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Religion & Liberty: Volume 33, Number 1

The ‘Ecocide’ movement: a crime against humanity

Radical environmentalists plan to criminalize large-scale industrial enterprise. To be more precise, they plan to categorize wealth-producing and job-creating activities as a crime known as “ecocide,” a transgression that activists want legislated internationally as “the fifth international crime against peace.” Ecocide would equate large-scale development activities with genocide, ethnic cleansing, wars of aggression, and crimes against humanity – actions that could land their perpetrators in the dock at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

The “ecocide” movement pretends it aims to prevent pollution, but it is really a spear aimed at the heart of capitalism, intended to throttle human thriving in the name of “saving the planet.” Indeed, it is important to note that ecocide would not be limited to punishing polluters. Rather, practically any large-scale human enterprise that makes use of the fruits of the Earth would qualify as a potentially heinous “crime against peace.” The Stop Ecocide webpage includes such polluting and non-polluting industries as:

  • industrial fishing;
  • deep sea mining;
  • cattle ranching;
  • large-scale agriculture farms;
  • mining;
  • oil extraction;
  • fracking; and
  • cement manufacturing.

Some environmentalists even include electricity-generating windmills, because they kill millions of birds each year.

The general working definition of ecocide, a proposed global felony, is as follows:

Ecocide is the extensive destruction, damage to or loss of ecosystem(s) of a given territory, whether by human agency or other causes, to such an extent that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants of that territory has been severely diminished. (Emphasis added.)

Note that “peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants” is a broad term that includes everything from grass, fish, and insects to mice, snakes, and people. Diminishment of “peaceful enjoyment” would not require actual pollution but could mean a declining supply of forage or a loss of foliage caused by almost any use of the land, perhaps even urban growth.

Dig deeper into ecocide advocacy, and the typical anti-free market ideology that drives too much of environmentalism today comes clearly into focus. Thus, a YouTube video titled “Ecocide: A Crime Against Peace” states:

We have come to accept that extraction of natural resources is normal. Just because it is normal does not mean that it is right. 200 years ago companies plundered for profit. Then it was called colonization. Today it is called business.

Back then, extraction often led to conflict. Sometimes it led to war. Now a century of “resource wars” is predicted. The battle to control oil and water has already started. Now natural resources are becoming the reason for war. Unless we change. Do you see what is happening here?

The video’s PowerPoint presentation then asserts that, when it comes to destruction, “Ecocide > War.”

The draft Ecocide Act, a model to be used in creating actual legislation, defines ecocide (in part) by saying, “A person, company, organisation, partnership, or any other legal entity who causes ecocide under section 1 of this Act and has breached a non-human right to life is guilty of a crime against nature.” Thus, a “non-human right to life” is established by some of the very people who do not recognize a human right to life.

The drive to criminalize ecocide is profoundly subversive. First, equating resource extraction and/or pollution with genocide and ethnic cleansing trivializes true evil by erecting a moral equivalency between horrors such as the slaughter in Rwanda, or the killing fields of Cambodia, with wealth-producing enterprises that may (or may not) deleteriously impact the environment.

Even more fundamentally, an ecocide law would cause unimaginable human suffering. Remember, the movement does not merely seek to regulate or constrain targeted economic activities – it seeks to criminalize them. Such criminal constraints would collapse national economies.

Ecocide champions are not hiding their intentions. In 2011, they sponsored a mock ecocide prosecution against two fictional energy company CEOs. This was no minor exercise held in a college classroom. The trial was held in the courtroom of the English Supreme Court. (Needless to say, the CEOs were found guilty as charged.)

Yes, development can disrupt localized environments and can cause pollution. But that harm can be limited – and sometimes completely eliminated – through proper environmental regulatory policies. Beyond that point, “ecocide” – to use their polemical term – need not be permanent. Indeed, once timber has been harvested, ore extracted, coal mined, and oil squeezed out of shale, companies are often required to remediate and restore the land to its pre-development state.

Take ecocide’s public enemy number one: the Alberta Tar Sands. If you listen only to ecocide campaigners, and rely on their photographs of clear environmental destruction, you could be forgiven for assuming the worst. They claim that after a “given territory” is exploited for its oil, the company moves on and leaves nothing but a destroyed moonscape that will afflict the population for generations to come.

This is simply not true. As one example: The Province of Alberta requires tar sands companies to both remediate and reclaim the land – a process that begins at the project planning stage and only concludes when the land has been restored nearly to its pre-development state. Remediation is a clean-up of pollutants and contaminants to protect future “residents” from potential harm.

Not only that, but Alberta required oil companies to deposit hundreds of millions of dollars into a reclamation security trust fund, so even if the companies go broke, money will be available to restore the land. The province also will not allow a company to complete a project until it receives a “Reclamation Certificate” proving that it has restored the land to its proper state.

Other ecocide-targeted industries similarly remediate impacted ecosystems and natural expanses – or certainly could and should be legally required to do so. Forestry companies replant forests. Fisheries are restocked. Mined mountains are restored to their natural states. Impacted wildlife are returned to the wild.

Can and should more be done in this regard? Absolutely. But we can maintain proper environmental standards without criminalizing the activities that make the modern world livable and global prosperity possible. Indeed, given the extensive environmental impact reports that companies must provide, and the rigorous permit procedures often required before companies can even begin operations in the West, criminalizing such activities seems more a desire to throttle capitalist industries than to protect the environment. If you doubt that, consider which countries have the best environmental policies – those with regulated free market economies or communist/socialist systems.

