Interview by Ida Svartveden, End Ecocide Sweden (originally in Swedish)
Bishop Anders Arborelius OCD is the first ever Cardinal from Sweden and bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Stockholm since 1998. Like Pope Francis, Bishop Anders views legislation against large-scale environmental damage, ecocide, as an important step. “Man has an obligation to nurture and preserve nature,” he says.
-Legislation is important. And such a law needs to be global, comprehensive, possible to implement, and have penalties. The Pope has highlighted ecocide legislation several times and he emphasizes our duty to preserve nature.
For Anders Arborelius, it is natural to get involved in environmental issues. The interest was sparked when he was at a monastery in south of Sweden in 1971.
-I worked in the monastery garden, and during the 27 years I was there I became more and more aware of the beauty of nature, God’s creation, but also of how vulnerable everything is, how easily it can be destroyed. So, it is important for me to protect nature, he says.
How did you come into contact with the idea of ecocide legislation?
-It was my conversations with indigenous peoples in different countries that opened my eyes for this. These are people who live close to nature and their existence and way of life is threatened. Enforceable laws are a condition of survival for them.
How would your work be affected and perhaps changed if ecocide was an international crime?
-For me, it would be a great help to be able to refer to an ecocide law in different contexts. All countries and corporations would have to respect it. The law would also be something that the world had agreed on. It would be a great relief.
What an ecocide law would mean for a Catholic, in general, he thinks would vary depending on how and where one lives. Anders Arborelius believes that an ecocide law would mean that many people would need to give up a number of amenities.
-If you live close to nature, you have an understanding of why this is important. If you live in a big city, it can be more difficult to absorb because you may have to review your own way of life. Many people spend most of their lives in front of screens, and we need to extract metals to make those. Can we refrain from doing so? Can we give up amenities and riches? Here we need to follow Jesus towards an easier way of life.
What do you see as obstacles and challenges to ecocide legislation?
-Ecocide is a concept that not everyone has heard of, and it will take time before it catches on. One challenge is to get everyone involved: governments, countries, multinational corporations that are focusing on profit and their own success. And there will be conflicts of interest, such as the conflict in Sweden today between the indigenous Sami people and mining companies.
Anders Arborelius points out that the law must be worldwide, otherwise environmental crimes will continue to be committed in the most vulnerable and poor countries and places, such as in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Amazon. At the same time, he believes that these challenges can be overcome through diligent work disseminating information that creates both understanding and commitment.
-We need to be resourceful and find different entrances to reach different groups. Everyone must join in. Those with religious as well as secular views on life, all good forces must work together and take joint responsibility for the Earth, nature, and climate. So, it’s about finding alliances.
What tendencies do you see that suggest ecocide legislation is becoming a reality?
-I think there is fairly large support for ecocide as a crime in our part of the world, at least politically, but I question the business world where focus is on growth.
Anders Arborelius believes that ecocide law could lead to increased solidarity between religions and views on life. In the process leading up to the law, people must agree on something as basic and necessary as the human relationship with nature.
Photo: Greger Hatt