by Melanie Strickland

I was really grateful to have the opportunity to address the enthusiastic crowd at the Bank of Ideas on Sunday (20 November) and explain the concept of Wild Law. This is based on the proposals set out in the book ‘Wild Law: A Manifesto for Earth Justice,’ by a South African lawyer called Cormac Cullinan.

The central idea is that we urgently need to radically transform our governance structures so that our laws promote the health, integrity and well being of the Earth system in the long term. At the moment it’s the opposite – most Western legal systems faciliate and legitimise the destruction of Nature – our home and life support system.  Law has developed to support the industrial economy. It has long been the case that corporations are legally obliged to maximise profit for shareholders above all else, and corporations now have various human rights, despite the fact that they are a mere legal fiction. In contrast, Nature is mere ‘property’ in law. She has no voice.

But another way of governing ourselves is possible.  The proposed Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth, drafted in Bolivia in April 2010 at the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, is an inspiring example of what is possible when the people work together for the good of all beings that share this beautiful, diverse planet. The Declaration recognises the inherent value and sacredness of all life. It recognises the inherent ‘rights’ of Nature – like the ‘right ‘ to exist, the right to be respected and the right to well being and to live free from torture or cruel treatment by humans.   It recognises that Earth is the primary lawgiver – and that we must respect Nature’s limits. 

What are the implications of this for Occupy? I believe that there are deep synergies. Occupy recognises that there is something deeply wrong with our democracy.  To resolve this, we should start examining our governance structures – including our laws.  Our governance structures are like a pictureframe – framing our society. People too often stare at the picture and think about how to make it better. Rarely do they look at the frame.  To radically transform our society into something much more just, fair and equal, we need to change the frame of our law. We need to broaden our concept of democracy to encompass Earth Democracy, where the rights and interests of all beings are represented.  The rivers, trees, and non human animals are literally our kith and kin – we all evolved together.  Justice, equality, peace, human rights – these noble goals that we strive for cannot be achieved without recognising the rights of Nature, since these goals are not possible on a severely degraded Earth.

Occupy and the rights of Nature – these are ideas which are coming of age.

There is a global campaign to get the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth adopted at the Rio Summit next year here. Support it here: www.wildlawuk.org

 
 
Picture

It’s an apt question. Activists who are against corporate greed and for global justice have been peacefully camped outside St Paul’s for a fortnight now.  The activists have at all times co-operated with Cathedral officials, and were pleased that the Cathedral decided to open again yesterday (Friday 28 Oct).

There is something highly symbolic about protesting in front of an institution that has as its central aim to spread Christ’s message of love throughout the world.  Jesus was particularly concerned with the poor, the dispossessed, the outcasts and the marginalised in society.  Such poor, dispossessed, outcast and marginalised are represented and given a voice today by Occupy LSX.

According to the gospels, Jesus threw the money-changers out of the temple, his only act of violence.  He would not be comfortable with the excessive consumerist society that we live in today, and the fact that the 1% live excessively lavish lifestyles whilst many millions suffer in poverty.  He would not be happy that corporations wield such influence over people’s lives and have become a devasting force against people and planet.

All this suggests that Jesus would be camped with
Occupy London Stock Exchange, if he were around today.

The presence of the activists has deeply divided the Cathedral. Occupy LSX was
deeply moved at the resignation of Canon Chancellor Rev Dr Giles Fraser, who would not stand by the Cathedral’s decision to pursue legal action that may authorise violence against the activists.  He is not the only one, Fraser Dyer, a chaplain at St Paul’s, also listened to his conscience and decided to resign, being ‘embarrassed’ at the decision taken by the Dean and Chapter.

Jesus spoke up for the oppressed in society

I want to turn back to the theme of speaking up for the oppressed because it’s highly relevant from a wild law perspective. Human beings co-evolved with millions of other species. These other species are our kith and kin in a hard scientific sense, as well as in the poet’s sense (“the poetry of the Earth is never dead,” wrote Keats. Keats, like many others throughout history, recognised that
Nature has soul).  

