DR GABRIELLE JAMELA HOSEIN
THERE’S AN emerging legal definition of ecocide. This means that ecocide, or the large-scale destruction of nature, is being made an international crime, like crimes against humanity and war crimes.
Which of us hasn’t been watching our hurtle towards biodiversity destruction and climate disaster without thinking someone, somewhere needs to get those who have made such decisions out of office, and away from power. Frankly, they should be put into prison. I’m not joking, and neither is the Stop Ecocide Foundation.
Led by the men who dominate both corporations and governments, we have stolen a livable planet from children, filled oceans and rivers with plastic, and burned fossils as if predicted heatwaves and hurricanes were a hoax. We have seen the doubt created about science, but putting the environment at the heart of international law is both decisive and clear. The time isn’t now, it’s long past, but this translation of demands for accountability into hard penalties is reason to strengthen organising and hope.
The draft law defines ecocide as “unlawful or wanton acts committed with knowledge that there is a substantial likelihood of severe and widespread or long-term damage to the environment being caused by those acts.” Enshrining ecocide in international law would enable rich and powerful individuals, such as heads of corporations and governments, to be put on trial at the International Criminal Court or in any ratifying jurisdiction for this crime of recklessness.
Those with responsibility for deforestation of the Amazon or oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico, for example, could be prosecuted by the court. Major organisations, such as the World Bank, would not want to invest in or give loans for plans which are potentially criminal. Government decision-makers who oversaw environmental abuses, like President Jair Bolsonaro, could finally face the justice sought by Indigenous people of Brazil.
This change in norms, and its challenge to profit with impunity, will trickle down to transform everything we do, forcing us to think about how our actions impact the species around us, and hold each other accountable. The major problem with this legislative move is that the biggest polluters, the US, China and India, are not signatories to the treaty, and other countries such as Russia have withdrawn.
Still, there is a war against the next seven generations, and one we must also fight to protect those species at peril. The World Wildlife Foundation’s 2020 report showed that population sizes of mammals, birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles have dropped by 68 per cent on average globally, and as much as 94 per cent for Latin America. It’s not just that species have a right to live, it’s that their demise signals shifts that determine ours. Every weapon counts.
Everywhere in our region, and around the world, people are recognising that ecocide is as abhorrent as genocide, and that the two are deeply intwined, for our destruction of our climate and our ecosystems will ultimately cause loss of millions of lives.
This is not just a theory. We’ve seen devastating impacts increase overnight in the severity of hurricanes, and we will see it in the impacts of floods, droughts and rising sea levels. We are a region set to be climate migrants, with little indication that we can halt ourselves from reaching this end.
This growing action to use the courts can only bolster the power of far-sighted environmental movements all over our region, from those resisting mining in Jamaica to those who recently lodged the case against ExxonMobil in Guyana. People are continuing to fight back against both corporations and governments, and profit models that cost the commons more than could ever be recovered in wealth, even if that wealth was equitably shared, which it is not. These movements are clear that we need development, but also that such development cannot be at the cost of poisoned rivers or opportunities for sustainable livelihoods from forests and oceans. We can make opportunities for different kinds of jobs and, more importantly, a chance for our children.
Islands in the Pacific and, for example, the Maldives in the Indian Ocean are on board. At home in the region, we must press – because lives depend on it – for our own governments to neither waffle nor oppose.
Given the small-mindedness of our own fossil dependent development model in Trinidad and Tobago, that will take effort by many of us, but there’s another generation that sees the obsolescence of governments that, to this day, have no diversification plan. The time is coming for you, too, to go.
Diary of a mothering worker