Category: Law

Ecocide – a necessary but insufficient step to sustainability?

Ecocide – a necessary but insufficient step?

Polly Higgins proposes a new law against peace: Ecocide. The hope is that international law will make capitalism adopt greener practices and turn it away from such rapacious and dirty economics such as that of the Athabasca tar sands extraction. Will ecocide take us beyond capitalism or merely make a dirty economics clean? Can ecocide help the transition to a no growth economy or merely make the growth economy cleaner in environmental terms. Growth is the key point. Current capitalist growth is the father of its bastard child ‘ecocide’, if we eradicate this bastard we still have the father to contend with. Without growth we don’t have capitalism. With dirty capitalism we have dirty growth, and we have ecocide, without ecocide we have green growth. But in both cases we have growth, which means capitalism and its spawn: inequality and resource depletion. Ecocide will channel capitalist dynamics into greener activities but will not necessarily help make those green activities sustainable or diminish the dynamic for growth.

David Harvey spells out the internal dynamic of capitalism: the surplus capital accumulation problem which predicates capitalism upon growth. Growth brings more and more resources into play and growth on a finite planet transgresses the safe operating spaces for humanity. So unless the legal framework goes beyond making growth green, making growth itself illegal, we will not have solved earth’s sustainability issues. All we have done is channelled energy into a cleaner, greener demise. The law might want to address making capitalism itself illegal and focus instead on problems of distribution and exchange as well as on production. Not to do so will allow inequality and resource depletion to run in the space that ecological degradation leaves behind.

If the law is an ass, drugs control law is a lobotomised mule

“The International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC) calls on the international community not to oppose Bolivia’s move to denounce and re-accede to the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs with a reservation on coca leaf chewing”. 

The international drug control system is based on a series of UN conventions which have prohibition at their core. These conventions can be seen to rest on assumptions drawn from a particularly Western interpretation on the use of certain substances that is morally rather than evidenced based. 

Cracks are appearing in the global ‘consensus’ on drug laws, policy changes are being called for and seem to be accepted by just about everyone except elected politicians and those of a morally puritan persuasion (the ‘Daily Mail’ tendency), i.e. those who fear change regardless of its effects.  

There are innumerable victims of the ‘war on drugs’ – not the least are indigenous peoples whose way of life  practiced for centuries is threatened by, frankly, an imperial mind set that imposes its own moralisng on a cultural practice it cannot understand.

I am not a cultural relativist, this is not about accepting all cultural practices as sacrosanct. Female genital mutilation (FGM) is just wrong (sorry, that is not true…all wrongs ought to have a rationale for why they are wrong, I don’t believe in some ‘natural law’). However chewing coca leaves is a harmless cultural practice that international law should just accept.

Why? Why accept chewing coca leaves and not genital mutilation?

I guess this is where Mills’ libertarian ethic of harm applies. If a cultural practice does not involve social harms then we have little right in banning it. The individual ought to be free to chew coca leaves regardless of its effects. The society in which that practice is located should have a view but should also appeal to some form of universal human right.  The difference between the two practices is that the individual can choose to indulge in chewing leaves but cannot choose FGM.

Bolivia should be allowed to accede from the 1961 convention to protect the rights of its peoples in this respect.   

For a discussion on FGM see Michelle Goldberg on relativism and FGM on the excellent   website

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