Ecocide, the 5th Crime Against Peace – Polly Higgins at TEDxExeter

Ecocide, the 5th Crime Against Peace – Polly Higgins at TEDxExeter


Seven years ago I was standing
in the Royal Courts of Justice in London. I’m a barrister. And it was the very last day
of a long running case… where I had been representing
a man who had been… very badly injured and harmed
in the workplace. I was his lawyer
and I was giving voice on his behalf in court. There was a moment of silence
while we waited for the judges to come into the room. At that moment I looked out of the window
and I got thinking. I looked out and I thought: you know, the Earth has also
been badly injured and harmed. And something needs to be done about that. My next thought actually changed my life. I thought:
“The Earth is in need of a good lawyer.” Now that was a thought
that didn’t leave me alone. I went away and I thought about it.
And I thought, as a lawyer in court… where are the tools that I need
to represent the Earth in court? And what I realised was, that they didn’t exist. So I started thinking about this.
What do I need to put in place for this? What if the Earth had rights?
After all we as humans have rights. The most important right of all,
of course, is our right to life. What if the Earth had
the right to life as well? I spoke to other lawyers about this.
They said: “Polly, you’re mad!” “Of course the earth doesn’t have rights.” And after all there is a whole body
of environmental law out there, why not just use that? But I said, ahhh there is a problem here. All this existing environmental law
it’s not working, it can’t be working! You just have to look at the Amazon
to see that this is not working. We’re looking at mass damage and destruction
that’s escalating every day. Existing law is not stopping that. So what I did was, I looked around
to see who else was thinking like me. And what I discovered was that, in fact,
there are many people thinking like me. Seven hundred and fifty million people
out there, to be exact. Three hundred and seventy million of them
are indigenous. They get the idea that the Earth
has the right to life. They get the idea that life itself is sacred,
not just human life, but all life. Also I discovered Buddhists
understood this way of thinking as well. That’s another
three hundred and eighty million people. Seven hundred and fifty million people,
the size of Europe, already think like me! It’s just that it’s not written down in law. But then I got thinking further because
of course, actually, with our Human Rights… and our right to life
that’s also governed on a one to one… by the crime of murder.
or in America it’s called homocide. When it’s ourselves and our community
it’s called “genocide”. And I was actually speaking to a large audience
a couple of years ago back in 2009… about Earth rights,
when someone in the audience said: You know, we need a new language
to deal with this mass damage and destruction… that’s happening of the Earth,
of our ecosystems. And I thought you know, you’re right!
It’s like genocide, it’s an… ecocide! And it was one of those lightbulb
moments, literally. I felt as if a light
had gone on above my head. And I thought, my God,
it should be a crime! Is that possible,
could we make ecocide a crime? I rushed home and I went off
and I researched this. And three months later
I came up for breath. I realised that in fact, indeed,
not only could we make it a crime… but it is a missing,
fifth crime against peace! Now you’ll see here in this light
what this sets out here are, what are known as the
international crimes against peace. We already have crimes against humanity,
war crimes, genocide… they were put in place after World War II. And they act as umbrella laws,
they cover the whole of the world. They’re kind of super-laws
they supersede everything else. All other laws must come in line with them. Crimes of aggression,
that’s the run-up to war. That was just put in place in 2010. And I say that, actually,
there is a fifth crime against peace here. And that is Ecocide. What we have in existence already
are laws that protect the wellbeing of life. Actually what they protect
is the sacredness of life itself. And I’m saying it’s not just human life, but we expand our cycle of concern out… and that it’s the well-being of all life,
of all inhabitants who live on this earth. This is a diagram of what’s happening
in the world at the moment. We have damage and destruction
on a mass scale playing out, which is what I call ecocide,
and I’ll unpackage that term in a moment, but it’s leading to, amongst other things,
resource depletion… which leads to, amongst other things,
conflict! Which can then lead to war… which of course leads
to more damage and destruction, more resource depletion, in fact, what’s happening in the Congo at the moment
is a very potent example of this cycle… spiraling onwards and upwards,
faster and faster. Conflicts leading to more war,
to more damage and destruction, to more ecocide. And so it goes on
spiraling onwards and upwards. It’s what sir David King calls
a century of resource wars. That’s what we’re looking at. Well in fact, I think there is another way
that we can turn this around. We can actually halt it in its tracks. This is not about slowing down this cycle,
but it’s actually stopping it. Intervening! And by creating a law,
that actually acts as a disrupter…. to that spiral,
as it spirals onwards and upwards, that’s what a law of ecocide can do. This is the beginning of the legal proposal
that I submitted into the United Nations. Ecocide is a crime… when we cause extensive destruction,
damage to or loss of ecosystems. Now, every word here is legally weighted. But possibly the most important word here
is that word “inhabitants”… you’ll see it’s not just “people”,
but we’re talking about inhabitants. And of course that’s a recognition that
if we look at any given territory… it’s not just human beings that live there
but there are other species as well. It’s also a recognition
of the interconnectedness of life itself. Ultimately,
destroy the Earth that we stand on… and we destroy our hability
to live in peaceful enjoyment. Now there are two types of ecocide here. Human caused ecocide,
and human caused ecocide is when we see… and we’re able to assertain
that as a result of our actions… we’re causing mass damage and destruction. And in fact, we heard earlier today
about how in human cost terms… we’re also creating injury in other ways.
