Ecocide would be a crime against humanity

Wesley J. Smith Senior Fellow, The Discovery Institute
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Contemporary environmentalism is growing increasingly nihilistic, anti-modern and anti-human, these days even rejecting the noble concept of conservationism because many contemporary greens reject the moral propriety of exploiting natural resources and developing the land to promote human wealth and thriving. For example, a growing “nature rights” movement would require that nature be viewed as the legal equal of humans, a concept already the law in Ecuador and Bolivia. A form of the nature rights concept has even been adopted by more than 20 United States municipalities, including Pittsburgh and Santa Monica.

If preventing humans from “assaulting” the earth is now the green goal, rather than simply averting pollution, Gaia will need more than the mere shield of co-equal rights. She will also need a sharp spear with which to punish her rapists.

That is precisely the point of creating a new “international crime against peace” called “ecocide,” currently pushed by an energetic cadre of environmental radicals toward eventual adoption by the United Nations. Here is how ecocide — which is envisioned as a legal counterpart to genocide — is defined on the This Is Ecocide website:

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.

Please pay very close attention: The word “inhabitants” does not necessarily — or even, primarily — mean human beings. Rather, it mostly refers to flora and fauna, meaning that ecocide would punish harming denizens of the natural world as a crime — no matter the adverse impact on human thriving.

Also note that ecocide would not merely punish polluting accidents or intentional environmental despoiling, such as Saddam Hussein’s opening the oil spigots during the First Gulf War. Rather, ecocidists (if you will) intend to criminalize large-scale extraction of natural resources and the widespread development of land for human uses. In other words, they intend to legally anathematize the very economic activities that have allowed so much of suffering humanity to escape from destitution, privation and want.

Ecocidists have already provided a vivid illustration of this intent. A few months ago, they held a mock trial in the chambers of the United Kingdom Supreme Court “prosecuting” two fictional CEOs of companies for developing the Alberta tar sands. Needless to say, they were found guilty as charged.

The “executives” have now been sentenced, one to four years in prison and one to participate in “restorative justice.” Vividly illustrating the hubris of the ecocide movement, the defendants were confronted by lawyers claiming to represent virtually everyone and everything on the earth:

Bannerman [one of the CEOs] also came face to face with representatives of those who had been adversely affected by the tar sands Ecocide: Jess Philimore represented wider humanity, Carine Nadal represented the Earth, Philippa De Boissiere represented future generations, Peter Smith represented birds and Gerald Amos provided a voice for indigenous peoples.

Talk about legal malpractice! Apparently, the legal representative for “wider humanity” — e.g., all of us — failed to argue that criminalizing the extraction of oil from tar sands would chill all large-scale energy production everywhere in the world, which would result in terrible harm to humans, including wild increases in the cost of heating our homes. The barrister representing “future humanity” similarly failed to note that ecocide laws would result in our posterity being born into a world of increased poverty and want. Nor did the lawyer representing “indigenous peoples” — many of whom live in resource-abundant areas — protest that ecocide would doom billions of his clients to permanent poverty by thwarting their ability to develop the wealth on their own land.

And therein lies the rub. Ecocidists not only want to impede the exploitation of resources, but would seem to reject the very concept of land ownership. Indeed, Polly Higgins, the most famous campaigner for ecocide — who ironically travels the world arguing on behalf of policies that would prevent her from traveling the world — believes that we need to radically remake our moral and legal approaches to the uses of land. Rather than look upon the earth as an “inert thing,” she argues on her Web page, it should be deemed a “living being.” Instead of applying “property law” to the uses of land, we should instead impose “trusteeship law.” In other words, in a Polly Higgins world humanity would be made fiduciaries of the living Gaia, required to elevate the supposed “needs” of our “ward” and all of its inhabitants to at least a co-equal concern with our own — or land in the dock of the Hague!

And don’t think that ecocide wouldn’t also thwart the development of green renewable energy technologies. Take wind farms: The lawyer for the birds could argue that wind turbines cruelly slaughter millions of his clients in their spinning blades every year. The lawyer for wider humanity could argue that they also produce sound pollution and mar the beauty of the landscape. Indeed, opponents of large-scale wind farms already claim that wind farm developers are committing ecocide.

Ditto, large-scale solar power projects, which would kill millions of lizards, plants and other “inhabitants” of the areas in which the solar panels were installed. Not too long ago, some environmentalists sued to stop a major solar field from being created in the Mojave Desert precisely because of the lethal impact it would have on threatened tortoises. And think of the lizards and cacti the solar farms would destroy!

Well, there’s always nuclear. Are you kidding? Fukushima!

The heart of the problem, of course, is that the misanthropic radical environmentalists reject human exceptionalism. Believing we are the enemy of the planet they would have us eat our own tail and punish ourselves with ever-lowering standards of living and consequentially shorter and more brutal lives.

We should reject their self-destructive advocacy out of hand. Making “ecocide” an international crime would be a profound offense against humanity.

Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism.