The MWS Podcast 81: Amelia Womack on Ecocide and Environmental Law

We are joined today by Amelia Womack, who is a British politician and deputy leader of the Green Party of England and Wales. Following a BSc in Environmental Biology, Amelia completed an MSc in environmental technology at Imperial College London in 2013, with a thesis entitled Who’s afraid of Environmental Law? – How the law of ecocide can secure our environment for business resilience. She has been an active campaigner on this issue since then and this will be the theme of our discussion today.

MWS Podcast 81: Amelia Womack as audio only:
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About Barry Daniel

I live in the Lake District in the UK where I run a guesthouse with my partner Kate and my cat Manuel. I enjoy painting, hillwalking, reading, visiting and entertaining friends, T’ai Chi and playing the guitar. I’m engaged to a certain degree in the local community, as a volunteer with Samaritans and I’m a fairly active member of the local Green party. I’ve had a relatively intuitive sense of the Middle Way most of my adult life but it found a greater articulation and a practical direction through joining the society. It’s also been interesting and great fun engaging with other people with a similar outlook. My main contribution to the society is conducting the podcast interviews, something that gives me a lot of satisfaction and that I’ve learnt a lot from.

One thought on “The MWS Podcast 81: Amelia Womack on Ecocide and Environmental Law

  1. When I’ve previously come across these proposals for a law of ecocide, I was unconvinced, and I’m not sure that this interview has convinced me further. I’m very much in favour of tighter environmental regulation, but I’m concerned about calling it ecocide because it is so unclear what ‘ecocide’ consists in. Amelia talked about long-term destruction of the environment, but we’re all doing that all the time by, for example, emitting CO2. How much destruction do you have to commit, and how much of a role do you have to have, to be guilty of ecocide? Doubtless there would be a legal definition if a law on ecocide was enacted, but that definition would just have to choose a point on a spectrum of destructive tendencies, and would not correspond well to an observable action where responsibility can be easily understood and apportioned. Environmental problems are generally created by lots of complex interacting incremental factors, not by big decisions of single agents to engage in deliberate acts of destruction. As examples, Amelia gave fracking and nuclear power stations, but these are both activities with risky side effects, not deliberate decisions to destroy the environment. Is the current UK government guilty of ecocide just because it has commissioned new nuclear power stations, or do we have to wait for a nuclear accident and find a scapegoat with the benefit of hindsight?

    Comparisons were made with the slave trade and Nazi genocide, but neither of these seem like good comparisons. In both cases it was quite clear who was responsible for the problem, and it consisted of clearly identifiable immoral actions. Environmental destruction is just not like that. If you create a law that depends heavily on a conventional definition that most people don’t understand very well, you’ll just create fear and reactivity, and undermine the legal system in the process. People may worry unnecessarily that they are guilty of ecocide because they have contributed in some way, or they will find lots of legal loopholes because of the complexity of the crime, or they will conclude that the law is an ass.

    Far better to have tough legal regulation on specific issues that have been identified and agreed upon as too environmentally risky or too destructive. For example, if it’s clear that fracking is too dangerous to the environment, then ban fracking. What is added to that by calling it ‘ecocide’? But most environmental issues are created by incremental contributions from many people – and disincentives such as taxes are a far clearer and fairer way to deal with that. Sorry Amelia, but I’m really not convinced that this is the way to go.

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