Deforestation

Outlawing ecocide for global peace – why we must all stand with Polly Higgins, the ‘lawyer for the earth’

This post comes to you from An Arts and Ecology Notebook
‘Examples of ascertainable ecocide affecting sizeable territories include the deforestation of the Amazonian rainforest, the proposed expansion of the Athabasca Oil Sands in northeastern Alberta, Canada and polluted waters in many parts of the world, which account for the death of more people than all forms of violence including war‘ – Polly Higgins, Eradicating Ecocide, 2010, p.63

Polly Higgins and indigenous activist Raven Courtney 2012 working to spread news about ecocide in Canada and North America

Polly Higgins and indigenous activist Raven Courtney earlier this year working to spread news about ecocide in Canada and North America

The above statement is a startling statistic at odds in how we may conventionally view war. Yet acknowledging the enormous and accelerating violence and destruction to humans, non-human species and our sustaining habitats as war is a critical step if we are ever to halt such activities. It is this key concept that drives UK lawyer Polly Higgins in her work to make ‘Ecocide’ legally recognised by the United Nations as ‘5th international Crime against Peace‘. Polly and her organisation are working towards presenting these new laws at the upcoming June 2012 Earth summit and she has recently made an urgent call, particularly to the women of the world, who are often most affected, to understand this concept and to spread it amongst their communities and to bring it to the attention of their political leaders.

Ecocide, as Polly describes in her award winning book ‘Eradicating Ecocide – exposing the corporate and political practices destroying the planet and proposing the laws needed to eradicate ecocide’, is a relatively new term. It was first used to characterise the massive and ongoing environmental devastation that occurred in the Vietnam war with the widespread use of toxic defoliants to destroy local forests. Today it is a term that is growing in agency as the world is beginning to recognise the grave and now imminent global peril that humanity and other species face due to the mostly uncontrolled, unsustainable and ultimately suicidal behaviour of our local and global businesses and corporate industries. Ecocide literally means the killing and destroying of our habitats, and is derived from the Greek word oikos meaning ‘house, dwelling place, habitation, family’ and the suffix ‘cide‘ from the French and Latin words to ‘kill or slay’. For the purposes of international law and building on definitions of ecocide from previous war crimes, Polly defines ecocide as ‘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’.

Building on her extensive knowledge of international environmental law, Polly has over a number of years built a very strong, credible case to firstly explain the history and the current situation about why legal compromise, recommended environmental policy and regulation all continue to spectacularly fail in preventing environmental destruction, as seen in the recent Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico. She likens the need to legally criminalise ecocide to the effects such similar laws that criminalised and led to the abolition of slavery. Polly’s aim is to eradicate ecocide at its roots, outlawing ecocidal activity in all business activity to the point that business is forced to radically change and move in the opposite direction. As she says ‘ we need business skills to be applied elsewhere and very fast..’

Youtube: Polly Higgins organised a successful mock ecocide trial in London in 2011 with leading human rights lawyers

While I’m often pessimistic about environmental actions and politics in general halting what I see as the unstoppable consequences of a society that promotes unlimited economic growth and profit over everything else, I have been encouraged by Polly’s work and the historical and recent examples she presents where such legal changes have made a difference. There are certainly enormous challenges in getting such legal changes adopted and then enforced. However, it is possible and one country, Ecuador, has in 2010 already enshrined these values into its national constitution. Perhaps this is because it is in Ecuador that the largest criminal prosecution against corporate ecocide, against the ‘big oil’ company TEXACO, has succeeded with a $27 billion of damages awarded to 30,000 Amazonian peoples (the 18 year struggle for this landmark case is the basis of the award-winning documentary Crude (2009)).

So if you have a few minutes, please visit Polly’s website www.thisisecocide.com, packed with information and suggestions on how to spread the word about ecocide and its need for its to be recognised at every level, locally, nationally and internationally as a crime, not just against the environment but against peace. Do share this article , particularly before the June 2012 United Nations Earth Summit at which Polly will be presenting this groundbreaking work.

