A pristine planet is prized in the 21st century, and human activity that uncaringly defiles the environment is roundly condemned. Shaming is not enough, though, for the most ardent defenders of Mother Nature. They are intent on making damage to the ecosystem a new kind of international crime, dubbing it “ecocide.” Americans should beware: One man’s use of natural resources to better the lives of others could look to another man like ecocide.
Environmental activists are teaming up with legal scholars in petitioning the International Criminal Court in The Hague to designate widespread harm of the natural world a prosecutable crime, like genocide and war crimes. Pope Francis is on board, describing ecocide in a 2019 speech as “damage or destruction of the ecosystems of a given territory, so that its utilization by inhabitants has been or can be seen as severely compromised.” The pontiff has urged its inclusion with other “crimes against peace.”
Certainly, massive environmental disasters, such as the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant meltdown and the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, left behind widespread destruction and raised grave concerns over the consequences of negligence.
If ecological damage is calibrated too loosely, though, essential human activities like mining and drilling could fall into a censured category. For some, that is the intent: “Ecocide is now endemic all over the planet,” says American environmental lawyer Scott W. Badenoch Jr. “The structures of ecology that have held up living organisms on Earth, since time immemorial, are collapsing everywhere. Ecocide is now, frankly, the process that we are living in on Earth.”
Fossil fuel resources that power the modern world, such as oil, natural gas and coal, have long been in the crosshairs of global-warming alarmists worried about greenhouse gas emissions. But favored renewable energy initiatives meant to save the planet also leave lasting scars upon the land.
The ground extraction of silicon, silver and lead has soared in recent years — materials that solar panel manufacturers have fashioned into the hardware capable of producing 140 gigawatts of electricity in 2019 alone. By 2050, as many as 78 million metric tons of solar panels are expected to have reached their expiration date and wind up in the dumpster. Recycling useful elements is expensive, so panels are routinely sent to landfills, where toxic elements can leach into water tables.
The manufacture of batteries for zero-emission electric vehicle requires rare earth minerals such as cobalt — mined in places such as Congo, where children are sent into unsafe excavations — and lithium extracted in China, where environmental regulations are lax.
Environmentalists in Washington and capitals around the world might scoff at the notion that their “green” revolution could be regarded with the same scorn with which they currently view carbon-fueled commerce. That is worth pondering, though. “Ecocide” could result in overcriminalizing the use of natural resources, leaving humanity powerless.