In short, Nature has no voice in our society, so we must speak up for Nature. The trees, the rivers, the animals – they have rights too. They are stakeholders in this beautiful new democracry emerging.

We urgently need to reconnect with Nature. This Earth provides everything that we need to live well and is the source of our nourishment.  We need a new governance system which acknowledges the inherent value of all life and promotes, as the overriding objective, the flourishing of life on Earth. To be clear: life flourishing comes before the economy.  We need to move away from a narrative that places the economy above everything else.

A good starting point for this new governance is the
Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth, which is being advocated at international level by Bolivia.  Bolivia needs our help in this, so please sign the petition to get this groundbreaking legal text adopted at the Earth Summit next year.

The Declaration sets out a blueprint for a new social model, premised on co-operation with and respect for nature.  Many thousands of people all over the world look to Nature as the source of inspiration.   

“teach your children, that the rivers are our brothers and yours, and you must henceforth give the rivers the kindness you would give any brother”
 Chief Seattle

Keep up the good work Occupy LSX, and remember you represent all life, not just the poor and oppressed humankind who have no voice, but the oppressed non human species who are also part of the Earth Community.  

28-10-2011 UPDATES  

Family fun day at Occupy LSX on Saturday 29 October – head over to the tent university and learn about the new democracy.  This university doesn’t cost £9000!

Boris Johnson Mayor of London has reportedly called for
new laws to stop protests like this one. Such a move should be resisted, it is deeply undemocratic and a breach of our fundamental right.

The Cathdral’s decision to take legal action against protestors was
announced yesterday (Friday 28 Oct). The City of London Corporation had announced that it was also seeking legal action on the same day.

Law firm Winckworth Sherwood is acting for St Paul’s, and whilst Bindmans represents Occupy LSX, with advice from John Cooper QC. Bindmans and John Cooper are acting pro bono.

In a
Guardian poll, 88.2% of people supported the protest. 

 
 
by Melanie Strickland

The
Occupy London Stock Exchange movement represents our (latest) best opportunity to get real change.  Walking around St Paul’s this weekend was like walking around a giant art exhibition – everywhere was information, posters, calls to action, in other areas mini workshops, music,  a library,  a tent university, a kitchen and much  more.  The general public are welcomed. An inspiring community has emerged, and it’s made up of people of varied backgrounds, ages and ethnicities.

They are calling for our broken democracy to be fixed. They are angry at corporate greed, at corrupt politicians and the Corportisation of Everything. They have a Declaration, agreed democratically which is a work in progress and will be updated and refined on an ongoing basis as the movement continues to evolve. Each day a general assembly is held, open to anyone, where important issues affecting the collective are discussed and decisions made.  A series of working groups have been set up, from the kitchen and toilets to legal observers and a tent university
half term programme to educate the young.  It’s amazing to be part of this. I urge anyone who can stop by and find out about this beautiful movement to go along to both St Paul’s and the Finsbury Square occupations.  The press are generally understating the importance of this movement and are not reporting fairly, as demonstrated by this witty sketch

So what’s the significance of this for wild lawyers? Well, law has a lot to do with justice and this movement aims to bring about global justice for all. The system is bust. Laws are serving coporate interests not planet and people.
As Julian Assange said in his address to St Paul’s on Saturday 15 Oct, this is about the construction of law  (starts 27 mins in – the repetition of the crowd is the ‘human mic’ ). 

We need a completely new legal system which acknowledges Earth as the primary lawgiver. This movement needs to go deep. It’s not just about massively limiting the power of corporates, necessary though that is. It’s beyond people getting their ‘fair share of the pie’ – if that’s only considered in human terms.  That still implies exploitation of this beautiful planet.  We must build a new world based on an
Earth democracy – we humans must be a benign presence on this planet. The amazingly diverse community of life on Earth – including the trees, the animals, the rivers, the mountains… they are all stakeholders in this too.  Let’s bring them to the heart of this debate!

Let’s Occupy4life!

