Criminalizing Prosperity

Original Article

Remember those admiring old movies from the 1940s, like Boomtown, in which oil wildcatters Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy hit a black gold geyser and struck it rich? The assumptions behind such films were that wildcatters were splendid examples of the American Dream in action and that extracting oil from the earth benefited society tremendously by fueling industry, transportation, and promoting general wealth and prosperity.

Times have changed. In today’s Hollywood, Gable and Tracy would be written as greedy polluters responsible for global warming and despoiling the environment. Even worse, if radical environmentalists get their way, real-life developers of natural resources such as oil, coal, timber, copper, and natural gas could one day be prosecuted in the Hague as international criminals for committing “ecocide,”—that is killing the environment—a crime deemed as odious as genocide and ethnic cleansing.

Criminalize the extraction of natural resources? What’s that all about?

Contemporary environmentalism is increasingly nihilistic, anti-modern, and anti-human. These days, many radical greens not only reject conservationism–because that approach regulates the exploitation of natural resources in order to enable our posterity to continue to prosper from the bounties of the earth—but also aren’t satisfied with simply preventing pollution. Rather, and to an increasing degree, contemporary environmentalism seeks to thwart resource development altogether.

Two parallel tracks have emerged recently toward achieving this end. The first is “nature rights.” Under this theory, “Mother Nature is a living being,” with “the right to life and to exist,” the “right to be respected,” to “continue their vital cycles and processes free from human disruptions,” and “the right to maintain its identity and integrity as a distinct, self-regulating and interrelated being,” (among others). Anyone is permitted to sue in court to enforce these rights. Showing how far things have already gone, Ecuador and Bolivia have adopted the rights of nature into their constitutions, and more than twenty U.S. cities—including Pittsburgh and Santa Monica—have enacted a form of the right as a means of thwarting development.

With preventing humans from “assaulting” the earth now the great green goal, Mother Nature also needs a sharp spear with which to punish her rapists. That is where ecocide comes in. The proposed crime is defined on the This Is Ecocide website:

Ecocide is the extensive destruction, damage to or loss of ecosystem(s) of a given Territory, whether by human agency or other causes, to such an extent that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants of that territory has been severely diminished.

Please pay very close attention: The word “inhabitants” does not necessarily — or even, primarily — mean human beings. Rather, it mostly refers to flora and fauna, meaning that ecocide would punish harming denizens of the natural world as a crime—no matter the beneficial impact of the land use on human thriving.

Also note that ecocide would not merely punish polluting accidents or intentional environmental despoiling, such as Sadaam Hussein’s opening the oil spigots during the First Gulf War. Rather, ecocidists (if you will) intend to criminalize large scale extraction of natural resources. In other words, they intend to legally anathematize the very economic activities that allowed so much of suffering humanity to escape from destitution, privation, and want.

Ecocidists have already provided a vivid illustration of this intent. A few months ago, they held a mock trial in the chambers of the United Kingdom Supreme Court “prosecuting” two fictional CEOs of companies for developing the Alberta tar sands. Needless to say, they were found guilty as charged.

The “executives” have now been sentenced, one to four years in prison and one to participate in “restorative justice.” Vividly illustrating the hubris of the Ecocide Movement, the defendants were confronted by lawyers claiming to represent virtually everyone and everything on the earth:

Bannerman [one of the CEOs] also came face to face with representatives of those who had been adversely affected by the tar sands Ecocide: Jess Philimore represented wider humanity, Carine Nadal represented the Earth, Philippa De Boissiere represented future generations, Peter Smith represented birds and Gerald Amos provided a voice for indigenous peoples.

Apparently, the representative for “wider humanity”—e.g., all of us—failed to argue that criminalizing the extraction of oil from tar sands would chill all large-scale energy production everywhere in the world to terrible human detriment and harm.The barrister representing “future humanity” similarly failed to note that ecocide laws would result in our posterity being born into a world of increased poverty and want. Nor did the lawyer representing “indigenous peoples”—many who live in resource abundant areas—protest that ecocide would doom billions of his clients to permanent poverty by thwarting their ability develop the wealth on their own land.

And don’t think that ecocide wouldn’t also thwart the development of green renewable energy technologies. Take wind farms: The lawyer for the birds could argue that wind turbines cruelly slaughter millions of his clients in their spinning blades every year. The lawyer for wider humanity could argue that they also produce sound pollution and mar the beauty of the landscape. Indeed, opponents of large scale wind farms already claim that its developers are committing ecocide.

The heart of the problem, of course, is that the misanthropic radical environmentalists reject human exceptionalism. Believing we are the enemy of the planet they would have us eat our own tail and punish ourselves with ever-lowering standards of living and to consequentially, shorter and more brutal lives.

We should reject their self-destructive advocacy out of hand. Ecocide would not actually be a “crime against peace” but rather, a profound offense against humanity.

Wesley J. Smith

Chair and Senior Fellow, Center on Human Exceptionalism
Wesley J. Smith is Chair and Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism. Wesley is a contributor to National Review and is the author of 14 books, in recent years focusing on human dignity, liberty, and equality. Wesley has been recognized as one of America’s premier public intellectuals on bioethics by National Journal and has been honored by the Human Life Foundation as a “Great Defender of Life” for his work against suicide and euthanasia. Wesley’s most recent book is Culture of Death: The Age of “Do Harm” Medicine, a warning about the dangers to patients of the modern bioethics movement.