Where some see disaster others see dollars

In their 21 September issue, The Economist published A Warmer Russia. The article presented climate change as a “tension between catastrophe and opportunity” because of the new $11 billion shipping route the government is now planning through the once frozen Arctic waters.

This binary view towards extreme weather events might be considered reasonable if you disregard the feedback loops of climate change.

The article inadvertently and unintentionally addresses the reasons why we need an international Ecocide law as part of our global reaction to the climate emergency. Arctic ice is shrinking, precious species are losing their habitats.

In the case of A Warmer Russia, the settlers on the land that occupied the 3.3m square kilometres of ice that has disappeared from Yakutia, located in northeast Russia and the residents of Yakutsk specifically, are losing their homes.

Melting Arctic sea-ice is regraded by some as opening up new economic and transport opportunities; an Ecocide law could make the exploitation of untouched natural resources illegal. Photo - Tapia Hajaa - UnSplash

Business as usual does not factor in the human cost

The belief by the second largest producer of oil and gas in the world, that the melting of Arctic ice opens up an opportunity to develop a new shipping artery is opportunistic, self-serving and destructive because Russia claims that continuing to burn fossil fuels in a business as usual scenario is a benefit to society, so we can continue to invest in activities that we know cause climate change.

Melting permafrost is warping Siberian land, making the properties built on it unsafe to occupy. The residents of Yakutsk, a vast expanse of land in the Northeastern part of Russia, join the march of thousands of their countrymen who must leave their homes; instigating a migration that uproots families, increases homelessness, feeds poverty, disrupts societies, builds resentment and inevitably nurtures hate.

Naturally, the state could build more social housing for its displaced citizens, but not where they live, unless an engineering genius can overcome the structural hurdle of eroding land.  

So because the investment in the new Arctic seaway shifts investment away from investment in the transition from fossil fuels in Russia’s energy supply, the humanitarian cost is completely removed from the economic equation. 

Why an Ecocide law can change the behaviour of business

This scenario can be applied globally by changing the circumstances; Louisiana’s Isle de Jean Charles Resettlement Project, with continued drilling for oil in the Gulf of Mexico, or villages on island nations like The Solomon Islands, the Maldives and Fiji, and the burning of forests for palm oil.

Our business as usual acceptance of economic pursuits as being exempt from scrutiny is threatening all species including our own. This makes the idea of an Ecocide Law, as was championed for years by the late Polly Higgins, that much more important.

The continual exploitation of natural resources is affecting the climate and destroying whole communities, such as Isle de Jean Charles in Louisiana, United States, where sea level rise has submerged large parts of the town. An Ecocide law would hold the businesses responsible to account. Photo; Kelly Sikkema - UnSplash

It must become illegal to carry on business as usual when industry is destroying our collective ability to achieve comfort, wellbeing and security, a major source of happiness on this planet.

Ecocide must be made into law as an accompaniment to any declaration of a climate emergency. Polly Higgins worked tirelessly to hold CEOs and government ministers liable to criminal prosecution for causing or contributing to the large-scale destruction of ecosystems.

An Ecocide law is needed where civil disobedience can only go so far

Civil disobedience and non-violent resistance have been powerful levers in the past when seeking an outcome which is clearly defined, such as the independence of India or access to voting rights for black Americans. But when confronting a crisis as vast and complex as climate change, these tactics alone will not be enough.

Civil disobedience can exacerbate division in society. Some people genuinely don’t care or believe that the climate change is a threat. They may become angered or more righteous when made late for appointments as a result of a political protest or frustrated when their lives are disrupted by a road-block or occupation. 

The people who believe that business as usual is still possible could perceive XR as a radical splinter group, which at best will fade over time like its predecessor the Occupy Movement, or at worst will become a cost to the state as more rebels are arrested.

In some cases civil disobedience can only go so far; a Ecocide law could help to make environmental destruction a legal offense. Photo: Clem Onojeghuo - UnSplash
It must be illegal to destroy our environment and our future

Including Polly Higgins’s important work in making it illegal to destroy our environment is a much more interesting way to address the climate emergency. It holds the polluter to account. It mandates that business adopts new ways of trading, and new ways of exploiting technology that doesn’t damage our collective quality of life.

This is an assertive, non-violent demand that XR include embedding Ecocide in law as one of their core tenants.

Kayla Ente is one of the 12,309 earth protectors who have signed up to stop ecocide.