Reflections on Earth Day 2021

Photo of Earth with a orange glow.Last week, a leading group of genocide scholars published a statement urging humanity to regard climate change and related environmental degradation created by human dependence on fossil fuels as an existential threat not only to the Earth’s ecosystems but to all living species. The consequences of man-made ecological disasters imperil human life throughout the world, with disproportional impact on marginalized communities in the global South. Just as it is morally wrong to look away in the face of organized violence against minority populations under conditions of political genocide, “it is equally unconscionable that we might be bystanders in the face of what amounts to omnicide…”. On the contrary, we must engage in the greatest mobilization of nonviolent collective action ever mounted to save our beloved planet, our human species, and the Earth’s animal and plant biodiversity on which all life depends. (Clark University)

Here are excerpts from the scholars’ statement:

The present coronavirus pandemic in these terms is simply a signal warning from nature reminding us that ever increasing human disturbance to an already threadbare ecological balance must in turn have severe consequences for ourselves. Yet the overall effect of human-induced planetary destablisation in coming decades will make of one singular zoonotic event a passing footnote. The bigger picture is one in which the thresholds allowing for our sustainable, cross-generational flourishing are in the process of being breached at an alarming and exponentially escalating rate. At the core of this ongoing ecological collapse is the rapid heating of the planet as a result of the vast quantities of fossil fuels some of us – primarily in the Global North – are burning and thus emitting as greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The consequential breakdown of sustainable food production and the permanent salination or inundation of the land much of us inhabit, alongside the direct effects of soaring, unbearable temperatures, will lead to the displacement and death of hundreds of millions, if not billions of human beings.


… As such it poses the greatest humanitarian challenge of our – and indeed all – time. Logically the international nation-state system must give: borders, frontiers and walls unravelling to allow the dispossessed, starved and terrified refuge where safety and succour still allows. Yet the more likely scenario is the greater reinforcement of precisely such national state barriers, especially those of the Global North, and their ever more vigilant and lethal policing to prevent ingress, or indeed egress. The tsunami of violence which must necessarily follow will make of our studies of atrocities to date little more than way stations en route to a universal Calvary.


Facing the reality of where we have arrived, and the truth of what we are on the cusp of, is now beyond urgent.


Genocide studies has often made much of a distinction between perpetrators, victims and bystanders. But if we think of ourselves neither as perpetrators, nor victims, it is equally unconscionable that we might be bystanders in the face of what amounts to omnicide…


We have come at this twilight moment – perhaps already too late – to a fork in the road. As a human community we can from this point onwards carry on oblivious to the damage which our national and corporate-led systems are doing on the road to hell and perdition. Alternatively, we can repent our complicity and set ourselves instead on a different path towards healing between humans and other humans, and between humans and the natural world upon which our sustenance and species sustainability depends….

Gladys Perez