International Response to Ecocide
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Ecocide s a term used to refer to massive destruction of the natural environment mostly by the deliberate human actions (Broswimmer, F., 2002). Cases of environmental destruction have been on the rise. Incidences of pollution continue to rise without restraint. Depletion of natural resources has reached a level of international concern. Therefore, it is evident that cases of environmental damage and destruction of the natural environment are on the rise. Due to the extensive negative effects associated with ecocide, the situation has become an international concern. Ecocide is threatening the human lives and other forms of life on the planet. All life on the planet and the well-being of humanity depend on the health of the ecosystem.
Nature has the potential to provide many resources to the human kind if it well protected and used sustainably. After realizing how important the natural environment is to the livelihood, people have begun looking for ways to control the menace of ecocide. Many countries have made legislation in their laws to counter ecocide (Lytton, C., 2010). Many people have also come out strongly to champion the eradication of ecocide in the planet. Polly Higgins is one such person. She is a lawyer and a barrister in the UK. International interventions seek for ecocide to be included as a crime against peace and be enshrined in the Rome Statute. When ecocide becomes an international crime against peace, owners of the institutions that perpetrate it will be held liable to the international court of law. In this view, ecocide is a matter of great concern from the international level.
Ecocide constitutes anything that causes extensive damage, destruction to the environment or loss of the ecosystem. Extensive damage is viewed as widespread, long-lasting or severe. In the year 1977, the United Nations Convention defined the terms ‘widespread’, ‘long-lasting’ and ‘severe’ with regard to the ecocide (Higgins, P., 2010). When damage or destruction to the environment is viewed as widespread, it means it has involved an extensive area on a scale of several hundred square kilometers. That is a large area of environmental destruction warranting an intervention. In this regard, widespread environmental damage qualifies to be referred to as ecocide. Environmental damage can take place over a long period of time.
If it takes several months, it is said to be long-lasting. The damage that takes place over a long time is extensive and the effects can be irreversible. Lastly, damage or destruction to the ecosystem can be severe. Severity in this sense refers to the degree of the disruption the damage causes harm to the human life as well as to the natural resources. The damage also has devastating effects to the economic resources. If the damage is assessed to be severe, then it qualifies to be categorized as ecocide. In this regard, ecocide is a problem that has a great impact to the survival of all forms of life if no control measures are put in place. Given the extensiveness of the damage caused to the environment, ecocide should be a cause for concern and worry.
There are several causes of ecocide. Most of them are attributed to human activities. One of the most outstanding causes of ecocide is deforestation. Deforestation is massive destruction of the forests in order to put the land on other uses (McCuen, G., 1993). Mostly, deforestation is done to create land for agricultural purposes. The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimated that close to 18 million acres of forests are destroyed each year. That size is so large. It is approximately the size of Panama. In addition, FAO approximated that about half of world’s tropical forests have already been cleared. Such a massive forest loss contributes to about 17 percent of annual greenhouse gas emissions (World Resources Institute).
Deforestation has been viewed as one of the major contributing factors to the climate change. Trees have a lot of benefits. They absorb greenhouse gases as well as carbon emissions. In turn, they produce oxygen to the atmosphere. In addition, trees take part in the water cycle as they release vapor into the atmosphere. In this regard, destruction of trees can have many negative effects to the ecosystem. The levels of carbon dioxide would rise to toxic levels. Rain would be scarce. Consequently, land would be dry and desertification would be the result. Moreover, trees would soil to prevent erosion. That means that without trees soil erosion would not be controlled. Deforestation thus makes the environment inhabitable. It loses its ability to support any form of life. In this regard, deforestation becomes a factor in ecocide.
Environmental pollution is also a contributing factor to the ecocide. It refers to the addition of substances that are harmful to the ecosystem (Dix, H., 1981). Most of the times, these harmful substances have detrimental effects of the environment and, as a result, to the inhabitants in that environment. Incidences of pollution have been on the rise with the increasing population in the world. Pollution becomes a player in ecocide when its effects are so severe to the ecosystem. There are three major kinds of environment pollution. They include air pollution, water pollution and land pollution. This classification is based on the part of the environment that is involved in the pollution. All these kinds of pollution have adverse effects to the mankind. They threaten the health of the ecosystem. In addition, they are widespread, long-lasting and severe. All of them are present even today despite the dangers they pose to the environment. Human activities are the principle causes of all forms of environmental pollution.
