A call of help from the stewards of our planet

By: Tanya Arora

Different cultures across the world have personified the planet through history, Mother Earth being one such term of endearment, they have derived their traditions from the natural phenomena occurring around them. The question is, how can we continue exploiting it despite having personified it, despite knowing and having sufficient knowledge that what we do has an impact on not only the ‘aesthetics’ of our planet but also those living on it. How can we continue to let down the rights of the marginalized despite glorifying the human race as the most progressive and smartest? We now stand at a divisive point – declaring ecocide as a crime against humanity – that could potentially make or break our estranging relationship with the planet, 

What is Ecocide?

Ecocide has been proposed as one of the crimes against humanity, it would potentially allow us to lawyer up and represent our planet in court against corporations and governmental agencies, and hold them accountable for the adversities they have inflicted on our planet – thereby making environmental degradation a punishable offence in the criminal court. The brainchild of the late Polly Higgins – who identified herself as an ‘Earth Lawyer’ and co-founded the Stop Ecocide foundation, the term had been raised more comprehensively with the aid of a draft law, released earlier this year. When first introduced in the national assembly by Vanuatu and Maldives under the guidance of Polly Higgins, the law was vetoed by some of the most polluting countries. However, at present post COP26 overhead, nations are more likely to be stepping up, and countries such as France, Chile, and Bolivia have endorsed the draft legislation.

But why make it a punishable offence?

Environmental degradation isn’t a life and death situation for our ecology alone but for the entire planet, it’s predicted that 9 cities would be underwater by 2030. Presently large scale polluters (fossil fuel companies alone accounting for 1/3rd of emissions) aren’t being held accountable and are able to get away with fines that barely make a dent in their profits, criminalizing ecocide is the only way to deter these corporations from inflicting irreversible damage that would compromise human and environmental rights. 

How is ecocide related to human rights anyway?

When we prioritise development over environmental safety, we give way to deforestation, mining, and drilling. Thereby endangering the livelihoods and the homes of the indigenous communities – the Stewards of the Planet.  Their ancestral lands are auctioned at throwaway prices and they’re made to work as labourers while being evermore susceptible to abuse. It’s necessary we realise that the two are interconnected, and that within the fight for Social Injustice lies the dissolution of eco crimes, and hence the climate crisis.

Delivering the ‘Not-Greenwashed’ News from around the World

Several Eco crimes have been committed over the years by a number of collaborations, and often in partnership with the government. These crimes are not locale to a country or a region, they’re cosmopolitan. The marginalized individuals they inflict a detrimental impact on are silenced and their stories remain unheard. 

Development or Destruction

  • Indias’ present government backed up by 92% corporate funding has fast-tracked ‘developmental’ projects in biodiversity hotspots (Western Ghats, Northeast and Central India) threatening not only the environment but also the livelihoods and lands of the indigenous people. 
  • In the Hasdeo Forest located in Chhatisgarh – home to 10,000 Adivasis from various tribes – over 55 new coal mines have been established and 193 old ones have been expanded. Corporations such as Ambani, Adani, and Vedanta have engaged in land grabbing practices. Peaceful protests by the locals such as Mahan and Niyamgiri have resulted in their arrests and murders.
  • Similar stories are shared by the indigenous communities of North East India and the Western Ghats. The latter is an integral part of the Indian Peninsula and is crucial to the weather and monsoon regulation. Rampant stone quarrying, plantations, and infrastructure construction has deteriorated the functioning of the intricately balanced region and made it increasingly vulnerable to landslides, floods, and drought. 

Browning the Landscapes of Ecuador and Brazil

  • Chevron – the second-biggest oil production company has been permitted to explore and exploit the Amazon rainforest in Ecuador and has ever since established over 240 oil wells with impunity. 
  • The company often sprays oil for maintenance and dust control and dumps waste without any treatment. Over the years, it has led to contamination of the biosphere and sterile soils due to deforestation. 
  • It has also had a negative impact on the health of the communities living nearby (miscarriages, cancer amongst others), and put them through years of abuse and displacement. Two indigenous groups out of a total of 6 from the region have been declared extinct.
  • Similarly in Brazil too, under President Bolsonaros’ rule, there has been an increase in hate crimes against indigenous communities protecting the environment, and a corresponding weakening of environmental protection rules (decrease in fines amongst others). The rainforest is under threat of undergoing an irreversible change, due to incentivised logging and mining. 

An Artificial Volcanic City – Novrisk Russia

  • Novrisk in Russia is one of the worlds’ most polluted cities, mostly due to a single industry – The Production of Palladium and Nickel by Norilsk Nickel. 
  • One of the top consumers of these metals is the much-championed future of sustainable transport, electrical vehicles including Tesla. 
  • The companies’ ambitions though conform to President Putins’ greater goal of sustainable development, have led to barren and dying landscapes, rivers tainted red, oil spills, and enormous levels of sulfur dioxide in the atmosphere (equivalent to that produced by a volcano).
  • The poisoned land and waters of the city have created a dent in the populations of fish and reindeer meat who were an integral part of the diet of the first nation people.

Developed, developing, and underdeveloped countries alike have endured long years of environmental damage. However, we have dismissed these stories each time, not giving the ecology and the marginalized people the importance they deserve. Whether it was the USA spraying 19 million gallons of Agent Orange and leaving behind defoliated forests in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, or the ship PearlX transporting and eventually dumping plastic nurdles on the coasts of Sri Lanka and India, or even countries as developed as Canada continuing to support companies such as Exxon Mobil and Suncor that have exploited its tar sands and the homes of the first nation peoples’ for the production and exporting of fossil fuels, or mining in Sweden, Finland, Norway, and Russia in close proximity to the homes of the Sami community, we’re close to not having left a single land of pristine beauty where all live in harmony.

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