Occupy LSX welcomes
donations of food/ money/ other useful stuff – take these to the Info tent at St  Paul’s or Finsbury Square

Occupy4Life – please get in touch

 
 
by Andrea Gear
Picture

The UK Supreme Court hears appeal cases of huge constitutional significance, the outcomes of which often ricochet through the political arena, challenging the status quo, and shifting societal perceptions. It is fitting then, that on 30th September 2011 this grand building in Parliament Square provided a stage for the hearing of Regina v Bannerman & Tench. In this mock trial, two CEO’s stood accused of aiding and abetting the crime of ‘ecocide’.

Currently just a conceptual crime, ecocide has been submitted to the UN for consideration as the fifth crime against peace (alongside genocide, war crimes, crimes of aggression and crimes against humanity). For those of you not yet familiar with the concept, ecocide is ‘the extensive damage, destruction to, or loss of ecosystems of a given territory……to such an extent that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants of that territory has been severely diminished’.

It was apparent that an historic day was going to unfold when the prosecuting QC Michael Mansfield swept into the courtroom with a copy of Polly Higgin’s book ‘Eradicating Ecocide’ tucked under his gown. With the Jury sworn in and a suitably grave-faced Judge in place the indictment was read aloud, detailing three counts of ecocide contrary to the (fictional) Ecocide Act 2010. The crimes involved one scenario identical to that of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and two incidents relating to the extraction of oil from tar sands. The particulars of all three counts involved the death of, and risk of injury to birdlife. The accused pleaded not guilty, generating a bout of jeering from the public gallery!

The first hurdle was encountered almost immediately when the defence asserted that the fictional indictment had been wrongly interpreted from the imagined statute. Fortunately the judge overruled this objection as he was of the opinion that Parliament’s intention was clear and unequivocal in this regard! Despite the pretend criminals, the fabricated evidence, a voluntary jury and not a pen stroke from the legislature, there was genuine frustration, anticipation and tension in the gallery, and a tangible feeling that there was very much something at stake.

For the next few hours the prosecution and defence cross-examined (real) expert witnesses, and ridiculed and undermined each others’ arguments. There were moments of derision when the defence had to ‘scrape the barrel’, arguing that thousands of dead oiled birds may have encountered the oil post-mortem, and that oil wasn’t necessarily the cause of death. But there were also moments of concern when each of us in the courtroom realised that some arguments, although absurd to an ecologist, might sound plausible to the average juror. For example, the defence argued that oil leaks naturally from fissures in the Earth’s crust, and is a natural product broken down by microbial activity, implying that ‘a little extra’ in the oceans as the result of a spill is not really all that significant. The defence even tried to put a positive spin on the crime his client was accused of, arguing that after an oil spill, where a no fishing zone is declared, the fish stock return to a higher than pre-oil spill level!

The prosecution’s attempt to bully the accused into a vile anti-nature outburst was stunted by the CEO’s sickeningly humble and deeply remorseful tone (he was an excellent actor!). Prosecution points with the Jury were soon regained however, when the accused callously remarked that in order to make an omelette a few eggs had to be broken. QC Michael Mansfield quickly retorted that this was indeed unfortunate for the eggs!

After a tense few hours the court adjourned to allow the jury time to reach a verdict. Meanwhile, in the Lawyer’s Suite, silks and wigs were tossed aside for tea and cake, and lively debates erupted around the room. Discussions were a strange hybrid of legal jargon, ecology, and raw passion, but the common theme was progress. Progress underpinned by a recognition that our political, economic and social systems need to be permeated with an ethos of earth jurisprudence and recalibrated accordingly.

Returning to the courtroom to hear the verdict delivered the muttering crowd expressed many doubts about whether it would be a victory for Gaia. This was not simply because the two leading barristers were equally matched intellectual titans, but because the material was complex and controversial, the situation novel, and the jurors were not a horde of eco-warriors. On the first count, concerning extensive damage to the ecosystem as a result of the oil spill, the accused were acquitted (audible gasps of disbelief!). On the second and third counts, concerning death and risk of injury to birds through tar sand extraction activities they were found guilty (audible cheers!).

