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Nathalie Rothschild: Using The Holocaust To Silence Debate

Under normal circumstances, someone who started a campaign called Trees Have Rights Too in order to convince the United Nations to adopt a Universal Declaration of Planetary Rights, based on the idea that ‘we are all one, life is sacred and love is all’, might reasonably be suspected of being an LSD-tripping hippy.

But it seems that we don’t live in normal times. Because Polly Higgins, an environmentalist barrister and the initiator of the Planetary Rights campaign, was not only included in The Ecologist’s 2009 list of Top 10 Visionaries, but in 2008 she was even invited to address the United Nations. When Higgins launched a campaign last Friday to have ‘ecocide’, the destruction of the natural world, recognised as an international crime, some commentators argued that this confirmed her brilliance and heroism.

At the People’s Climate Conference, which was held in tandem with the 2009 Copenhagen Summit, Higgins explained that we need a paradigm shift, a change in approaches to addressing climate change. She said we need to stop looking at planet Earth as an ‘inert thing’ that can be commoditised, since this only benefits businesses. Instead, we should view the planet as a living being that has intrinsic value. Only when such a mindset prevails can we really ensure that humans will start taking responsibility for the planet.

To say that Marx must be turning in his grave would be to flatter Higgins, whose New Ageism hardly amounts to any substantial supposition. Whatever the usefulness of natural things like flowers, trees and rocks, they are only valuable in so far as they satisfy the needs and wants of human beings – whether that involves cutting down trees for wood, picking flowers to decorate our homes, or climbing rocks to enjoy the view.

To that end, the elements, materials and beings found in nature should be used and ‘abused’ for the benefit of mankind – we should not be forced to protect nature for nature’s sake. Deserts and meadows cannot feel hurt, assaulted or denigrated – they are material things and it is impossible for them to have individual rights. (I’m sure the trees of the world do not mind me saying this.)

Of course, the Trees Have Rights campaign states that natural conservation and protection is for the good of human beings, too, and therefore we all have an interest in putting a stop to pollution and in ensuring nature’s right to restorative justice, as the campaign website puts it (you can tell it has been written by a lawyer). But, in truth, Higgins and other greens who are demanding an end to ‘ecocide’ are elevating what they identify as the needs and rights of nature over the needs and rights of human beings. For them, the primary purpose of humanity is to accept our responsibilities towards the planet, to leave eco-systems alone and, where man has contributed to the alteration of nature, to restore it to its original state – whenever that was.

Here, social progress – great leaps forward that have provided us with material wellbeing, longer life spans, more leisure time and opportunities to pursue individual interests – are reconstituted as ‘pollution’. Man’s interventions in nature are regarded as simply corrosive, hubristic acts of nature-murder that are as abhorrent as the concerted, state-sanctioned extermination of human beings.

Higgins may only have a relatively small band of followers, but her plan to convince the UN to accept ‘ecocide’ as a fifth ‘crime against peace’, which could be tried at the International Criminal Court, chimes with mainstream green thinking. As the Guardian reported, supporters of a new ecocide law believe it could also be used to prosecute ‘climate deniers’.

The terms ‘ecocide’ and ‘climate denial’ of course bring to mind the Holocaust and those revisionist cranks who question its veracity. Environmentalists constantly conjure up Holocaust imagery – on the one hand to stress that climate change is an indisputable evil, and on the other hand to shut down debate on the matter. Anyone who dares to demand that the claims of greens be scrutinised, anyone who questions the severity of the climate threat or argues that how humanity should handle it is up for debate, is put on a par with Holocaust-denying fraudsters. Greens are making use of the fact that the campaign to criminalise Holocaust denial has grown in recent years, consciously putting ‘climate change denial’ on a par with Holocaust denial so that those who question environmentalism can be prosecuted, too.

Never mind hurting the feelings of flora and fauna, tree-hugging, censorship-demanding greens are denigrating the devastating experiences of victims of mass murder by putting them on a par with things like tree-felling and desertification. That is the natural consequence of their putting nature on a par with – in fact even higher than – humankind.

Higgins’ campaign reminds me of a banner at a climate-change demo a few years ago which said ‘trees don’t rape’. The message here is the same: nature is pure, innocent, helpless, while man is repugnant, exploiting, violent. That is, every man who is not already a diehard green, that apparently enlightened kind of individual who assumes he has the right to tell the rest of us that we need to venerate nature, or else.

Instead of flattering tree huggers, it’s time we stopped all this nature-worshipping and added some real fuel to the climate-change debate. One way to do it is by letting us know what you think by sending a response here.

Nathalie Rothschild is commissioning editor of spiked.

Spiked Online, 19 April 2010