Cathy Fitzgerald has just blogged about the The Green Party in Ireland who have just launched it’s Forest Policy (read the press release here). This new Policy argues that
“Ireland’s public forests are at a point where, non clearfell, continuous cover forest systems need to be introduced and supported to fully realise the full long term economic, environmental and amenity values of Ireland’s forests.”
Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison would, we are sure, endorse this – it’s the sort of Policy that they were proposing in amongst other works, the Serpentine Lattice.
Whether its climate change or the health of our oceans, air, and soil, the planet is worse off now than it was 40 years ago, and rapidly declining. Yet, corporations have more rights than our communities or ecosystems and are doing just fine.
This weekend I will be presenting a motion at the 2013 Irish National Green Party convention on ecocide; the post below explains why I’m trying to get the term ‘ecocide’ into the Irish political and public domains. If you are interested in measures against fracking and other environmental destruction, a law of ecocide and nature-based rights are developing in response. Please feel free to share this post.
Could an ecocide law prevent environmental destruction?
One of the key concepts and terms in my PhD work ‘Seeing and Tending the Forest: beyond ecocide toward deep sustainability‘ is – ‘ecocide’.
‘Ecocide’ is a term I kept coming across in my research and reading. In fact I first used ecocide almost without thinking. To me it so well conveyed the exponential accelerating ecological suicide that is occurring globally. Particularly the horrifying rate of destruction since World War II, that some are calling ‘The Great Acceleration’, that characterises our now globalised, extract-at-all costs, industrial growth society.
However, one of the fundamental principles in undertaking doctoral level research is that you fully define all terms and concepts. I had some years ago been alerted by one of my blog followers that I should look at the work of UK legal barrister, Polly Higgins. Polly Higgins’ work in organising high profile mock legal trials against corporate ecocide, her award-winning books on ‘eradicating ecocide’, her well received ecocide talks has developed quickly in recent years to become an international campaign; to have corporate ecocide recognised in international law as the missing 5th international crime against peace.
What is ecocide?
In March 2010 Polly Higgins proposed to the United Nations that Ecocide be the 5th international Crime Against Peace. This is the definition she proposed:
Ecocide is the extensive damage to, destruction of or loss of ecosystem(s) of a given territory, whether by human agency or by other causes, to such an extent that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants of that territory has been or will be severely diminished.
Polly Higgins and Thomas Linzey, a leading lawyer working in the US (quoted above),and growing numbers of leading international legal people and researchers, are arguing that in much the same way that slavery and disenfranchisement against women were perpetuated by seeing other races and women ‘as property’,that changing laws to overturn the erroneous idea that natural ecosystems be regarded as property, will powerfully and legally shift corporations away from committing crimes of ecocide.
This is not to underestimate that this is complex area (leading legal experts in universities, particularly some University of London legal researchers, are working hard to address all the many legal details on this issue) and I have only briefly highlighted the key point here. Yet this key point, to extend a legal, enforceable ‘duty of care’ to ecosystems would be a paradigm shift for humanity, and the corporate world in particular.
Corporations are legally mandated to produce profits; this law would fundamentally change corporations actions and enforce eco-social responsibility and accountability. This will in turn legalise long term sustainability for the earth’s life giving ecosystems.
Ecocide legal frameworks already exist and has been enforced
Ecocide has since been recognised legally from the Vietnam war onwards, and some legal redress for victims of ecocide has and is occurring.
Oddly unsettling in my reading about ecocide, is that I found the term is exactly the same age as me.
I say this as the term evolved in the late 1960s from recognising the criminality behind the long term destruction and poisoning of the forest and food ecosystems in the Vietnam war with industrial chemical herbicide agents such as Agent Orange (Monsanto/Dow Chemicals and other companies produced Agent Orange and an arsenal of other poisonous ‘rainbow agents’) used by the US military. Agent Orange in particular was noted for its disastrous long term residual poisoning of ecosystems and human populations with dioxins – lethal cancer and birth defect causing compounds, and other persistent effects of which health professionals and scientists are still realising and dealing with).