The crowd, which had amassed to over 100 by this point, then migrated to the Supreme Court library for a press conference. This was a particularly fascinating part of the day, in which burning questions were answered, and rousing speeches delivered. Polly Higgins likened her struggle to that of William Wilberforce, Michael Mansfield called upon all of us, as trustees of the planet to maintain the trust, and I heard Ghandi’s wise words ‘be the change’ circulate the room more than once. I cannot speak for all who were present, but for my part I left the UK Supreme Court convinced that if the UN recognises ecocide as an international crime (one small amendment to the Rome Statute, requiring 86 signatures is all that is required) then the rules of the game will change rapidly. This will initiate a shift in the corporate world’s collective consciousness and subsequent actions – a shift that Earth and her people so desperately need.

Further discussion….

Below I have summarised some of the main threads of discussion I picked up on throughout the day. Feedback on these points via the blog would be most welcome. There is also a link to a blog by a Guardian journalist, followed by some interesting comments from the general public.

At the press conference concern was expressed that the prosecution had found it far too easy to trivialise the crime of ecocide and create a false sense of perspective. For example, one of the CEO’s was accused of causing the death of over 1600 birds, after they landed in his company’s toxic tailing pond. The defence argued that when one considers the number of birds eaten by cats each year in the US (100m) or the numbers that die on collision with windows (900m), this number is negligible. To most of us this is an absurd line of argument. Millions of people die from starvation each year, but no lawyer would dare argue that this negates the seriousness of the 2,000 people poisoned by a company dumping toxic waste. Nonetheless, concern remains that a gullible juror would be easily led with such statistics.

Another widespread concern was that the level of ecological understanding required from the lawyers, Judge and Jury, in order for nature to have a fair trial, is considerably higher than those groups typically possess. Add into this equation the chemistry of toxic dispersants, meteorological oceanography, avian migration and nutrient cycling in boreal forests, and it becomes difficult to see how the communication dynamics between expert witness, barrister and Jury might work. However, it was generally agreed that if such crimes of ecocide were really to go to trial the process would be considerably longer than a day, and parties would be well advised.

Aside from the technicality of the evidence and its contextual framework, certain wording of the Ecocide Act 2010 also generated some problems for the prosecution. It was stated early on by the judge that the jury were to understand ‘extensive damage’ to ecosystems against 3 criteria; size, duration, and impact. Unfortunately this gave the defence too much manoeuvrability. Post-trial I spoke to the head juror, who informed me that the defence’s closing statement had convinced them that the size (250 million gallons released from a point source), duration (4 months), and impact (highly debateable) of the oil spill did not amount to ecocide. This led to an acquittal on one count, which although disappointing helped to flag up the weaknesses in the Act. Polly remarked that this was an extremely positive aspect of the exercise, as she could redraft the proposed legislation accordingly.

In court, the concept of a duty of care to the environment wasn’t mentioned, and the prosecution had no interest in proving negligence. This was because the trial proceeded on the basis of strict liability – that the accused was liable for the damage caused regardless of personal fault. Polly Higgins explained her reasons for putting the company executive in the stand rather than the company itself. Fining a company for flouting environmental regulations under civil law will not be sufficient deterrent she argued. Profits gained from destructive practices are too lucrative for such practices to be derailed by nominal fines, and a monetary punishment will be passed on to consumers of that product, which sadly, in the case of fossil fuels, is all of us. However, the threat of a prison sentence is not one that could be easily ignored by a company’s top personnel, and the universality of the crime would mean that the UK had jurisdiction to prosecute, regardless of where the crime was committed. By imposing this superior responsibility, business leaders could be encouraged to adopt the precautionary principle, rather than throwing money at the aftermath. All agreed that preventative measures to avoid an incident of ecocide ever occurring is an optimal solution for all involved, particularly the planet.


