This is a funny story. The greens are hot to have what they call an Ecocide Law. This new international law would make illegal a bunch of things they do not approve of. So now a green group, the Stop Ecocide Foundation, has produced a proposed law.
The problem is it does not work. The things it makes illegal are already illegal. The things the greens want to make illegal it does not touch. It appears that the authors have been blinded by their green zealotry. Their draft law does not say what they think it does.
This kind of failure is not unusual. For many years my work was failure analysis of proposed regulations and laws. I developed a diagnostic system of 126 kinds of failure and it was often my job to tell the drafters that the text did not say what they thought it said. For background see http://www.stemed.info/engineer_tackles_confusion.html
The challenge is the legal definition of “ecocide”. Big new laws and regulations typically have a crucial definitions section. They are trying to pick out something new and make rules about it, in this case rules against it.
A common form of failure is when the definition does not work. It either includes too much or too little. In this case it is too little. The problem is that a definition that actually worked would be ridiculous.
Here is the proposed definition:
“For the purpose of this Statute, “ecocide” means unlawful or wanton acts committed with knowledge that there is a substantial likelihood of severe and either widespread or long-term damage to the environment being caused by those acts.”
Sounds good, right? Well it ain’t. So let’s do some analysis.
The definition is quite narrow. In order to be ecocide an action has to be either unlawful or wanton. Unlawful is easy. Setting a giant wildfire for the fun of it is an obvious example. But this is already the severe crime of arson so we do not need a new law that just changes the name.
This brings us to “wanton” which is an exceedingly vague term. So much that this law might be deemed Void for Vagueness as the legal jargon goes. Happily the ecocide drafters give us this definition for “wanton”:
““Wanton” means with reckless disregard for damage which would be clearly excessive in relation to the social and economic benefits anticipated“
So now we are looking for legal acts, that are likely to cause severe damage, which damage is clearly excessive to their benefits, and are done with reckless disregard for this substantial likelihood. Glad that is settled.
The problem is I can think of no such acts. In particular, the standard examples given in the green ecocide discussions do not fall under this definition.
Here are four prominent examples of supposed ecocide, taken directly from a news series that introduces the proposed new law.
Building a coal fired power plant and coal mine. This is clearly not wanton because the benefits are great and obvious, while the vague possibility of future climate damage is speculative at best. A large plant can reliably supply affordable power to upwards of a million people.
The Deepwater Horizon oil spill. This was clearly damaging, but it was an unlikely accident, so it does not meet the reckless disregard for substantial likelihood requirement of the definition. Plus the social benefits from oil production are very large, including transportation, plastics, etc.
The Chernobyl disaster. Another unlikely accident, while the benefits of nuclear power are very large.
These three examples simply reflect the Green’s ideological animosity toward fossil fuel use and nuclear power. None comes close to being wanton.
Amazon deforestation. My understanding is that these acts individually are small instances of land clearing, for agriculture purposes, by poor farmers. The scale is tiny, the benefits clear and the damage is not obvious at the individual level. Clearing land for farming is not a crime. Conversely, unauthorized clearing of small patches of the Amazon may already be illegal, but it does not fit the definition of ecocide.
As I said, I can think of no examples where widespread wanton damage is not already a crime. Wanton unjustified damage is a major focus of criminal law.
The proposed Ecocide Law simply does not work. It probably outlaws nothing that is not already illegal. If the fanatical greens want to make things like coal fired power, oil spills or other accidents illegal, they need to try another approach.