Air pollution refers to the introduction of foreign and harmful substances to the atmosphere (Ayes, J., et al., 2006). When these substances are in high concentration in the air, they pose a danger to the human health. In addition, they cause effects on all forms of life in the ecosystem. The major cause of air pollution is smoke. Burning of solid wastes leads to a lot of smoke being produced which end up into the atmosphere. Industries are also a source of smoke. In addition, vehicles, airplanes, tractors and all other machines that use hydrocarbon fuel produce a lot of smoke that pollutes the atmosphere. Smoke is a very harmful pollutant because it contains some compounds that are very toxic. These compounds have great potential to damage the ecosystem as well as affect all forms of life in the environment. These compounds are carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, hydrocarbons such as chlorofluorocarbons, particulate matter as well as photochemical oxidants. Carbon monoxide is very fatal if inhaled.
Sulfur and nitrogen oxide gases are responsible for the formation of acid rain. Acid rain leads to damage of plants. In addition, it leads to wearing out of the man-made structures that are built using iron. Other gases destroy the ozone layer leading to the loss off the protection of the planet from the harmful sun rays. Consequently, skin problems due to the sun-rays are on the rise. Exhaust fumes from vehicles contain lead. Lead is very dangerous to the human health if inhaled. It can lead to death. There are many industries that operate machineries that emit smoke. That is why smoke as a cause of air pollution is on the rise. Another cause of air pollution is dust. Dust is generated by heavy machines such as vehicle when they are driven on the land. Tractors also result to a lot of dust into the atmosphere when they are in use in cultivation of the land or excavation. Dust in the atmosphere also form a health hazard to the human health. Inhaling dust particles can predispose people to respiratory diseases such as bronchitis.
Land pollution is on the rise. It affects the ecosystem adversely. It refers to the degradation of the soil as a result of poor agricultural practices, industrial waste dumping, mineral exploitation as well as inappropriate disposal of wastes to the environment. Poor agricultural practices such as cultivating along a hill or river valley lead to soil erosion. Consequently, soil erosion makes the soil poor and unable to support crops. Such soil becomes useless because it cannot be used by the people to support their life. In addition, damaged soil cannot support plants as well as other forms of life. This poses a danger to the present generation as well as to the future generations. Other instances of poor agricultural practices include practices such as using chemical compounds in the form of fertilizers and sprays that slowly lead to deterioration of the quality of the soil.
Industrial wastes destroy soil through contamination. Some industrial wastes contain harmful chemicals that destroy soils. Therefore, disposing of these wastes on the land anyhow result to extensive damage to the ecosystem. Moreover, mining has been implicated as a major contributor in the land pollution. Mining activities result to extensive excavations that leave vast areas of land with caves. The landscape is destroyed when natural landforms are damaged. Places that are subjected to the mining activities become unsuitable for habitation by man-kind. The effects of land pollution are far-reaching. First and foremost, soil pollution renders soil poor for agricultural activities. Life cannot be supported by unproductive soil. In addition, land pollution results to changes in climate patterns. Loss of forest cover due to land pollution can result to desertification as well.
Water pollution is also a contributor in the damage to the ecosystem. It refers to the introduction of harmful substances that are physical, chemical or biological materials into otherwise fresh water. These harmful materials lead to the degradation of the quality of the water. Consequently, all forms of life that depend on water for survive become affected. There are many substances that lead to water pollution if they are released to the water bodies. They include soil particles, pesticides, heavy metals and chemical compounds such as fertilizer from the land. Soil particles reach water bodies following soil erosion. It makes water dirty and unsuitable for human use. Pesticides are washed to the rivers and other water bodies from the land where they have been used. Usually, they are washed by rain into the rivers. These pesticides are very toxic and most of the times they lead to deaths of aquatic life. In addition, water that is contaminated with pesticides is not fit for human use. Heavy metals in the soil also reach water bodies. They pollute water and make it harmful to the ecosystem.
Industries are implicated to a large degree in the matters of water pollution. Most industries release wastes directly into the water bodies. These wastes contain acids, salts, alkalis, oils, poisons and even harmful microorganisms such as bacteria (Bates, M., et al., 1999). These compounds destroy the quality of water to the extent that it becomes harmful to use. Poisons cause deaths of all creatures in the water. That is a direct ecocide. In addition, harmful bacteria are a threat to humans and to other creatures in the water. They can lead to severe illnesses that can even claim lives.
Oil pollution to the water bodies especially of the oceans is very common with the oil industries during transportation using ships. During shipping, oil spillage occurs in the oceans. In 2010, there was an extensive oil spill along the Gulf of Mexico. It was recognized as the worst oil spill in the history of the United States. Oil spills cause suffocation of marine animals because oil layer forms on top of the water. It forms a barrier to diffusion of oxygen into the water as well as diffusion of carbon dioxide out of the water. These effects of water pollution to the environment are very devastating and call for an international response.
Besides the fact that mining contributes to pollution, it has also generated interest as a contributing factor in ecocide. There are several ways in which mining contributes to ecocide. First and foremost, mining activities are done in an unsustainable manner. Mineral deposits are exploited so extensively with the intention of satisfying the present needs without caring for the future generations. Oil deposits are becoming depleted. There is also a rising concern that most of the metal ores have been exhausted. These are results of unsustainable exploitation of these ores. Secondly, mining results to bare land that is barren. Most of the times, land that has been subjected to mining activities cannot support plants or any form of life unless it is reclaimed.
