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.


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