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Richard House [RH]: Can you tell us how you first got involved in environmental activism?
Jojo Mehta [JJM]: I spent some years as an “armchair activist,” but in 2013 my daughter overheard me talking about fracking — and burst into floods of tears.
“Why do people want to poison the ground and the water, Mummy? Don’t they know they will get ill themselves? You have to call them and tell them to stop.”
At five years old she had a clear understanding that harming the Earth means harming ourselves, and she wanted to know what I was going to do about it.
I realised I was being invited to step into the ability to respond — to my daughter, but also to her friends and their friends — because after all, it’s from our children that we’re borrowing this beautiful Earth.
That’s what got me out of my armchair and on to the streets — and ultimately to where I am now, working with Polly Higgins on Mission LifeForce, the global campaign to make ecocide an international crime.
RH: Can you say something about civil disobedience and the place you feel it has in the broad spectrum of activist activity that’s available to us?
JJM: We’re at a “critical choice point” for humanity. Business as usual will take us into runaway climate change much faster than the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is predicting in its recent report.
If we are to act, it must be immediate — within the next couple of years, not within a decade. Either way, we face a future that is nothing like the present.
In the face of the Tory government’s total abdication of its responsibility to protect, civil disobedience on a large scale is, according to extensive social science research, the most effective way to instigate change.
Stroud is also a birthplace of the Extinction Rebellion, which is based on exactly this research, and encourages ordinary people to engage in peaceful but highly disruptive mischief, in the knowledge they may be jailed for it.
We at Mission LifeForce are legally assisting those who choose to take direct action as conscientious protectors in this way, so that if they find themselves in a criminal court, their reasons for acting can be fully expressed and heard.
RH: Can you tell us about Polly Higgins’s and your work on ecocide law — what it’s seeking to achieve, why it’s so essential and how it might create a synergy with the Extinction Rebellion movement?
JJM: Polly Higgins and I founded Mission LifeForce in 2017 to raise awareness and funds around establishing ecocide as a crime at the international criminal court.
Devastation of ecosystems across the world (deforestation, tar sands, fracking, the list goes on) is only taking place because there exists no law to prevent or prohibit it — and that is what a crime of ecocide will do. It places responsibility where it truly lies — with those in senior positions: CEOs, government ministers.
It creates a massive steer for society — closing the door to serious harm and forcing industry and state policy to move in a new direction.
In the context of climate breakdown and extinction of species, it’s absolutely necessary to put a law in place that can do this, and for that law to apply across borders, because the biggest polluters are multinational corporations operating in many countries simultaneously.
What’s so exciting is that putting this law in place is more straightforward than most people realise — and it’s the small, climate-vulnerable island states (those which are already feeling the bite of climate breakdown) which have the biggest incentive to move forward with it.
The best thing about the International Criminal Court is that those small states have as much power as the big economies to table an amendment to international law — and once the amendment has been tabled, it can’t be vetoed.
Once two-thirds of member states sign up, it becomes law, which means that this can happen without the big economies being able to interfere.
Mission LifeForce exists — with the support and funds provided by every Earth protector who signs up to the campaign — to facilitate those small states taking ecocide law forward, providing them with the legal and practical research and support required to make it a reality.
When you look at the big freedoms that have been won in history, from the abolition of slavery, to votes for women, to civil rights, you always find a combination of a strong grassroots movement and key legal challenges and changes.
So we feel that Extinction Rebellion and Mission LifeForce are, in our current predicament, deeply complementary, existing and cross-feeding precisely at that nexus.
We know we’re facing a future that will be very different to the past — but we do have a chance to shape what that will be, and to face the unknown with courage, resourcefulness and creativity.
For me, this is a deeply exciting time to be alive: how many generations get to take action that could influence the future of their entire species? I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
JoJo Mehta is a Stroud-based campaigner against dangerous industrial activities such as fracking and incineration. She is a writer, public speaker and motivator. Richard House is a writer, a chartered psychologist, a former academic and a Corbynista activist in Stroud, Gloucestershire.
For more information visit www.missionlifeforce.org.
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