Increasing of greenhouse gasses. That’s one outcome of causing
mass damage and destruction. I have in fact, just recently,
submitted to all governments… a concept paper
and how we can use this law… to close the door
to dangerous industrial activity, that is causing human ecocide,
human caused ecocide. But there is another type of ecocide
that I wish to talk about today. That is naturally ocurring ecocide. That’s when we see
tsunamis, floods, rising sea levels, anything that causes
mass ecosystem collapse. And we can create an international law… that doesn’t just govern
corporate activity, but, more importantly,
that imposes a legal duty of care… on all nations to give us systems
when something like this occurs. Because at the moment we have… the lives of the Maldives standing up
and saying: Help us! We’re looking at going under water… with rising sea levels
within the next decade. And governments are saying:
“Nothing we can do”. In fact what they’re saying is actually… we don’t have a legal duty
of care to give assistance. By creating a law of ecocide
we can impose a legal duty of care, so that all nations come together
and preempt this. After all there are 54 small-island States
that are looking at rising sea levels. And not just 54 small-island States
other countries as well, Bangla Desh, are looking at not just floods,
rising sea levels, but also they have a triple whammy
because they have melting ice as well. By imposing a legal duty of care on nations… the dialogue can begin to take place
where we decide… what are we going to do to give help. And that is very important,
that we can move forward together in this. Because, ultimately, at the end of the day… even if they are on the other side of the world,
we are in this together. But it goes further than that. In international criminal law we have a principle
called superior responsibility. Yes, this is about taking responsibility,
but more than that… it’s about imposing
superior responsibility upon those who, if you imagine a triangle,
sit at the top of the triangle. Those in the position
of command and control. Now that means heads of states, ministers. It also means chief executives, directors,
heads of banks. Those who are in a position
to make decisions… that can adversily impact
on many million peoples underneath. And by imposing a legal duty of care
upon those individuals, we actually create a framework
upon which we can make decisions… that are based on prioritizing
people and planet first. And that’s about closing the door
to the dangerous industrial activity. What this comes down to
is two different ways of viewing the Earth. View the Earth as an inert “thing”
and what we do is we put a price tag on it. We impose a value on it. What we do is we buy it, we sell it,
we use it, we abuse it. We commoditize it. That’s all governed by the law of property. However there is another way
of viewing the earth. And that’s about viewing the Earth
as a Living Being. And when we do that,
it comes from a very different place. In fact it shifts dramatically
how we look into the long term. Because once we see ourselves
as trustees, as guardians… we start taking responsibilities
for future generations. And this is about re-aligning
the scales of justice. Just now, they’re out of kilter
they’re out of balance. I believe we can do that,
we can rebalance that. In fact we have done this
once before in history. And I’d like to take you back 200 years. Two hundred years ago, William Wilberforce,
who was the parliamentarian here in Britain… who took up the mantle
for the abolition of slavery. When he stood up and said:
“Morally slavery is wrong, we must stop this”, what he met with
was a barrage of objections. Big industry said, you can’t do that,
because it’s a necessity. The public demand it
and what’s more… our economies will collapse
if we get rid of slavery. Well those 300 companies
that were involved in slavery… they came up with different ideas,
they said: Leave it to us to sort out! Voluntary mechanisms
we will self-regulate this! Too many laws already! We’ll limit the numbers
if push comes to shove. In fact we can leave it
to market forces to work this out. Creative cap and trade system,
if you like. Now, the interesting thing is
that the British parliament… said no to all of these proposals. And indeed two days before
William Wilberforce died, laws were passed… which created ripples right across the world
in ending slavery. Now, if we look to today
what we’re seeing is… actually a very similar picture. What’s changed here is the picture. This is of the
Athabasca tar sands in Canada. Now, when I first saw these pictures… my heart stopped.