 
 
PictureNmimmo Bassey, head of Friends of the Earth International with Nic Seton on the ukulele. Not your typical boring law conference...
by Kate Hodgson


Well done everyone for another truly engaging and thought-provoking wild law weekend!

For those of us convinced of the rightness of wild law, the Great Work we have is to transform ourselves and the rest of humanity
from an exploitative to a benign and mutually enhancing presence on this beautiful planet earth as Thomas Berry sets out.  This weekend we learned and shared, contemplated and argued, laughed at the antics of llamas and gazed in awe at the starry, starry night surrounding us.  Much of the wealth of pleasure and experience this weekend was due to the choice of place: the exchange of ideas in a safe environment such as The Sustainability Centre, on the edge of the South Downs Way and National Park, felt inspirational and comfortable simultaneously.  They had a lot to offer, made us feel at home, fed us deliciously, and have an exciting plan for the future including growing all their own food in their 55 acre site.  It felt good to be there with like-minded people who promote wild law ideas along with permaculture and others.  If their bookshop doesn’t have supplies of Wild Law, and Thomas Berry’s and the Gaia Foundation’s booklets on Earth Jurisprudence then I think we should send them some.

The key to these weekends, and the reason many of us return, however, is the community of followers that has gathered over the years as well as the stimulating speakers. This year we had outstanding speakers from the fields of environmental law, sociology/ ecology/philosophy, oil pollution campaigning, and woodland-culture with huge troves of knowledge, wisdom and experience that they shared with us.  Participants also brought with them many skills and backgrounds and gave unselfishly their views. 

Particularly memorable were the poetry performances; Ben Law’s softly spoken woodsman talk by the blazing logs under his
armadillo roofed wooden room amid the dark sycamores; and Nnimmo Bassey’s open session on corporations arousing passionate contributions from the large number of us attending; - what a beautiful campaigner role model and inspirational Chair of Friends of the Earth International.  Indeed, so was the fun and energy of the Wild Law Ideas Café navigated brilliantly and humorously by Prof. Jane Holder, as well as her hugely informative talk questioning university syllabuses and challenging us to re-write a law degree from a  wild law point of view.  But saving the best till last, Prof. Ted Benton left me burning to find out more of the green political ideas, especially that of an Earth society of beings that is beyond a rights-based society.

But we didn’t just talk!  We are making gradual progress towards becoming a campaigning group.  We discussed how to change ourselves and our world so that nature comes first and we circulated and signed a petition calling for the UN to adopt the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth.  It can be found online here http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/yes-to-rights-of-nature/ for those who wanted to sign it online.  Others took on non-human roles, such as eagle or forest in the experiential process which allows us to observe our place in nature and our systemic relationship to other living beings known as Environmental Constellations offered by our kind facilitator Zita Cox. And all enjoyed the wonderful views on our walk led by local rambler activists Valerie and Owen Plunkett.

I and others left Hampshire last weekend with renewed vigour and enthusiasm to answer the question of what is wild law, to get to know better the neighbourhood where we live, both human and natural, to live more sustainably, and get to work on overcoming the contradictions spotted by newcomers.

To sum up, I was nourished splendidly, enjoyed a caring and convivial time, was energised to reread
Wild Law and The Great Work, and motivated to devote more time to getting people talking about wild law and Earth Rights this coming year, and to book early for the 2012 weekend on 21 – 23 September.  Thank you all, especially Louise, Ned and Simon for organising a brilliant weekend, and to Vicki and Alison as ever for the usual care and attention to detail.


 
 
by Melanie Strickland


On 20 July 2011 twenty climate activists who were convicted in Nottingham Crown Court in December 2010 for conspiracy to commit aggravated trespass, had their convictions quashed by the Court of Appeal. 

These activists had always
maintained that whilst they had planned to shut down e.on’s Ratcliffe on Soar coal fired power station (thereby stopping emissions temporarily), they had done so out of necessity and self defence of the planet, of which we are a part, and its population.  Wild Law UK shares these values too – life is precious and sacred, and we have a duty to defend it.