Ecocide law works: this is the card I have that gives me access to specialists doctors as my late father served and was fatally affected by the slow violence of Monsanto/Dow companies Agent Orange in the Vietnam war
Ecocide since Vietnam is legally recognised in war situations
As I’ve mentioned before in a previous post, this affected my family as my late father was a New Zealand Vietnam veteran. It was through the hard work of the NZ Vietnam Veterans associations and the then Labour Government under former Prime Minister Helen Clark, that a Memorandum of Understanding sought acknowledgement, compensation and redress to the children of NZ Vietnam veterans by the ecocide caused by these long lasting poisonous herbicides. My sisters and I are now on a official NZ Vietnam Veteran’s Children’s Register (my NZ Vietnam Veteran’s Children’s card is pictured here) that gives some support to descendants affected by cancers/diseases attributed to Agent Orange and the millions of tons of poisonous herbicides sprayed across Vietnam and other parts of Asia in the 20 000+ US military air raids (see notes at end of article for more details on this NZ landmark case).
On a personal note, my father, a very quiet man, could never speak easily of America or its culture again and the destruction he witnessed to a beautiful country and the peoples of Vietnam. I grew up knowing him interested in these things; reading the paper, vegetable growing, his love of the wild forested West Coast of the South Island of NZ, horse racing and Labour Party politics. He often bribed us as children (with chocolate) to deliver Labour Party political leaflets in our local area and he would have been so moved that it was the Labour Party that worked hard to bring some compensation to his engineer army colleagues and their surviving families (NZ sent 3,980 mainly non-combatant, engineer troops, to serve in the Vietnam war).
Nature-based rights development
Landmark nature-rights book, first published in 1972; now in 3rd edition, 2010, Oxford Uni. Press, USA
While the NZ military situation above is an example of legal retrospective redress for gross war-time ecocide, developments since the 1960s to bring the crime of ecocide into non-military situations have evolved slowly. Surprisingly there was much talk and legal efforts in bringing ecocide forward as a crime in non-war situations in the early 1970s due to the huge public awareness of the situation in Vietnam (many scientists signed an international petition to try and stop Agent Orange use during the Vietnam war) and the publication of Rachel Carson’s 1962 Silent Spring book alerted many to the long term environmental problems of pesticide/herbicide compounds. However such legal measures for non-war situations were stopped by several nations (see the eradicatingecocide.com website for more details). Even so, legal minds have for some decades further examined the idea of extending a legal duty of care to the non-human world, such as in the work and landmark book by US law lecturer and researcher, Christopher Stone, who wrote in 1972 Should Trees have Standing? – law, morality and the environment.
In recent years I have also noticed some nations in South America are leading the way for the ‘rights of nature’ to be legally recognised in their countries’ constitutional framework (for e.g Ecuador). Often such legislation is evolving with lawyers working with indigenous peoples, peoples who have not forgotten their nature-centred worldviews that respects all life, fundamentally ensuring long term sustainability for all species. Also in South America, one of the most important cases against corporate ecocide is ongoing, the multinational petrochemical Chevron is facing $18 billion in redress to thousands of indigenous peoples whose livelihoods and waters were affected by Chevron’s disregard of the gross and poisonous pollution it was creating (see Amazonwatch.org for details of this case – Chevron has engaged 64 law firms trying to overturn this decision!).
An online book of my great Grandmother’s 1890s paintings of the New Zealand Whanganui River. A river ecosystem that since 2012 is now one of the first in the world to have achieved legal agreement that ‘recognises the river and all its tributaries as a single entity, Te Awa Tupua, and makes it a legal entity with rights and interests, and the owner of its own river bed.’