Unfortunately, mining industries are not keen in restoring the productivity of such sites after they are done with mining. Their interest is to look for new sites for mining and leave the previous land in that deplorable state. Finally, mining activities come across as a factor of ecocide because they have contributed to wars that have led to many killings. People fight for these natural resources owing to their limited nature. Since wars lead to deaths of human beings and destruction of property, they are categorized as crimes against humanity. If these wars are as a result of mining activities, then such activities become unacceptable as long as they lead to such wars. They can be viewed as crimes.
Ecocide has many negative effects in the environment and to the lives of human beings (Broswimmer, F., 2202). Ecocide has been implicated in sufferings and deaths of human beings. These deaths have occurred due to many reasons. First of all, large scale destruction of the habitat has made people suffer for lack of land to cultivate. As already stated, extensive deforestation has led to desertification resulting to vast pieces of land becoming barren and useless. Pollution has resulted to deaths too. Carbon monoxide in the atmosphere causes breathing problems. Lead in the exhaust fumes from the vehicles is also responsible for ill health in people who are exposed to it. Furthermore, limited natural resources has been a reason for wars that have claimed many lives and left many others suffering. Survival of the future generations is also threatened because of the use of natural resources an unsustainable manner as witnessed at present. All these are effects of ecocide to the lives of human beings.
Impact of ecocide to the environment cannot be underestimated. Climate change has been attributed to ecocide. Global warming is a result of high levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. These gases have led to the destruction of the ozone layer leading to increase in the global temperatures. Melting of glacier is a result of rising temperature. Consequences of this melting of the glacier are rise in the sea levels. This results in floods in some parts of the world. Loss of trees is attributed to the consequences of strong wind and associated destructions. Trees act as wind-breakers. In areas that are devoid of trees, effects of strong wind are evident. They include the destruction of houses and other structures that people rely on for their activities. Oil spillage destroys water creatures. Fish is a source of food for human beings. When they die as a result of oil spillage, it becomes a disadvantage in this respect. Therefore, ecocide has a detrimental effect to the environment.
Many countries have recognized ecocide as a crime. According to Higgins (2010), ten countries have put laws in their penal codes to define ecocide as a crime against peace presently. The state of Georgia created the law in 1999. According to the Article 409 of the criminal code, any person that carries an activity that contributes to ecocide is liable to imprisonment for between eight to twenty years. The Republic of Armenia created the law in 2003 under article 394 of its criminal code. Ukraine made the law in 2001 under article 441 of its Criminal code. In 1997, Kazakhstan created that law under article 161 of the penal code.
In the same year, Kyrgyzstan formulated the same law under article 374 of the penal code. The sentence for ecocide crime is deprivation of liberty according to the law. In 1999, Belarus created law on ecocide under article 131 of the criminal code. In 1990, Vietnam recognized ecocide as crime against humanity and created a law under article 278 of its penal code. Moreover, in 1996, the Russian Federation recognized ecocide as crime against peace as well as security of mankind. Consequently, a law was created under article 358 of the criminal code. In 1998, Tajikistan created a law against ecocide under article 400 of its criminal code. The Republic of Moldova created that law in 2002 under article 136 of its penal code. These nations took the lead in recognizing that ecocide is a threat to humanity.
According to Higgins (2010), the UN has been campaigning greatly for the international recognition of ecocide since 1970s. Drafts of the law to make ecocide the fifth international crime against peace did not receive the much needed support. Many countries have objected to its inclusion in the list of the international crimes. However, many international lawyers are pushing for this recognition. Many of these lawyers come from the United Kingdom. Although there are ecocide laws in some countries, they have not been enforced. Many countries that have these laws are known for corruption. In addition, they lack of respect for the rule of law. In this regard, these laws are not making any impact in the control of ecocide.
Ecocide is a massive destruction of the ecosystem. Many causes of this destruction are due to human activities. Ecocide threatens people’s lives. Destruction of the habitats has great consequences to the environment. Moreover, it impacts the existence of man-kind in the ecosystem. There have been attempts in the international level to fight ecocide. However, many countries have declined to participate in this fight. While a few countries have decided to criminalize any activity leading to ecocide, many countries are reluctant to support this move. The UN has initiated campaigns to convince the member states to support the move to make ecocide an international crime against peace. The response has been discouraging so far. However, some lawyers from the UK are determined to make sure that ecocide becomes an international crime where any individual who carries out any activity leading to ecocide is liable to the International Criminal Court (ICC). State laws can become more effective if they are backed up by the international law from the international level.
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