Making Ecocide an International Crime

Why Earth Destruction is a Crime

VPRO (2015)

Film Review

This is a documentary about the late Scottish lawyer Polly Higgins and Spanish jurist Baltazar Garzon and their efforts to have the UN declare ecocide (damage to the Earth) a crime against humanity.

Higgins who died unexpectedly in April, gave up her corporate law practice in 2010 to mobilize support for an amendment to the UN Rome Statute defining crimes against humanity. This would make corporate executives (rather than corporation) personally responsible for environmental crimes committed by their companies. Higgins believed the interests of the Earth could only be protected by international law, as most countries have laws requiring corporations to put shareholders above any other interests.

Garzon, a former Spanish judge, first attracted international prominence in 2000 for having former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet arrested in London for crimes against humanity. The jurist presently serves on Julian Assange’s legal team. With his daughter Maria’s help, he has established a nonprofit foundation to assist communities sue international corporations whose mining and international activities have destroyed ecosystems they rely on for their basic needs.

In the early 70s, Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme launched the first campaign to have the UN declare ecocide as a crime against humanity. He did so in reaction to America’s total decimation of Vietnam’s jungle habitat via Agent Orange and indiscriminate bombing,  Although Palme was assassinated in 1986, his supporters’ resolution was nearly adopted in 1996. Unfortunately backdoor lobbying by  the US, UK, France and the Netherlands blocked the UN General Assembly from adopting it.

 

De-Urbanization: The Future is Rural

The Future is Rural: Food System Adaptation to the Great Simplification

By Jason Bradford

Book Review

Free PDF: The Future is Rural

This recent publication by the Post Carbon Institute disputes the common mainstream assertion that migration towards urban areas will continue to increase in coming decades. Instead it offers compelling arguments (based on substantive research) that the transition away from fossil fuels will reverse the current demographic flow, resulting in major “de-urbanization.”

Bradford’s prediction of a major migration from urban to rural areas is based mainly on the inability (owing to higher costs) of renewable energy to fully substitute for cheap fossil fuels. He asserts there will be less energy available to move food into cities from the countryside, as well as less energy to move wastes in the opposite direction. Thus he predicts a growing number of city dwellers will be forced to relocate to ensure continuing access to food.

Bradford argues that despite its current low cost, a total transition to renewable energy will result in higher costs because

1) most renewable sources are intermittent and energy storage tends to be expensive.

2) there is no cheap renewable replacement for liquid fossil fuels. While there are renewable replacements for gasoline and jet fuel (eg biofuels, hydrogen fuel cells), getting all cars, trucks, ships, and airplanes to run on renewable fuel alternatives will require costly retrofitting.

3) renewable energy has a much larger geographic footprint (ie requires a larger land areas) than fossil fuels. While renewables have a much lower environmental impact, capturing renewable energy on a massive scale will require careful planning so as not to interfere with food production.

The good news is that increasing automation will also shift job availability from cities to rural areas, as the loss of cheap energy leads farmers to once again rely more on human and animal labor.

The book is mainly a compilation of research related to fossil-fuel free localized food production. It seems to cover all the basis, including permaculture; biointensive farming; no-till soil management; perennial polycultures and natural systems agriculture; and fermentation and other ancient food preservation techniques.

Bradford also devotes a chapter to exploring what the food system transition will look like.

South Africa’s Gold Mines: Radiation Sickness and Lead and Arsenic Poisoning

Toxic City: The Cost of Gold Mining in South Africa

Al Jazeera (2019)

Film Review

This documentary exposes the high level of uranium and heavy metal contamination in South African townships adjacent to giant gold mining slag heaps. South Africa’s mountains of toxic waste have been building up for decades – their gold mines produced 2.7 tons of toxic slag in 2017 alone.

Still largely white-owned, the country’s gold mines produce only 5 grams of gold for every ton of ore they process. They leave behind untreated slag with large quantities of iron, manganese, nickel, arsenic, lead, cobalt and uranium.

What’s most worrisome, of course, is the 600,000 tons of uranium contained in toxic dunes surrounding Johannesburg. This results in local radiation counts as high as those of the Chernobyl exclusion zone in Ukraine.

French investigative journalist Martin Boudot tests the hair of goats dying of radiation sickness and children afflicted with neurolodevelopmental disorders and other chronic illnesses. According to lab results, the latter suffer from lead and arsenic poisoning.

Thus far, South Africa’s corrupt ANC government has done absolutely nothing to regulate the open disposal of toxic slag by gold mines – nor to investigate the health problems of mainly Black township residents adjacent to toxic sites.

Local activists recently lost a court case against the gold mines because (owing to cost) they failed to present lab evidence of adverse health effects. They hope to reopen the case with the lab results Boudot has provided them.

The film, which can’t be embedded for copyright reasons, can be viewed for free at the Al Jazeera website: Toxic City

The Global Rush to Claim and Exploit Our Oceans

Oceans Monopoly

Al Jazeera (2016)

Film Review

This documentary explains the legal process by which coastal countries claim access to valuable seabed resources outside the three-mile statutory limit set by international law.