It stopped me in my tracks. I looked at what was going on there
and I said: “Really, this is a crime!” Now what we’ve seen today is that
industry is saying exactly the same thing. The difference is that, in fact,
we have tried those solutions… and we’ve discovered they haven’t worked. Now, one of the successes that came
out of slavery… was the fact that it was managed,
there was a transition period. Not one of those companies
went out of business. And William Wilberforce was governed
by something that I am also very governed by. This is not about
closing down big industry. This is about making
the problem into the solution. In fact not one of those 300 companies
went out of business… after the abolition of slavery. Some of them went on to trade tea in China.
They were given subsidies. Some of them actually
became the polices of the seas. Because William Wilderforce said
three crucial things have to happen. You pull the subsidies,
you outlaw the problem, and you create new subsidies
in the other direction. And that’s precisely
what we’re needing to do today. But it’s more than that. It actually goes back
into the anals of time. Of something that’s known
as the Sacred Trust of Civilization. This is a concept that goes back
in written documents, as far as I could find,
to the 16th century. And it has been inshrined
in the United Nations Charter, which is our first successful
international legal document, put in place after World War II. What that says, is that
members of the United Nations… have a duty, a legal duty, to put
the interest of the inhabitants… it’s that word again
inhabitants… as number one. The primary duty that we have,
the duty of care, and that we accept as a sacred trust. Trust! So this is about us being
trustees, jurors, guardians. And that we have an obligation
to promote to the utmost… the wellbeing of the inhabitants. So health and well-being provision
is about putting people and planet first. A law of ecocide gives this section
in the United Nations Charter legal validity. And that’s very important. Because an international
Law of Ecocide… is a crime against humanity,
but it’s more than that. It’s a crime against Nature,
it’s a crime against future generations. Ultimately, most importantly,
it’s a crime against Peace! This is about prioritizing
people and planet… over and above profit. But also a recognition that
when we do that… when we open the door
to a conflict-free world, we can creat innovation
in a very different direction… that actually gives us abundance
in many, many ways. Now I’m not anti-profit, not at all,
in fact I’m very pro it. But what I am doing is,
I am closing the door… to that which causes life destruction. And I’m opening the door
to that which affirms life itself. So this takes me back to seven years ago,
when I started with one very powerful thought. And how it’s really led me on a journey
and it continues to do so. It’s not just about proposing
an International Law of Ecocide, but in fact it’s also beginning
to lead me along a journey… of examining what is it that we need here? Leadership and adaptive leadership,
we have fast changing times. It’s also led to a book, Eradicating Ecocide,
that sets out this law… and explains why law, in fact,
has caused the problem. Did you know this? It is the law of the coorporations
to put profit first. A company has a legal duty to maximize
it’s profits to its shareholders. Now that used to serve us well. But unfortunately we didn’t look
to the consequences. A Law of Ecocide would supersede this
and pose a piece of legislation… that, in fact, allows us to look
to the consequences. A think before you act provision… that acts as a great turn key. Now in conclusion I just want to say this,
Martin Luther King once said, that… when our laws align themselves
to equality and justice… then we will have true peace in this world. When our laws align themselves
with a higher understanding… then we will have that true quality in justice. Ecocide is a law that allows us
to align ourselves with natural justice. And I believe that in my life that
that is something worthy… of actually giving my life to,
to make happen. Thank you very much. Become an Earth Protector too:
www.MissionLifeForce.org

Author:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *