These in-their-own-words pieces are told to Patricia Lane and co-edited with input from the interviewee for the purpose of brevity.

Amalie Wilkinson helps youth around the world press decision-makers to make mass destruction of nature a crime. This 21-year-old University of Toronto student co-leads Stop Ecocide International’s Youth for Ecocide Law.

Tell us about your project.

As long as destroying the natural world, on which we all rely on a massive scale, only attracts potential fines without personal accountability, it becomes just a cost of doing business. This mindset affects Earth’s life-support systems and puts our future at risk. Existing treaties, agreements and civil lawsuits have not been able to stop this destruction. Stop Ecocide was founded in 2017 to change the rules.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) tries four crimes:

  • Genocide
  • Crimes Against Humanity
  • War Crimes
  • Crimes of Aggression (recently added)

Stop Ecocide wants to add a fifth: Ecocide.

This would create an arrestable offence, and those responsible for acts or decisions leading to severe environmental harm would face criminal prosecution with enforceable consequences like jail time.

Once 82 countries agree, it becomes enforceable. Currently, there are Stop Ecocide teams and affiliate groups active in almost 50 nations. Many governments have voiced support or strong interest.

Amalie Wilkinson helps youth around the world press decision-makers to make mass destruction of nature a crime with the international group #StopEcocide #pollution #crime

Stop Ecocide organizes people to sign our international petition and let their own decision-makers know it is widely supported.

Vanuatu hopes to propose this change to the International Criminal Court’s Assembly of State Parties within the next few years. We want Canada to agree.

What does your work entail?

My team members in Kenya, Sweden, England, Singapore and elsewhere encourage young people to impress upon their own governments that this is an important part of protecting our future. I also focus on engaging youth in Canada and started the first city-based team in Toronto. We canvass, host tables and attend events, where we explain the concept and invite people to sign letters and petitions and visit their MPs. We have produced a digital tool kit that provides young people with everything they need to spread the word in their communities.

What progress have you made?

In Canada, people are often surprised to learn that mass environmental destruction is not a crime and want to support the idea. It is easy for them to see this supports any environmental issue in which they are already engaged. As a result, members of four different political parties have read our petitions in Parliament.

Around the world, the International Corporate Governance Network, banks and a growing number of B-Corps have endorsed the change. They see ecocide as a shared risk that can be better avoided if individual corporate decision-makers are personally accountable for their decisions. Farmers, foresters and fishers see it as an incentive to protect common resources like soil, air and water. Pope Francis has called for ecocide to become a crime as part of his belief that humans must care for creation. Scientists see it as protecting biodiversity and other environmental values. France, Chile, the European Union and many other countries are aligning their own legal frameworks with the concept.

Amalie Wilkinson speaks at an event during COP15 in Montreal. Photo submitted by Amalie Wilkinson

How did you get involved?

I spent my childhood summers at my grandparents’ cabin in northern Saskatchewan. In 2021, my dad and I were caught in a wildfire while we were on a canoe trip. We had been careful to prepare, but it came suddenly and it was very frightening. That moment made climate change very personal and immediate.

I have struggled with climate anxiety for a long time but felt hopeless. Then, in 2021, as part of an internship with a human rights group, I wrote an analysis of the Stop Ecocide campaign. As I listened to a TED Talk by co-founder Polly Higgins, I realized I felt hopeful and wanted to join. I sent them an email and was able to get involved straight away. About a year later, they asked me to take on the position of Youth for Ecocide Law co-lead.

What do you see if we get this right?

Corporations will think differently about pollution and environmental degradation if their executives have a personal stake in protecting our common future.

What makes it hard?

It isn’t hard. Even if things do not move as fast as I would like in Canada, the campaign is advancing rapidly internationally. In my work, it is gratifying to see people light up when they understand. Politicians are usually very open to the idea. However, there are corporate-controlled forces with a lot of influence inside some political parties who are opposed to the concept. We have a lot of work to do.

What would you like to say to other young people?

I still have quite a lot of climate anxiety. But taking action with this group gets me through. Everyone has something to offer. Perhaps you write poetry or like design or can write a good letter or speak a second language. Find a group that excites you and they will help you discover your superpower.

What about older readers?

This is an interdisciplinary and intergenerational set of problems. We need your experience, your insights and your time. Come join us!

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