We should be concerned about the circumstances of the arrest and trial that led to the Ratcliffe activists being convicted. The State has invested vast resources into undercover police officers who have been infiltrating the climate justice movement for many years.  The actions of the State, which before this Mark Kennedy story broke might have been considered the imaginings of conspiracy theorists - prove that they are threatened by climate activists and want to put people off peaceful dissent of climate policy. 

In general the attitude of our society, business and government is that
life is cheap, so economic interests continue to be prioritised over the health of the Earth.  Even the more progressive initiatives proposed to protect nature tend to focus on valuing nature in monetary terms (for example, TEEB).  The logic of this approach seems to be that if nature is more ‘expensive’ then fewer people can afford to destroy nature, and people will have a financial incentive to conserve nature instead. Nature is always a resource to be exploited, not a dynamic living system of which we are a part, or a Mother to be respected, which is how the Greeks thought of Gaia.  The narrative never starts from the premise that life is inherently valuable.  We don’t see the world through the Romantic poet Blake’s eyes – for him ‘everything that lives is holy’.  This mindset helps to explain why we keep trashing the planet and why we are quite relaxed with this course of action.

Not everyone of course is relaxed with the destruction of the planet – hence brave people like those
Ratcliffe on Trial activists. They are a voice speaking out against destruction of the planet for profit. Direct action has a vital role to play in our democracy and in securing Earth justice. (Although, in the Ratcliffe case, the activists were pre-emptively arrested by hundreds of police during a meeting in a school where they were discussing how to shut down Ratcliffe on Soar safely – no action actually took place).  In the UK we have a proud tradition of civil rights movements. Before slavery was abolished and before women got the right to vote, there were protests and civil resistance. 

Direct action is particularly relevant in cases where the injustice is systematic or hardwired into our institutions.  In these cases, it may be that nothing short of a mass movement and civil resistance will force the State to recognise that the status quo cannot be sustained and there must be radical change.  Our planet is telling us through – for example - the mass collapse of ecosystems and the phenomenon of climate change – that we need radical change.

Whereas Wild Law UK is looking at ways to change the law so that the rights of nature are respected, the Ratcliffe on Trial activists are highlighting the issue of climate injustice by high profile actions, and by their efforts to build a movement based on solidarity with the repressed  and marginalised in society, and other social justice movements. We are working for the same end, to secure Earth justice, in different ways.

In the Court of Appeal’s
judgment, the judges stated that they shared the public disquiet over the convictions. But to secure fundamental change public disquiet must be translated into mass movement – we all have a civic responsibility to protect our planet. 

 
 
by Simon Wakefield
When the director of Avatar, James Cameron, was asked "What is the film saying to society at large?” he replied that it asks us questions about "our relationship with the natural world at the time of nature deficit disorder."  A curious phenomenon noted by many people who had seen Avatar was a feeling of depression on coming to terms with being back in everyday life. According to Wikepedia, CNN reported that the film's universe has had a profound effect on the audience over their perception of Earth, and life on it, in reality. A recurring theme throughout the film is the equal value placed on all living beings by the Na'vi and one wonders if Cameron has in fact articulated a worldview which we feel at our core but which our layers of culture and history have denied.

We are all embedded in a plethora of wonderful stories, yet the dominant cultural narrative constantly draws us away from any real engagement with the other-than-human world. On one occasion my girlfriend and I were taking my nephew, who was nine years old at the time, for a walk in the local park.  "What's that bird?"  I said, pointing at a crow. "It's a blackbird", he said.  Of course, he was certainly right that it was a black bird but it made me think of Derrick Jensen’s musing as to whether any of us would be able to name 10 wild plants growing near where we live.  But why should any of this be of importance to my nephew, or to any of us for that matter?  The answer to such a question rests on how we see ourselves in relation to each other and the rest of the universe.

