Ecocide Law sits at the heart of an emerging body of law called Earth Law. Earth law puts people and planet first, and ensures the well-being of the whole Earth community. Earth Law recognises that the Earth has natural limits and boundaries, and it is for us to ensure the well-being of the whole Earth Community by putting in place laws that protect future generations.
Lawyers use the term ‘duty of care’ when there is a fiduicary duty owed, often a duty owed by a trustee or a board member to an identified benficiary or group of beneficiaries. Infact there is a whole body of law known as Trust law. The trustee is given legal title to the trust property, but is obligated to act for the good of the beneficiaries.
Another area of law that applies trusteeship is childcare provisions. We cede our overriding right to service our needs and instead put the interests of the child first. What we have is a relationship with our child (trusteeship law is about putting the welfare of the beneficiaries first); we do not view a child as a tradeable commodity (property law), there in service of our needs. As such, where children are traded or harmed we view that as a crime. The purpose of creating laws that put the interests of the child first is to govern our relationship between ourselves as primary carers and the children we have in our care. Whereas if we treat our child as piece of property, in the legal sense, our rights over the object (the child) would be absolute. In law, the word ‘care’ brings with it duties and responsibilities. A ‘legal duty of care’ refers to the sanctity of the relationship between the the trustee and the beneficiary – as opposed to one party putting self-interest first.
Neither humanity nor nature stands to benefit from treating the Earth as a commodity. The land, water and air that is being traded bought and sold does not benefit, nor do the communities that have been injured. We do not put a price on harming a child, we outlaw it.
Caring for life comes from the nurturing of a relationship, not the placing of a pricetag. The right to life is priceless – it is the very sacredness of life itself that is at stake here. Once a territory is lost (whether through dangerous industrial activity or a naturally occuring event) , and no amount of money will bring back the land, the community, nor the sense of what was once home for those who lived there.
A Law of Ecocide creates a legal duty of care – a duty owed collectively by humanity to the Earth. Under a Law of Ecocide, any territory at risk of or suffering significant harm shall be assisted first and foremeost from a place of trusteeship. The primary determinant is what assistance is required, not how much it will cost.
The term Earth Law has evolved from cultural historian Thomas Berry’s vision of ‘Earth Jurisprudence’, which many indigenous peoples and local communities have been practicing for centuries.
The Earth Law network
There is a growing network called the Earth Law network which is made up of a number of organisations, communities, individuals, and alliances working towards advocating and practicing Earth Law. This includes the Gaia Foundation, African Biodiversity Network (www.africanbiodiversity.org),
Read about the history of Earth Law.
Community Bill of Rights
While a law of Ecocide is an example of International Earth Law, there are examples of Earth Law happening at local levels too. Community Bills of Rights have been pioneered in the US by the Community Environmental Legal Defence Fund (CELDF) in recent years. They are local laws to elevate the rights of communities and nature above corporate rights, and they have proved effective in empowering communities to allow them to determine whether corporate developments, such as fracking, can proceed.
Community Bills of Rights are an example of bottom up legal systematic change. Where communities feel that their voices are not being heard Community Bills of Rights redirect rights, so that people and planet are put first. This has parallels in successful rights based movements like the abolitionists and the suffragettes.
In the UK, communities can be empowered in the same way as has happened under a Community Bill of Rights in the US. Melanie Strickland is the lawyer working on pioneering Community Bills of Rights in the UK and is part of the growing civil rights movement which puts people and planet before profit.
A Community Bill of Rights changes the legal framework in two fundamental ways:
- it enshrines the right to local community self government by giving the local people the right to decide what happens in their communities;
- it recognise the rights of nature. By identifying that nature has intrinsic value, and is not merely property a Community Bill of Rights is an example of Earth law which complements and supports law to eradicate ecocide at the international level.
Read more about legal frameworks to promote sustainable communities.