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What follows are Polly’s 10 reasons why Ecocide is a crime against Peace

1. stop ecocide and we stop the mass destruction of the planet;

2. ecocide is proposed as an international law which applies to all people and all nations;

3. which will rapidly become a national duty of care as well when each country has to put in place parallel laws;

4. governments, corporations, organisations, and any person who has rights over a territory will have an over-riding legally binding obligationto ensure their actions do not give rise to damage, destruction or loss of ecosystems;

5. action can be taken against any human person, not the fictional person (the corporation). As an international crime against peace, no-one escapes liability;

6. we already have the international court structure in place to prosecute ecocide. The International Criminal Court was created in 2002;

7. ecocide creates a strong legal burden of responsibility to ensure prevention;

8. restoration will take precedence over simple payment of fines;

9. the Law of Ecocide will ensure a shift from personal interest to public, environmental and society interests;

10. Peace.

Ecocide sends a powerful global message to the world, not just to those involved in business or during war, to take responsibility for the well being of all life.

This article also appears on hercircleezine.com and ecoartfilm.com

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

Cool Stories for when the planet gets hot III

Video Still: Richard Jochum: Halt, 2007 (one of the finalists for COOL STORIES II in 2009)

This post comes to you from EcoArtScotland

The third edition of an international art video competition on Global Warming by ARTPORT_making waves deadline for submissions May 9th, 2011.

After two successful editions, launched at Scope Basel in 2007 and repeated at Focus Basel in 2009, ARTPORT_making waves for the third edition collaborates with CINEMA PLANETA, the award-winning International Environmental Film Festival in Cuernavaca, Mexico.

We invite video artists worldwide to participate with works that explore Global Warming, focusing on forests in honor of the United Nations International Year of Forests 2011. Artists are encouraged to tell us their stories about deforestation or tree planting and its positive effects; they may also opt to approach the topic from symbolic, psychological or socio-political significances of forests. Our aim is to present a convincing survey of the current artistic exploration of this topic worldwide with 20 established and emerging artists, edited into a visually and conceptually coherent compilation by ARTPORT_making waves.

ecoartscotland is a resource focused on art and ecology for artists, curators, critics, commissioners as well as scientists and policy makers. It includes ecoartscotland papers, a mix of discussions of works by artists and critical theoretical texts, and serves as a curatorial platform.

It has been established by Chris Fremantle, producer and research associate with On The Edge ResearchGray’s School of Art, The Robert Gordon University. Fremantle is a member of a number of international networks of artists, curators and others focused on art and ecology.

Go to EcoArtScotland

New artist call “Cool Stories For When The Planet Gets Hot III” launched

This post comes to you from Cultura21

Richard Jochum: Halt (video still), 2007 (finalist COOL STORIES II)

ARTPORT_making waves, an international art project which raises awareness of current social and political issues worldwide through theme-oriented exhibitions, residency programs and artists collaborations, proudly presents the third edition of its video contest “Cool Stories For When The Planet Gets Hot” on global warming.

After two successful editions, for the third edition ARTPORT collaborates with CINEMA PLANETA, the award-winning International Environmental Film Festival in Cuernavaca, Mexico. We invite video artists worldwide to participate with works that explore global warming, focusing on forests in honor of the United Nations International Year of Forests 2011. Artists are encouraged to tell us their stories about deforestation or tree planting and its positive effects; they may also opt to approach the topic of symbolic, psychological or socio-political significances of forests. Our aim is to present a convincing survey of the current artistic exploration of this topic worldwide with 20 etablished and emerging artists, edited into a visually and conceptually coherent compilation by ARTPORT_making waves. The final winner will be awarded an artist residency.

Deadline for submitting proposals is May 9, 2011.

For more information: www.artport-project.org

Cultura21 is a transversal, translocal network, constituted of an international level grounded in several Cultura21 organizations around the world.

Cultura21′s international network, launched in April 2007, offers the online and offline platform for exchanges and mutual learning among its members.

The activities of Cultura21 at the international level are coordinated by a team representing the different Cultura21 organizations worldwide, and currently constituted of:

– Sacha Kagan (based in Lüneburg, Germany) and Rana Öztürk (based in Berlin, Germany)

– Oleg Koefoed and Kajsa Paludan (both based in Copenhagen, Denmark)

– Hans Dieleman (based in Mexico-City, Mexico)

– Francesca Cozzolino and David Knaute (both based in Paris, France)

Cultura21 is not only an informal network. Its strength and vitality relies upon the activities of several organizations around the world which are sharing the vision and mission of Cultura21

Go to Cultura21

Avatar; indigenous peoples, carbon credits and the rainforest

I’m loving the commentaries that have evolved around Avatar’s themes of exploitation of natural resources, imperialism and biological diversity.