In 1945 President Truman issued the Proclamation on the Continental Shelf, claiming all seabed resources on the US continental shelf* for the purpose deep sea oil drilling.

In 1982, the United Nations formalized the granting of seabed claims by creating the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). By definition, the EEZ extends 200 miles beyond a nations coastline. This UN mandate was subsequently modified to allow coastal countries with continental shelves extending more than 200 miles to claim the entire area as national territory.

In 1997, the UN General Assembly created the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf. The latter is a body of 21 geologists who assess geologic data countries submit to document their continental shelf boundaries.

Often the continental shelf of neighboring countries overlaps. For example Canada, Norway and Russia all claim the Arctic Ocean – believed to hold 10% of the world’s remaining oil reserves.

In the South China Sea, eight countries are fighting over $100 billion worth of resources.


*The continental shelf is an underwater landmass which extends from a continent, resulting in an area of relatively shallow water known as a shelf sea.

 

*

Illegal Deforestation: Death by A Thousand Cuts in Haiti and the Dominican Republic

Illegal Deforestation: Death by a Thousand Cuts

Al Jazeera (2017)

Film Review

This documentary concerns entrenched corruption, exploitation and deforestation on Hispaniola, the Caribbean island shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic (DR).

The filmmakes specifically investigate the illegal production and smuggling of charcoal, referred to as “black gold” from DR forests. Haiti, which has destroyed all but 2% of its native forests, relies on illegally smuggled charcoal for 90% of its energy. The DR, in contrast, is reaping the benefits of an aggressively enforced 1960s environmental program to reduce deforestation. The end result is a distinct difference in rainfall between the two countries sharing the island of Hispanola. Thanks to low rainfall and soil degradation, even subsistence agriculture is impossible in most of Haiti.

Poor Haitians survive by providing a cheap immigrant workforce for the DR. Despite their vital important to the country’s economy, right wing DR president Danilo Medina, has solidified his political base by stoking vicious anti-immigrant sentiment (like Trump).

Unsurprisingly nearly all DR anti-charcoal smuggling efforts are directed against poor Haitians who transport charcoal in Haiti on pack animals. The DR government does nothing to address the industrial scale charcoal smuggling by fleets of trucks controlled by DR crime bosses.

The video can’t be embedded but can be view free on-line at the Al Jazeera website:

Illegal Deforestation: Death by a Thousand Cuts

 

The Tragedy of 21 Million Climate Refugees

One Every Second

One EverySecond (2018)

Film Review

This documentary concerns the 21 million people (one every second) who are forced from their homes (yearly) by catastrophic climate events. Islands and low lying coastal communities, especially in the developed world, are the most vulnerable. This is mainly due to flooding and contamination of crop lands by salt water. The third world poor (particularly women and girls) have limited options for relocating, and their governments are rarely in a position to help them.

This film tells the harrowing tale of a 14 year old Bangladeshi girl forced into prostitution in Dhaka when floods destroy her rural family home. She speaks quite poignantly about clients who refuse to pay unless she pretends to enjoy herself, about gang rapes and about police who threaten her with arrest unless she pays protection money or rewards them with sexual favors.

Poisoning the World: The Companies that Profit Big from Exporting Banned Chemicals

Circle of Poison

Al Jazeera (2016)

Film Review

This documentary is about the US export of toxic pesticides that are banned in the US. This is ironic. Despite these domestic bans, heavy dependence on food imports means that most Americans end up ingesting these toxins in imported produce. In fact the only way Americans can avoid pesticide-laden food is to buy certified organic food from local farmers.

In 1979, President Jimmy Carter signed an executive order banning the export of toxic pesticides. The order was revoked by Reagan a few months after his inauguration.

The US controls 75% of the global pesticide market via five notorious companies: Bayer-Monsanto, Syngenta, DuPont, Dow and BSAF. Although Bayer, Syngenta and BSAF are European companies, they produce their toxic pesticides in the US, where export regulations are more lax (ie non-existent). The pesticide industry has one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington. Thanks to the courage of Democratic Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, the Senate has passed several bills banning pesticide exports. However because members face re-election every two years, they have no hope whatsoever of winning in House.

Most of the film concerns the epidemic of cancer and horrendous birth defects in India, Mexico, Argentina and other countries that continue to use US-produced pesticides that are banned in the global North.

Surprisingly it ends on an optimistic note with news about the growing organic food movement in Argentina, Kerala India and Bhutan. Rather than pressuring their governments to ban toxic pesticides, activists are learning chemical-free organic soil building techniques. In doing so, they also significantly increase their yields. In replacing monoculture techniques with crop diversity, organic farming methods are far more productive per unit land than traditional agriculture.

The full video can be viewed for free at the Al Jazeera website: Circle of Poison