Two members of the Nelson youth group Fridays for Future told Nelson council on Dec. 14 that the large-scale destruction of nature should join genocide as an international crime that could be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court.
Wa-Ya Aeon and Linn Murray said Stop Ecocide is an international movement dedicated to making this happen. Canada’s chapter of Stop Ecocide was co-founded by Jamie Hunter of Nelson.
Murray and Aeon listed melting arctic ice, rising sea levels, infertile soils, ocean acidification, mass extinctions and extreme forest fires as examples of actions that should be crimes.
“All of these environmental issues are at their root created by ecocide,” said Aeon. “Our culture facilitates and promotes industrial activity that operates with total disregard for the environment.”
The presenters gave examples from several countries where nature, or specific parts of it, have been given legal rights.
“Rights mean nothing if there is not a criminal law in place to protect them,” Aeon said. “For example, your basic human right to life means very little without a criminal law against murder.”
Aeon and Murray explained that international laws against genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity are contained in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, of which Canada is one of 123 members, and that ecocide was once considered for inclusion but then dropped.
They said this means there is already a precedent and a context for an ecocide law.
“Harm to the earth is preventable if governments can no longer issue permits for it, if insurers can no longer underwrite it, when investors can no longer back it, and when CEOs can be held criminally responsible for it,” Murray said.
Murray and Aeon made no specific requests of council, but pointed out that individuals, organizations and governments can formally endorse the campaign.
The group is currently lobbying Canadian MPs of all parties.
“Imagine a growing international family of earth protectors.” Aeon said. “Individuals, communities, cities, organizations, businesses, provinces, countries, collectively united behind the implementation of this international law, ensuring the natural world that we all love so deeply is cared for.”
Councillor Rik Logtenberg asked for specific examples of the kind of destruction they mean. Murray pointed to forest destruction in Brazil, the oil sands in Canada, and fracking.
“Things like this would be banned and we would, as a society, use different methods that are not as disruptive,” he said.
Councillors Jesse Woodward and Brittny Anderson said it will be difficult to establish the line between use and abuse of resources.
“Humanity needs natural resources but it tips over into abuse sometimes,” Woodward said, “like over-fishing in international waters.”
Anderson said finding the boundaries is a challenging intellectual exercise. Woodward said insurance companies are increasingly refusing to underwrite certain destructive activities and are thereby creating some of those boundaries.
“There is a level of ability within ecosystems to regenerate themselves,” Aeon said, “and we need to enter that give and take, primarily a give — there is a lot of literature in the scientific space that addresses that.”
Councillor Keith Page asked what local actions should be taken. Murray said he liked many of the actions in the city’s new draft climate change report, and that transportation is key, as well as establishing food security.
Mayor John Dooley suggested a project for the group.
“I was disappointed to read that schools are no longer recycling,” he said. “The students who come down here on Fridays to protest in front of city hall, maybe they could take Fridays and start recycling at the schools. Return back to school and get that program up and running.
“It would benefit students in the value of recycling but it would have a lot of value for us as a council because we contribute millions to landfills burying things that shouldn’t be there.”