And nature-based rights are developing in New Zealand. In fact, I was startled last August, while back in NZ to see that NZ’s third largest river, the Whanganui river, was granted legal standing from long years of work from Maori tribes and other river stakeholders. This river has a particular connection to my mother’s family as our Great Grandmother was an early European settler in the northern reaches of this river (I created a book on her paintings with my mother a few years ago – my great grandmother witnessed and painted both the beauty and the rampant deforestation by early European settlers way back in the 1890s near this river). Also last September I noticed online that the Green Party of England and Wales had invited Polly Higgins to their national convention and the Green Party of England and Wales unanimously adopted a motion to support a motion against ecocide. I made a promise to myself back then that I would at some stage attempt to bring it to the attention to the Irish and New Zealand Green Parties (NZer’s, please feel free to share this post) in a hope it would spread across the political and public domains.
Law against corporate ecocide and nature-based rights could prevent fracking, other ecosystem destruction
Land and water degradation – gas and coal extraction, sewage sludge, factory farms, massive water withdrawals, landfills, and more could be addressed
Over the last few months, I was busy with other aspects of my project but I was fortunate to come across a new book Earth at Risk (Dec, 2012) from leading US author/activist/deep green philosopher Derrick Jensen. In it I read a fascinating interview by Derrick with US lawyer Thomas Linzey. While Polly Higgins has been tackling ecocide law at an international/UN level, I was excited to read Thomas Linzey also describe how modern law often legally enables ecocide and how despite the best of intentions, environmentalism has largely failed. I was even more excited to read how Thomas was working from the ground up, assisting grassroot local communities across the United States, to stop fracking and other forms of pollution or degradation in their areas etc by fundamentally changing the legal framework in regards to their local environments. Thomas Linzey is founder of the Community Environment Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), an organisation which since 1995 has been assisting and educating ordinary concerned citizens in towns and municipalities to fight for new nature/community based rights. In recent months, its been great to see on the eradicatingecocide.com website, both Polly’s and Thomas’s new legal ideas and work are beginning to influence local and international law. On the CELDF website you can also see how rights based successes are spreading across the US, with some communities having success in preventing fracking in their localities.
Here is a short video trailer from an upcoming documentary film from Thomas Linzey on the work that the CELDF organisation is undertaking (note, you’ll see the NZ Whanganui River rights case briefly highlighted in this trailer too). Thomas’ groundbreaking plenary 30 min speech from a US Bioneers conference is also worth listening to, see here) .
If you are involved in local politics, concerned about fracking or other types of environmental destruction, I would also recommend you watch the more detailed video below by Thomas on how this area of legal reform is developing swiftly across many US states.
Higgins and Linzey’s work acknowledges that ecocide is a crime and a move to install nature/community based rights are important and urgent. In my own writings I point out that ecocide isn’t just happening in the Arctic or the Amazon, that the slow violence of ecocide, in our culture and local environments, threads its way through our everyday lives. To me, short rotation monoculture tree plantations are a form of ecocide, leading to eventual soil fertility collapse and limiting severely resilient ecosytems from developing; the very opposite of an ecosystem thriving sustainably in the long term. My work will continue to show alternatives to industrial forestry. Perhaps one day I might even fight for legal standing for the small forest in which I live, a living community that supports me and which I am interdependently connected to.
I will be proposing that the following motion will be adopted by the Irish Green Party on 13 April 2013. My thanks to Carlow Law lecturer John Tully, former Green Minster for Equality, Mary White, Cllr Malcolm Noonan, Dr. Paul O’Brien, Martin Lyttle, Dr. Rhys Jones, Alan Price, Duncan Russell, Nicola Brown, John Hogan and others for enthusiastically supporting my proposing this motion.
‘The Irish Green Party supports the proposition that a crime of ecocide be created in international law, as a crime against nature, humanity and future generations, to be defined as ‘the extensive damage to, destruction of 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 (human and non-human) of that territory has been or will be severely diminished’; and that the proposed crime of ecocide be formally recognised as a Crime against Peace subject to the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court.’
