Lessons Not Learned: Anatomy of an Ecocide

Deep Water Horizon with the weelbore 18,300 feet below sea level in the Gullf of Mexico explodes killing 11 platform workers and injuring 17 others.

By Ron Hart

On April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, considered the largest accidental marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry,  resulted in the greatest environmental ecocide in U.S. history.

In April of 2010, British barrister Polly Higgins proposed to the United Nations that Ecocide be classed as a crime under international law alongside Genocide, Crimes Against Humanity, Crimes of Aggression and War Crimes, as a 5th Crime Against Peace.

Polly Higgins defined Ecocide as Ecocide as

“the mass damage, destruction to or loss of ecosystems of a given territory, whether by human agency or by other causes, to such an extent that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants of that territory has been severely diminished.”

Would an Ecocide Law protect Life?

But how would this law play out in an actual court case? Would the law actually protect the Right to Life?

On September 31, 2010 a unscripted mock trial was held in the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom with a real judge, real lawyers and real jurors, to see how a proposed Ecocide Act would play out in a simulated court case.

Played by actors, charges of Ecocide were levied against two fictional CEOs: one with superior responsibility for unconventional Tar Sands extraction in Canada; the second with superior responsibility for a major oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

It took the jury just 50 minutes to present an unanimous verdict that the Athabasca tar sands ecocide was found to be a crime. However, the jury presented a split decision on the Gulf oil spill (and therefore acquittal) because there wasn’t sufficient evidence at the time.

Today, back in the U.S. Courts…

Today, as results of the Deep Water Horizon ecocide continue to pour in, there is little doubt what the verdict would be if a new trial was held.

As a matter of fact, an unprecedented U.S. civil trial—the largest in U.S. history–is in progress today.

“The United States Department of Justice, states along the Gulf Coast and private claimants in the case are suing BP Plc along with Transocean, Halliburton and others. Transocean was the owner of Deepwater Horizon rig and Halliburton was its cementing service provider.”

Examining and dissecting the causes of the BP oil spill:

“ The three-month first phase of the civil trial will determine the share of liability of BP and other companies for the 2010 explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon rig, which killed 11 workers and unleashed millions of gallons of crude into the Gulf, and could bring more than $20 billion in federal fines and settlements to those affected by the spill.”

A Bloodbath

Every day BP officials are being hammered with charges of gross negligence. If the charges stick the company that has already committed $25 billion in earlier settlements could be hit with another $25 to $30 billion in additional fines under the Clean Water Act. In short, the case has been described as a bloodbath. Environmental groups are arguing,

“Doing some quick math based on past spills, that amount could easily eclipse $30 billion.  Add it all up, and BP is looking at around $50 billion to finally “make things right” under the law.  The bigger the ultimate number, the more restoration of the Gulf can be accomplished, and restoring our environment restores our economy.”

They would be wise to settle as soon as possible. Daily, new information is surfacing about the extent of the ecocide.

For example this week Science Daily reported,

“Oil from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill acted as a catalyst for plankton and other surface materials to clump together and fall to the sea floor in a massive sedimentation event that researchers are calling a “dirty blizzard.”

This could result in the death of organisms that support the very base of the food chain, ultimately resulting in significant loss to the commercial fishing industry as the bioaccumulation of toxins travel up the food chain ultimately threatening human health.

The Ecocide Act

The Ecocide Act is designed to prevent ecocides from happening. It would give pause to those individuals contemplating dangerous industrial activities.  They would have to think before they acted. Ecocide could not be written off as an externality—simply a cost of doing business that can be passed on ultimately to ecocide’s victims. Why?  Because individuals cause ecocide.

Despite political manipulations, individuals with superior responsibility and driven by considerations of profit over social and environmental concerns, should have to be accountable for their actions in a criminal court. For that to happen a bulletproof, supranational law under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court is required.

Why an Ecocide Law is essential

Driven by greed, businessmen, politicians, and financiers with superior responsibility, fully intend to resume deep drilling and subsea oil production in the Gulf. Still more dangerous drilling is proposed for Arctic waters where, if a spill were to occur, there is no prospect of remediation and restoration.

We have to stop the oil companies and their war on life.

What you can do

  1. You can learn about and support the international campaign to make Ecocide a crime at the UN HERE
  2. If you are a citizen living in Europe  you can sign The European Citizens Initiative to End Ecocide. If you don’t live in  Europe but have contacts there, you can urge them to support this initiative.
  3. In Canada: Across the globe, more than 100 countries have taken action to recognize and protect their citizens’ right to a healthy environment. Canadians do not have this protection.  Add your name to the growing list of Canadians who want to see their right to a healthy environment legally recognized by governments at all levels. Write letters to the media and to Canadian politicians demanding a Canadian Ecocide Act.


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