Carine Nadal, Earth Jurisprudence Co-ordinator at the Gaia Foundation, and member of Wild Law UK shares reflections on her participation in the mock Ecocide Sentencing. The original and full version of her blog appears here.
On 31st March 2012, in an event organized by the Hamilton Group and the Institute for Democracy & Conflict Resolution (IDCR) at the University of Essex, two mining company directors were sentenced having been found guilty of Ecocide - the extensive destruction of ecosystems - at a mock trial in the UK Supreme Court on 30th September 2011. Ecocide has been proposed by Polly Higgins as the 5th international crime against peace. The directors were found guilty of undermining the peaceful enjoyment of the Earth Community in the Athabasca Tar Sands, Canada.
Restorative justice process
One of the mining company directors – Mr Bannerman – accepted responsibility and agreed to participate in a restorative justice process prior to his sentencing. Restorative justice is a process which provides an opportunity for the voices of the victims to be heard. It is highly relevant in an environmental and social context where issues are interconnected and where the focus is collaboration and healing rather than conflict and retribution.
I was invited to participate in this process to amplify the voice of Earth – one of the victims - and was joined by those voicing wider humanity (Jess Philimore), indigenous peoples (Gerald Amos, Chief Councillor from the Haisla Nation in Canada), future generations (Philippa De Boissiere), the birds killed in the Tar Sands (Peter Smith), along with the mining company’s Chief Sustainability Officer (Roger Cowe) and Chairman of the company’s pension fund (Paddy Briggs). Lawrence Kershen, chair of the Restorative Justice Council, facilitated the process. It was an intense and moving experience for all.
In my role as Earth I came to a deeper understanding that:
Earth is Mother of all life
We, whether humans, birds, forests, mountains or soil, are all children of Earth. Earth gives us life, nurtures and protects us like our human mothers. When I asked Mr Bannerman whether he had children, he erupted with parental instinct fearing that he would never see his family again if he were sentenced to prison. If only we widened our circle of compassion to our wider Earth family, as Albert Einstein urged, then we would feel Mother Earth’s deep pain for the loss of her children killed because of the Tar Sands extraction and those yet or never to be born. How can we put profit over life?
Earth is a Living Being
This is the understanding of many indigenous peoples, and scientists such as James Lovelock and Stephan Harding. As Dzomo la Mupo (Voice of Earth), Sacred Site custodians in Venda, South Africa explain: ‘Minerals and metals are the heart of Earth. If we remove them, it is like removing a person’s heart. It will kill the person. It is the same with our Earth, who will die if minerals or metals are removed. Her life force will be drained.’ The powerful imagery of Earth as a living body helped me understand what Earth must feel when activities such as the Tar Sands extraction grabs and gauges her skin/land leaving huge scars, sucks and pollutes her blood/water supply, and chokes her with filthy air. As we are all interconnected and interdependent, if we damage one part of Earth’s body we damage the whole of Earth, and ultimately damage ourselves.
Earth speaks to us
If only we, particularly in industrialised countries, took the time to listen and feel what Earth is saying, and stop stifling her voice with our human-centred desires. Earth is warning us that she is reaching her threshold of tolerance to human destructive behaviour. Will we continue to disobey Earth’s laws and destroy our Earth family like a cancer OR will we abide by Earth’s laws for the benefit of the whole Earth Community? As a mother, Earth is forgiving and compassionate but even she has limits. We need to re-learn our eco-literacy of Earth’s cycles, rhythms and boundaries. Our indigenous elders who have been reading Earth’s laws for centuries can guide us. Mr Bannerman accepted Earth’s proposal for there to be a Guardian of Earth on the board of his company who would determine whether activities were in the best interest of the wider Earth Community.
We are all Guardians of Earth
We all have the responsibility to amplify Earth’s voice. For the sake of past, present and future generations, we must respect the rights of the Earth Community to exist, habitat and fulfill our function in the evolutionary process, and live within Earth’s laws. Elder Thomas Berry, who developed the philosophy of Earth Jurisprudence, explained that the ‘Great Work’ ahead of us is to live in a mutually enhancing relationship and tread softly on Earth.
Reminding us that ‘Earth is a precious heritage’, Judge Ian Lawrie ruled that, given his genuine participation in restorative justice process, Mr Bannerman's sentence would be deferred for six months. During this time he has to uphold his commitments, agreed during the restorative justice process, to maintain suspension of mining in the Tar sands, meaningfully involve indigenous peoples in the decision-making process, appoint a guardian of Earth and future generations, and transition to renewable energy.
A short film of the event is available here Parts 1 and 2.