Do take a minute to sign and share the petitions, click on the links above or the AVAAZ and also the End Ecocide in Europe (if you live in Europe) logos at the bottom of this page. If a million Europeans sign the End Ecocide in Europe it helps enforce an EU wide directive against corporate ecocide (170 000+ have signed so far).
Please feel free to share this post and comments are always welcome. Thanks for reading. (Please add the #ecocide hastag if you are reposting this article)
Notes on redress for Vietnam veterans and their children in NZ
In December 2006, the New Zealand Government, the Ex-Vietnam Services Association (EVSA) and the Royal New Zealand Returned and Services Association (RNZRSA) agreed to, and signed, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) following the recommendations of the Joint Working Group, designated with advocacy for Veteran’s concerns. The MoU provides formal acknowledgement of the toxic environment New Zealand Vietnam Veterans faced during their service abroad in Vietnam, and the after-effects of that toxin since the service men and women returned to New Zealand. The MoU also makes available various forms of support, to both New Zealand Vietnam Veterans and their families. New Zealand writer and historian, Deborah Challinor, includes a new chapter in her second edition release of Grey Ghosts: New Zealand Vietnam Veterans Talk About Their War that discusses the handling of the New Zealand Vietnam Veterans’ claims, including the Reeves, McLeod and Health Committee reports, and the reconciliation/welcome parade on Queen’s Birthday Weekend, 2008, also known as ‘Tribute 08′.
From 1962 until 1987, the 2,4,5T herbicide was manufactured at an Ivon Watkins-Dow plant in Paritutu, New Plymouth which was then shipped to U.S. military bases in South East Asia. There have been continuing claims that the suburb of Paritutu has also been polluted.
An Arts & Ecology Notebook, by Cathy Fitzgerald, whose work exists as ongoing research and is continually inspired to create short films, photographic documentation, and writings. While she interacts with foresters, scientists, and communities, she aims to create a sense of a personal possibility, responsibility and engagement in her local environment that also connects to global environmental concerns. Go to An Arts and Ecology Notebook
In response to our New metaphors for sustainability series, Chris Ballance wrote to us and agreed we could post his email. As a playwright, Chris was one of our earliest listings on the Directory. He was Green Party Member and Member of the Scottish Parliament from 2003 – 2007, and now works for Moffat CAN, (Carbon Approaching Neutral), a community-owned company and charity.
One of the ideas that’s concerning some of us here is ‘how do we tell the cultural story of how good it could be to go green’? It’s inspired by the recent success of the SNP who – helped admittedly by dreadful campaigns by their opponents – based their huge election victory by selling independence as ‘Be a part of better’; a direct reference to a literary quotation from the author Alasdair Grey ‘Live each day as if you were in the first day of a better nation.’
A quotation doubtless unknown in London, but well enough known here in Scotland to be inscribed into the stone walls around the Scottish Parliament. The phrase has passed into commonplace so much that I’ve even seen ‘Be a part of better’ used to advertise merchandise in a shop. The SNP are using a cultural story and cultural references to achieve independence. (That’s to say nothing about planning to hold their referendum shortly after the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn.)
How do we create a cultural story which can then be used to make sustainability attractive? So often it is seen as ‘sacrifice’, doing without, enforced change. (I often remember being on an election hustings with a UKIP candidate who told me “Look, we all know your green world is coming. It’s just that we don’t want it, and we’re going to do everything we can to put it off for as long as possible.”) How do we conjure up images of something that people will actually want?
Your exploration of metaphors is definitely a step towards this. It’s not just sustainability – the whole concept of environmentalism lacks it: the only metaphors to have attached themselves to environmentalism are those framed by our opponents; ‘yoghurt knitters’, etc. Thank you.