In his book The Ascent of Humanity, Charles Eisenstein describes how every culture has its own versions of two predominant narratives – the Story of the Self and the Story of the People – and explores the way in which they are expressed in our culture. Our Story of the Self is that of the “discrete and separate self, a bubble of psychology inside a prison of flesh, a Cartesian mote of consciousness in an inanimate universe, an organism programmed by its genes to maximize reproductive self-interest, the Economic Man of Adam Smith seeking to maximize financial self-interest, a skin-encapsulated soul, a mind separate from matter” (1). In other words, you and I are separate - perhaps mutually dependent in a limited practical way but independent of each other or anything else for our basic being-ness.  According to our Story of the People, “humanity has risen from a state of nature, the state of scientific ignorance and technological impotence, to become nature's lords and masters.”(2)  We have thereby transcended all the limits which are placed on other species.

Most people unwittingly accept these narratives, supported as they are by our media and advertising, and our education system does not seem to provide us with the critical thinking tools needed to figure out what's going on. And it's difficult to bring to any child, let alone most adults, any sense of awe or wonder about the natural world when they have so little experience of it and increasing their score on the latest on-line game has taken the place of climbing trees.  And in case it sounds as if I am exaggerating the pervasive power of computer screens over contact with nature and being outdoors, particularly for children, a recent article in the Guardian entitled "Children growing weaker as computers replace outdoor activity" (3) caught my eye. Research published in the child health journal Acta Paediatrica suggest that children are becoming less muscular and unable to do physical tasks that previous generations found simple. As a generation dedicated to online pursuits grows up, the findings have led to fresh concern about the impact on children's health caused by the shift away from outdoor activities.

One of the most transformative experiences of my life was to lie by myself for an hour or so behind a nesting sea turtle on a beach in Greece, occasionally being showered with sand, but during that time I somehow touch something beyond myself -- what I really felt was that I was in the presence of a creature from deep time, I sensed not only the exhausted turtle in front of me but somehow also its lineage stretching back 60 million years.  I was alone with this other being with which I shared our planet, another consciousness, a different consciousness from my own, but it taught me more about myself and my relationship to the universe in that short time than possibly any other experience of my life. But you don’t have to be with a nesting sea turtle to make such connections, they are everywhere.

So what can we do? Eisenstein suggests that the old versions of the Story of the Self, and of the People, are breaking down as we transition to a new experience of being that is connected and symbiotic, and with ecological interdependency and cocreative partnership replacing domination (1). So we desperately need new stories that can help speak this new world into existence. David Abram, author of The Spell of the Sensuous and Becoming Animal in his essay Storytelling and Wonder elegantly suggests ways forward:

“Can we begin to affirm our own co-evolved, carnal embedment within this blooming, buzzing proliferation of life, stirring within us a new humility in the face of a world that we did not create – in the face of a world that created us? Most importantly, can we begin with our students to restore the health and integrity of the local earth? Not without restorying the local earth. For our senses have become exceedingly estranged from the earthly sensuous. The age-old reciprocity between the human animal and the animate earth has long been short-circuited by our increasing involvement with our own creations, our own human-made technologies. And yet a simple tale, well-told, can shatter the spell – whether for an hour, or a day, or even a lifetime. We cannot restore the land without restorying the land.”

Charles Eisenstein likes to pose the question "what is most beautiful thing that I can do right now?".  I would like to suggest that the most beautiful thing you can do is to tell a child story, and make it a good one.


1. Charles Eisenstein, ‘Welcome to Sacred Economics’, 
http://charleseisenstein.com/2011/05/23/welcome-to-sacred-economics

2. Charles Eisenstein, ‘A World-Creating Matrix of Truth’, 
http://www.realitysandwich.com/print/23921

3. 
http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2011/may/21/children-weaker-computers-replace-activity?INTCMP=SRCH
 
 
On Monday 23 May 2011 a debate hosted by Wild Law UK was held at UCL moot court - Polly Higgins, the environmental rights lawyer turned campaigner, began the discussion with a brief introduction to the proposed international crime of Ecocide:

“Ecocide is the extensive destruction, damage 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.”