Libertarian blogger Stephen Kinsella argues here that it underscores his viewpoint that the movie demonstrates that property rights are the only way to protect the environment. Interestingly this is the logic of the UN’s REDD carbon trading scheme or to give it its long name, the United Nations Collaborative Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries. This is based – in theory at least – of forests having assigned carbon values and of local people having property rights over those resources. The “owners” are then rewarded for not chopping down trees.

Such solutions aren’t without their problems though. Aside for the more obvious problems of carbon credits – that they allow the industralised world to delay reducing their own emissions –  Global Witness point out in this report [PDF] that was published last October, this is an untested scheme that may well benefit Africa and South America’s kleptocrat rulers more than it does the environment, or the locals to whom this property has been assigned. Assigning property rights, suggests Global Witness, is part of the process of moving from an environment protected from logging, to a “sustainably managed” forest which allows logging to go ahead.

Go to RSA Arts & Ecology

Avatar and the power of social media

I’m loving the commentaries that have evolved around Avatar’s themes of exploitation of natural resources, imperialism and biological diversity.

Libertarian blogger Stephen Kinsella argues here that it underscores his viewpoint that the movie demonstrates that property rights are the only way to protect the environment. Interestingly this is the logic of the UN’s REDD carbon trading scheme or to give it its long name, the United Nations Collaborative Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries. This is based – in theory at least – of forests having assigned carbon values and of local people having property rights over those resources. The “owners” are then rewarded for not chopping down trees.

Such solutions aren’t without their problems though. Aside for the more obvious problems of carbon credits – that they allow the industralised world to delay reducing their own emissions –  Global Witness point out in this report [PDF] that was published last October, this is an untested scheme that may well benefit Africa and South America’s kleptocrat rulers more than it does the environment, or the locals to whom this property has been assigned. Assigning property rights, suggests Global Witness, is part of the process of moving from an environment protected from logging, to a “sustainably managed” forest which allows logging to go ahead.

Go to RSA Arts & Ecology

Ghost Forest by Angela Palmer, Trafalgar Square

Ghost Forest – London from RSA Arts & Ecology on Vimeo.

It’s an amazing achievement, to unlock this space for this kind of exhibit. The crowds I saw were drawn to the sheer strangeness and hugeness of the shapes of the trees, which are supposed to link the ideas of deforestation and climate change. Angela Palmer has done something remarkable in persuading the Mayor’s office to let her use this space for this work. Its scale and ambition makes the current occupant of the Fourth Plinth look rather irrelevant.

But, being honest, I’m not sure it works that well, either as a polemic or as art; I’m not sure it left people convinced. Palmer had originally envisaged the stumps as standing straight up, which would have made it easier to understand them as the leavings of human greed, rather than the lumber they look like. I’m guessing that it simply wasn’t practical to display the stumps like that. And the huge text billboards seemed to be as much about Palmer’s struggle to realise the work, with Antony Gormley saying “the project can’t be done”, as they were about the issue of deforestation and simply added a level of  Fitzcaraldo-in-reverse hubris. (This is like dragging the rainforest to the opera-house rather than vice versa).

When artists create events like this why don’t they let the art speak for itself and instead work closely with an NGO who can make the polemic explicit on site, and far more effectively?

Anyway, please disagree with me.

www.ghostforest.org

Go to RSA Arts & Ecology

Ghost Forest by Angela Palmer, Trafalgar Square

It’s an amazing achievement, to unlock this space for this kind of exhibit. The crowds I saw were drawn to the sheer strangeness and hugeness of the shapes of the trees, which are supposed to link the ideas of deforestation and climate change. Angela Palmer has done something remarkable in persuading the Mayor’s office to let her use this space for this work. Its scale and ambition makes the current occupant of the Fourth Plinth look rather irrelevant.

But, being honest, I’m not sure it works that well, either as a polemic or as art; I’m not sure it left people convinced. Palmer had originally envisaged the stumps as standing straight up, which would have made it easier to understand them as the leavings of human greed, rather than the lumber they look like. I’m guessing that it simply wasn’t practical to display the stumps like that. And the huge text billboards seemed to be as much about Palmer’s struggle to realise the work, with Antony Gormley saying “the project can’t be done”, as they were about the issue of deforestation and simply added a level of  Fitzcaraldo-in-reverse hubris. (This is like dragging the rainforest to the opera-house rather than vice versa).

When artists create events like this why don’t they let the art speak for itself and instead work closely with an NGO who can make the polemic explicit on site, and far more effectively?

Anyway, please disagree with me.

www.ghostforest.org

Go to RSA Arts & Ecology