“ashdenizen blog and twitter are consistently among the best sources for information and reflection on developments in the field of arts and climate change in the UK” (2020 Network)
The editors are Robert Butler and Wallace Heim. The associate editor is Kellie Gutman. The editorial adviser is Patricia Morison.
Robert Butler’s most recent publication is The Alchemist Exposed (Oberon 2006). From 1995-2000 he was drama critic of the Independent on Sunday. See www.robertbutler.info
Wallace Heim has written on social practice art and the work of PLATFORM, Basia Irland and Shelley Sacks. Her doctorate in philosophy investigated nature and performance. Her previous career was as a set designer for theatre and television/film.
Kellie Gutman worked with the Aga Khan Trust for Culture for twenty years, producing video programmes and slide presentations for both the Aga Khan Foundation and the Award for Architecture.
Patricia Morison is an executive officer of the Sainsbury Family Charitable Trusts, a group of grant-making trusts of which the Ashden Trust is one.
I’ve been invited to be one of the judges on the Green Web Awards, alongside Caroline Lucas, Green Party MEP, Adam Vaughan of The Guardian, Ed Gillespie of Futerra. Bonnie Alter of Treehugger and others. The Green Web awards were launched last year by Nigel Berman of nigelsecostore.com, so it’s a chance to figure out how much has changed in those 12 months.
Please get nominating.
Last year the standout winner for me was Freecycle, which won the Favourite Online Community award. It’s easy to forget what a quiet revolution that has been working on so many levels – building community, recycling tonnes of goods and saving landfill.
By adding a Best Greenwash category the Awards also ensure that they get great national publicity. Last year Mattel’s range of Eco-Friendly Barbies sashayed straight into the top spot.
But 2008 seems a long way away. Blogs themselves have lost some of their shininess in the intervening months. This is partly because the ADD-style attention span of the web has already moved on to social media, but I’m not sure if blogs themselves have grown as successfully as they should. While independent sites like DeSmogBlog are still lynchpins, and sites like Treehugger remain central, those of the major campaigning NGOs like Greenpeaceand WWF are looking sadly corporate and staid, as if their copy is part of a greater PR machine, rather than exuding the passionate intelligence that so many people who work for them have.
To acknowledge the shifting emphasis there’s a new category Social Media Hero. It’ll be interesting to see how that plays out. I do follow people like @revkin, @sustainblog and@adamvaughan_uk, but I’m not sure the environment movement yet has its own Stephen Fry. Take a look at Mashable’s list of 75 green tweets and see how many you would really want in your Twitter window every day.
But as these projects integrate with the social web, I suspect we’re on the verge of harnessing something quite spectacular. RSA Projects like Design Behaviour and The Social Brain tell us again and again we behave better when we act together.
We perceive it’s hard for us to lower our energy use on our own, but when we start comparing our use with our friends and neighbour’s, we suddenly start finding new ways forward.PriceWaterhouseCooper’s Carbon Bigfoot app on Facebook is one great new tool which does exactly that. Pachube is another fantastic mash up of technologies to create a live online community energy use comparison site.
I’m sure you have your own favourites.
I’d be particularly interested in seeing nominations for sites that aim at reaching the “other half” who are the least engaged in environmental issues.
And of course should anybody want to nominate and vote for us…
Horner defined the video as “terrorizing children,” (not surprising, since he’s drawn thin parallels between the German head of the Green Party and Hilter) while Maniates defended it as a valid examination of our culture. Some 7,000 schools and churches have ordered copies of Story of Stuff, and though you can barely catch them through all the Fox-newsy shouting, Skinner attempts to make some valid points about conversation and context. Not spouting dogma, as it were.
Dang straight, skulls and crossbones are scary. So are most flame retardants. So is much of modern resource management. So, to many, is Fox News. Whether Story of Stuff is an effective cultural impetus to move us toward a more gorgeous green utopia or not, it’s definitely bringing the conversation into the public sphere. That’s nothing short of awesome.