By criminalizing Ecocide we would be forced to reconceptualize how we interact with the Earth. So instead of utilitarian cost benefit analyses that view the Earth as a commodity to be owned, sold, and exploited we would come to see the Earth as a living being with its own intrinsic value for which we must take responsibility. Thus, the exploitative nature of property law could give rise to a responsible form of trusteeship law.

---

The debate then turned to whether or not Ecocide should be a crime of strict liability. Generally to convict someone it must be shown that they both committed the criminal act, and that they had criminal intent (mens rea in the legal jargon).

However, a crime of strict liability only requires it to be proven that the act had been committed, not the intent.

Polly proposed the motion for three reasons:

1: Ecocide is a crime of consequence – the seriousness of the crime is so grave that we need not try and prove intent. As Polly pointed out it is unlikely that the CEOs of BP gather together and discuss how they are going to destroy the environment that day, rather, they ask how they are going to maximize profit. Therefore, there isn’t intent to destroy, even though destruction may be one of the outcomes of their actions – and whether or not they knew this doesn’t matter – once you’ve caused Ecocide there is no going back – no amount of money can revitalize the devastated Gulf Coast for example.

2: There should be no compromises with regards to the position of whether or not a perpetrator of Ecocide had sufficient knowledge. Again, it’s too serious.

3: It is a preventative measure – meaning that it creates a pre-emptive obligation to not even consider facilitating activities that may cause Ecocide. It’s not a question of being precautious precisely because it is out of the question. So bankers would have to think twice about funding certain activities, Heads of States about condoning certain activities, and energy companies about carrying them out.

Polly made the analogy with death by dangerous driving – even though no one sets out to accidentally run someone over the point is that they have so dramatically departed from the standard of care that their lack of intent does not matter. The same, she argued, can be said of Ecocide.

David Hart QC, the environmental lawyer and advocate of wild law, opposed the motion for two reasons:

1: Prudence. Criminalizing Ecocide is already a radical idea so we need to ensure the international community is as receptive as possible to adopting it. Asking that Ecocide be a crime of strict liability would make it even harder to swallow.

2: Principle. If Ecocide were to be made the Fifth Crime Against Peace then it should be a similar crime to the other four (Genocide, Crimes Against Humanity, War Crimes, Crimes of Aggression) none of which are strict liability – all require intent.

David asked why Ecocide should be any different. He also added that with regards to the mental element (intent) it is already there in most cases of Ecocide – for example, in the Athabasca Tar Sands energy extraction companies are going there with the intent of removing the oil and not mitigating the impact of doing so – this should be enough to convict them were Ecocide a crime.

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It was a fascinating and hard-hitting debate. As for the vote: Polly – approx 35, David – 4. Clearly people agreed that Ecocide is just too devastating, too disastrous, too tragic, for it not to be a crime of strict liability.

By Rob Holtom

 
 
22 February 2011

by Melanie Strickland

On 22 February 2011 six conscientious activists were found guilty of aggravated trespass at Trafford Magistrates Court, following their direct action at Manchester Airport in May 2010, to highlight the threat of climate change and the contribution of the airport to the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions. The activists had pleaded not guilty on the basis that the action was necessary to prevent death and serious injury caused by emissions.

There have been a number of cases in recent years involving activists putting forward a defence of necessity. On the whole these have been unsuccessful. But the guilty verdicts of these decent, otherwise law abiding people leaves a sour taste in the mouth. Isn’t it time we started questioning our legal system, which legitimises and indeed facilitates environmental destruction on a large and small scale. The Manchester Airport on Trial activists felt that they had no other option but to take direct action – they said that they were ignored and ‘fobbed off’ by Manchester City Council.  They were not able to bring a judicial review of the expansion plans due to the costs involved. Is this ‘justice’?

What can be inferred from the expert testimony for the defendants is that we are badly failing in our duty of care towards the planet. This is having far reaching consequences for all life on earth. Laws must change so that human behaviour is regulated to ensure the health and integrity of the Earth in the long term. Anything less means climate injustice for the many, and prevents human beings from achieving their full potential in the community of life on Earth.