I thought of this incredible eco-ad campaign, NatureisSpeaking.org, when I read Bronwyn Leebaw’s fascinating article “Scorched Earth: Environmental War Crimes and International Justice” in Perspectives on Politics.  This is a much-overdue analysis of the place of the earth and environmental damage in the laws of armed conflict – two issues areas rarely studied by political scientists.

Leebaw examines representations of the natural environment in laws of war as they have evolved in four stages:

  • under Grotius, a conception of Nature as Property, with protections articulated in the same way that men were once protected from the rape of “their women”  during wars
  • under early efforts to ban chemical weapons, the notion of Nature as Combatant, with chemical weapons’ development and prohibition internationally relying both on a notion that the weapons were too “inhumane” to use on humans in battle yet perfectly appropriate to use against insects domestically – insects being framed as ‘the enemy’ and later themselves conscripted into military service.
  • under the environmental movement of the 60s, the notion of Nature as Pandora’s Box, an untameable force preparing to unleash ecological consequences humans can’t predict or absorb – a yet-anthropocentric discourse which viewed natural disaster in consequentialist terms
  • Nature as Victim, a view more associated with the resurgent notion of “ecocide” as an international judicial claim – a perspective invented by Richard Falk in the 70s but ill-reflected in treaty law on environmental war crimes and revitalized in the post-Rome Statute era of international criminal law.

Reading this, and enjoying the many theoretical directions Leebaw maps out for scholars rethinking boundaries between national, global, human and planetary security, I was brought back to the NatureisSpeaking.org movement and the distinctively gaialogical way I Am the Ocean frames the planet – as fundamentally indifferent to the human race.

I found myself trying to situate this new narrative in Leebaw’s typology, and wondering if it is something completely different or an amalgam of earlier conceptions. Though there is a Pandora’s Box element to it, it is the opposite of anthropocentric. Though Nature in the videos is irritatedly affected by humans, s/he is hardly a victim. I found myself wondering how a video in the series that focused completely on environmental warfare might look – I don’t see one so far. And I found myself wondering which narrative frame of these, or of those emerging more recently, is most or least helpful in actually stemming environmental destruction unleashed by armed conflict. On this Leebaw has little to say, but she maps out an important new research agenda for war law scholars.