Until the last few years, the ecocide movement remained on the fringes of radical environmental advocacy. But this reality holds no more. Demonstrating that even the most radical ideas often become mainstream over time, criminalizing large-scale enterprise is becoming part of the broader Left’s agenda.

Take France, where the government plans to pass an ecocide law – complete with criminal penalties – for companies that despoil the environment. EuroNews reported on November 23, 2020:

The French government is planning to crack down on behaviours against the environment by creating an “ecocide” offence.

 

The plan was originally brought forward by the Citizens’ Convention for Climate, an assembly consisting of 150 randomly selected citizens established in 2019 by President Emmanuel Macron with the aim to reduce France’s greenhouse gas emissions.

 

The new proposal underlines sanctions from a minimum of three to 10 years in prison, as well as fines starting from €375,000 to €4.5 million.

Pope Francis has added the heft of the Roman Catholic Church behind the ecocide cause – with the pontiff expressing particular hostility toward capitalist enterprises. On November 15, 2019, Pope Francis told the World Congress of the International Association of Penal Law that an “elementary sense of justice” must be applied so that “certain conduct for which corporations are usually responsible, does not go unpunished.” The pontiff continued:

“[E]cocide” is to be understood as the loss, damage, or destruction of the ecosystems of a given territory, so that its utilization by inhabitants has been or can be seen as severely compromised. This is a fifth category of crimes against peace, which should be recognised as such by the international community.

Both the words and their provenance are chilling.

Other cultural notables have also endorsed the ecocide cause. According to the Stop Ecocide website, their ranks include primatologist Jane Goodall, rock legend Paul McCartney, and the Swedish teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg. Even the World Peace Prayer Society “welcomes the Law of Ecocide to be recognised as a crime against peace.”

The drive to criminalize enterprise is the culmination of decades of radical environmental advocacy – a drive that seemed so far-fetched that far too many of us took it insufficiently seriously to mount a meaningful defense.

Deep ecology: Our descent into irrationality began with the “deep ecology” movement in the 1970s. The term was coined by Norwegian philosopher Arene Dekke Eide Næss. Inspired by the environmental alarmism of Rachael Carson’s Silent Spring, Næss rejected human exceptionalism, arguing that each facet of the natural world – including humans – are equal to all others. In 1984, Næss and George Sessions published “The Deep Ecology Platform,” a list of specific ideological goals which at the time were quite radical, but which are now mainstream within contemporary environmentalism. They include:

  • The well-being and flourishing of human and nonhuman life on Earth have value in themselves. These values are independent of the usefulness of the nonhuman world for human purposes;
  • Humans have no right to reduce this richness and diversity except to satisfy vital needs;
  • Present human interference with the nonhuman world is excessive, and the situation is rapidly worsening;
  • The flourishing of human life and cultures is compatible with a substantial decrease of the human population. The flourishing of nonhuman life requires such a decrease; and
  • Policies must therefore be changed. The changes in policies affect basic economic, technological, and ideological structures. The resulting state of affairs will be deeply different from the present.

Gaia theory: At about the same time Næss was conjuring Deep Ecology, another environmentalist philosopher named James Lovelock posited an equally radical idea: that the Earth, known as the pagan goddess Gaia, “evolved as a single living, and self-regulating system.” The “Gaia Theory” posits that the Earth possesses such intelligence that it “maintains conditions suitable for its own survival.” In essence, Lovejoy urged us to treat the environment – more accurately, the Earth – as a living being: “The living system of Earth can be thought of analogous to the workings of any individual organism that regulates body temperature, blood salinity, etc.”  

Nature Rights: These esoteric ideas are now being implemented in practical ways that will negatively impact human thriving. Most alarmingly is ecocide’s first cousin, the “nature rights movement.” (See Wesley J. Smith, “The Return of Nature Worship” in the Summer 2018 issue of Religion & Liberty.) The “nature rights” movement would grant “rights” to all aspects of the natural world, including geological features such as rivers and mountains. Those rights would be equal to those given to human beings. Here is the definition promoted by the movement’s chief proponent, the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund: “Nature or Pachamama [the Goddess Earth], where life is reproduced and exists, has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes in evolution.”

Enforcing nature’s “rights” would not require waiting for regulatory or government action. Rather, anyone who believes that nature’s rights have been violated would have standing to bring lawsuits and obtain a court order preventing enterprise from proceeding. Talk about a full employment guarantee for lawyers!

Lest you be tempted to think that “it will never happen,” it already has. Four rivers, including the Amazon, have been granted rights. So, too, have two glaciers. More than 30 U.S. municipalities have granted rights to nature, usually to stop fracking. Lake Erie was granted rights by voters in Toledo, an ordinance subsequently preempted by the Ohio state legislature.

Throughout most of humans’ inhabitation of this planet, life has been brutal and short. We lived with the effects of the environment in a Darwinian world of natural selection and the struggle to survive. Only in the last few hundred years, thanks to industrialization, have humans liberated themselves from the claws of the natural world.

We need more of such activities, not fewer. Simply stated, if ecocide campaigners prevail, we will be less free, suffer as prosperity declines in the West, and watch as the developing world remains mired in destitution. In that sense, the ecocide movement is a profoundly anti-human movement that must be stopped while it is still in its embryonic stage.

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Award-winning author Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism and the author of The War on Humans.