Ecocide is the failure of world economies to establish sustainable industrial and commercial paradigms in order to protect earth’s ecosystems from disruption or even destruction. An ecosystem is a niche in the global environment which supports particular kinds of natural life. A tropical rainforest, for example, supports scarlet macaws, Capuchin monkeys, the red-eyed tree frog, leaf-cutter ants and anacondas.
In many cases, these regional ecosystems have been exploited so carelessly in the past, and with so little thought for their fragility, that many native species of animals, insects, amphibians and even plants are on the endangered list. Some, like the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker, are now believed extinct as a result of a single sighting post-Katrina and a series of questionable audio and video recordings near the Pearl River in Louisiana in 2011.
If not actually extinct, Ivory-Billed Woodpecker numbers are now so reduced as to make successful reproduction and species continuation impossible. This is because breeding populations of any creature must reach a certain threshold (i.e., contain a certain number of individuals) to insure DNA diversity. Once this number falls too low, a species becomes technically extinct – as witness Lonesome George, the Galapagos turtle – and then extinct for real unless scientists can find a sufficient quantity of DNA to clone it.
The many species becoming endangered or extinct in this, the Anthropocene age (during which human activities and not natural events are causing most of the extinctions), just so happen to be disappearing at a time when we humans have more or less perfected cloning. This is a controversial topic, as it is a terrible reproach to our species that we have so desecrated the earth that we need to clone species to prevent their disappearing.
The endangered or extinct species list, prepared and maintained by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, or FWS, a section of the U.S. Department of the Interior, includes both national and global species in a variety of ecosystems.
In the United States, endangered or extinct species are simply listed based on field reports. In Ecuador, the National Assembly drafted and passed a bill which ultimately became a part of Ecuador’s Constitution. This law, which states that nature in all its life forms has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, is defended by the people – what Rome first referred to as “vox populi” – because Nature can’t speak for herself.
A similar situation exists in Bolivia, where “the Law of Mother Earth” (also known as Pachamama, the Andean goddess who represents Earth) makes nature equal to humans under the law. This law, "Ley de Derechos de La Madre Tierra" in Spanish, states that all species have:
- The right to life and to exist;
- The right to continue vital cycles and processes free from human alteration;
- The right to pure water and clean air;
- The right to balance; the right not to be polluted;
- The right to not have cellular structure modified or genetically altered.
The United Nations (UN) definition of ecocide is “extensive damage, destruction to 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 severely diminished.”
Jurists specializing in toxic torts see this as a crime of strict liability. That is, motive – or the intent to break the law – becomes irrelevant, and perpetrators are fined or convicted on the act alone, as opposed to most crimes, where perpetrators must have “knowingly” committed a crime.
This basis allows courts in Ecuador and Bolivia to assess fines to violators like oil companies regardless of their intent to pollute or awareness that they have done so. It has been so successful that the UN Environmental Programme wants member states to pass similar ecocide laws under the umbrella of “The 5th International Crime Against Peace”, and a 6-page draft spells out the law in minute detail.
In other words, the Rights of Mother Earth should be an overarching principle on which all future forms of resource development or human expansion are weighed, with an idea toward establishing monetary penalties for failure in advance of development. That way, mining companies, energy companies and other enterprises that rely on the use of resources (including water and soil) would be deterred from their more egregious methods of extraction.
We welcome Andrew Miller to the Celsias writing team. Andrew is an avid blogger, environmental law student, and is currently working on a book with his wife about social entrepreneurship. He is a true Socialpreneur and finds that his goal in life is to be an agent for positive social change through both his writing and business endeavors.