…and first in line to take on the Earth’s case is former practicing barrister Polly Higgins. Higgins argues that a new international law of Ecocide would give the Earth the access to justice it so sorely needs.
In a nutshell Higgins suggests that the damage and destruction which the Earth is being subjected to should be outlawed through the creation of a fifth crime against peace recognised by the United Nations in the form of Ecocide.
Ecocide would be defined as: ‘the extensive destruction, damage to or loss of ecosystem(s) of a given territory, whether by human agency of by other causes, to such an extent that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants of that territory has been severely diminished.’
Drawing upon the international criminal law principle of ‘superior responsibility’, such a law would impose a duty of care upon those in a position of superior responsibility, meaning those in a position of command and control, to prevent ecocide. Where ecocide is identified, Higgins asserts that the principle of restorative justice is key to the process of rectifying the damage caused.
In addition a duty of care will be imposed upon governments to provide help and assistance to countries suffering the adverse effects of what Higgins refers to as ‘naturally occurring ecocide’.
She advocates a move away from viewing the Earth as an inert object or commodity and toward viewing it as a living being and that we should view ourselves as trustees or guardians of the Earth for future generations.
Higgins makes reference to William Wilberforce’s efforts to abolition slavery and suggests that a similar approach should be taken in relation to ecocide and damage to the Earth. She notes that Wilberforce proposed that subsidies be pulled from activities which cause the harm, that the problem should be outlawed, in this case through Higgins’ law of Ecocide, and that you should create subsidies in the other direction, for example toward sustainable and green initiatives.
I’ve been looking at her work as part of one of my Criminology tutorials. Green criminology can be seen as part of a shift within the discipline toward a broader focus upon harm and away from a strict focus upon state defined crime.
Studying law is not just about learning the existing rules. It’s also about engaging in debate about whether the law is functioning well and achieving its aims and suggesting ways in which it could be improved!
How effective do you think Higgins’ law of Ecocide would be at dealing with the problem of mass damage and destruction of the Earth? Maybe you can think of an approach you think would be more effective.
You can find out more information about Polly Higgins and the law of ecocide from her website.