if a company exceeds it’s limits it can be fined, which often makes no difference. The law has set up a system that has give rights to those companies: the right to pollute, the right to destroy.

By creating a law of Ecocide, the law will protect people and planet. By placing the interests of others first, consequence of actions takes priority – if a decision is going to lead to damage and destruction, then it will be a crime.

Stewardship will become the number one priority.
Ownership will become secondary to the duty of care owed to others.

Why is this so important?
Ecocide is a law for our times. It will prohibit, prevent and pre-empt breaches against humanity, nature and future generations. It is a law to stop conflict and war; by no longer fighting over land and water, we can work out how to help those most in need. In this way, quality of life for all inhabitants is placed as a primary concern for all. Health and well-being of people and planet becomes the norm.

Consequence of a law of Ecocide
move from risk to consequence based law – we ask “what is the consequence of our actions? Does this help people and planet?”;
create a shared nation responsibility – humanitarian and environmental aid and assistance become available to all;
• halt the flow of destruction that occurs daily during peace-time;
• shift the burden of responsibility to those in a position of ʻsuperior responsibilityʼ;
new number 1 legal duty of care – corporations, banks and investors will place people and planet first;
over-riding primary legal obligation – all governments to help build a new economy based on health and well being.

A window of opportunity
has opened for humanity. History shows us that when we the people speak out, governments take action. This year is a year for the people to speak out and take action. By calling on our leaders to be bold, courageous and moral leaders, each and every one of us can help.
We the people can determine the fate of our world; we can call for new laws to be put in place for people and planet. What happens next is up to us.

Making Earth law at the Earth Summit
Our campaign is to create Earth Law.
At the Earth Summit Heads of state can decide to create laws to stop Ecocide and create Earth Rights.

What can you do?
Our ask is for you to help us. Please take our proposal out to as many people as you can. We have less than 6 months to build a global network of supporters and for each one to take action.

What you can do
1. Speak out: the more engagement there is around the proposal, the stronger we become.
do what you can: ask others to do the same – be creative.
2. Take action: 2012 is one year when we each have the chance to decide what happens next.
3. Each of us can become a participant in the game of life, stepping forward to say what it is we want. By giving voice and making sure it is heard, we can change the outcome.
4. Encourage others to do the same.

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