Contribution to GTI Roundtable "Against Ecocide"
An exchange on the viewpoint Against Ecocide: Legal Protection for Earth

Neera Singh

I read Femke Wijdekop’s essay on Ecocide with much interest, and I greatly appreciate the efforts being put in to ensure that ecocide is codified as a crime against peace and included in the Rome Statue of the ICC. Like many others, I feel that this will be an important step in the right direction, but not sufficient to deal with the systemic transition that we need.

I fully appreciate and recognize that we need to hold those who destroy the environment with impunity responsible and stop such actions. But it is equally important to recognize the ecocidal effects of our daily activities that lead to diminishing the quality of the habitat that we share with many others. In addition to the language of ecocide, we need a more affirmative language that propels action to embody “duty of care” at various scales.

Also, while I appreciate the ecocentric principles underpinning the call, like others, I am concerned that a conceptual separation between nature and culture continues to loom large in the discourse about “legal rights of Earth” and “crimes against nature.” While I welcome the calls to check anthropocentric perspective, I believe that there is no other way for us to respond to the crisis other than from our human position. Ecocentric perspectives, as Femke Wijdekop also highlights, are deeply relational. And ecocide, more broadly speaking, is linked to destruction of our relationship with nature. While stopping large-scale “crimes against nature” is important, the efficacy of doing so through an international regime, given the existing power differentials, is not likely to be that great. Recognizing that ecocide results from the destruction of our relationship with nature, I think that the language of interconnectedness—interconnections of human and nonhuman well-being—needs to become stronger in this discourse.

While the term and discourse of ecocide is likely to be a good attention-grabber, and a heuristic device playing similar role as the term genocide, I feel that we need a more affirmative language about honoring life, interdependence, love, and solidarity, instead of the language of killing and destruction, crime and punitive action. To me, “duty of care” seems to be good rallying call to use (perhaps in tandem with calls to end ecocide). “Duty of care”—or, rather, a culture of care—needs to be fostered across scales and not only through legal frameworks but through regimes of value and become a part of our moral framework.

Neera Singh
Neera Singh is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Geography and Program in Planning at the University of Toronto, and founder of Vasundhara, a non-profit organization based in Bhubaneswar, India.

Cite as Neera Singh, contribution to GTI Roundtable "Against Ecocide," Great Transition Initiative (August 2016),

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