Fighting for the right to survive

This article  by Kay Haw first appeared on the New Internationalist website Mar 25, 2013

by Kay Haw

Initiative fuer das EU-BuergerbegehrenUsing the law to tackle environmental destruction could change our lives and secure the future of the planet. A group of dedicated volunteers is collecting one million signatures to make environmental destruction a crime.

Why are the needs of the few destroying the needs of the many? Why is the environment being carved up, burnt, cut down and decimated? Why is greed and money being allowed to rule over basic needs and life itself?

The human race is pushing the planet to a breaking point. There was a time when this seemed unstoppable, but today there is hope. So many of us realize how terrible this is and our voices are becoming stronger and stronger. We now need to work together to make the destruction of the Earth and its ecosystems a crime, and send a message that we will not tolerate this anymore.

In 2010 Polly Higgins proposed to the United Nations that ecocide – the extensive damage to, destruction of or loss of ecosystems of a given territory – should be an international crime. Those committing it would be brought to justice by the International Criminal Court.

This is not just a dream, this can be reality. It all starts by us uniting to first make ecocide a crime in Europe. The new law would hold European companies and individuals responsible for their actions. If they abused the Earth and its resources they would be prosecuted under criminal law. Essentially this could bring an end to the pollution of our seas and other precious habitats, stop mass extinction, halt the terrible loss of our forests, and much, much more. There is a great short video that helps explain ecocide in nutshell.

What can we do?

One million European citizens must sign a European Citizens’ Initiative to call on the Commission to make this law. This initiative gives the citizens of the EU the power to influence policy. It means if one million of us get together to propose a piece of legislation then the European Commission will carefully examine what we are asking, they will listen to us. Sometimes we may feel powerless in the political world, but here we have a way to bring about meaningful change; this is direct democracy for the people.

We are all lucky enough to call this planet home, and are supported by the amazing wildlife and ecosystems that have evolved beautiful complex relationships over millions of years. Without these biological wonders we will die and will kill so much else in the process. If we as a species want to continue existing here we must find a way to live with nature, with the Earth. Having a law that supports this and gives the Earth rights would be such a powerful tool.

Polly Higgins is an international barrister who has dedicated her energy to protecting our Earth. But she cannot do this alone. Twelve volunteers have come together to end ecocide in Europe. But they can’t do this alone either. We need to add our voices, our energy. Together humans have an unimaginable power, let us channel this to save our planet and ultimately ourselves.

Believe the world can change, you have that power. Sign here and spread this message of hope!

Kay Haw is a passionate conservationist and voice for nature. Her greatest desire is for humanity to live in peace with the Earth, for the benefit of all. Her work includes blogs for the Woodland Trust, Guardian and BBC, and she is the editor of Wood Wise, a woodland conservation publication.


Big Oil’s war on life.

By Ron Hart

As BP, Haliburton, and Transocean duke it out in U.S. courts and the U.S. government overseers try to deny all culpability for ecocide in the Gulf of Mexico, billions of dollars are at stake in remediation, restitution, and punitive awards.

Those individuals with superior responsibility for the ecocide will probably avoid any criminal sanctions. Senior Big Oil executives will continue to draw six to seven figure salaries, enjoy annual bonuses, and eventually retire with golden handshakes.

Even more important, driven by greed, they will be free to plan more dangerous industrial activities with the potential for grave harm to Earth and its inhabitants.

Learning from disaster  

A report from the Balsillie School of International Affairs notes: “It is natural, inevitable and desirable to look to past disasters in order to  improve responses to future ones, but lesson-drawing, in such cases, is rarely systematic, as responses to disasters are, by their very nature, typically ad hoc.”

The report from the Centre for International Governance Innovation warns that because the Arctic region is on the cusp of tremendous development,

“…there is a growing risk of future Arctic marine accidents, whose outcomes result in serious loss of life and environmentally damaging oil spills. International search and rescue and oil spill mitigation agreements can mislead observers to believe that there is sufficient North American capacity to implement them confidently. Increased traffic, unsafe vessels, inexperienced captains, insufficiently trained and tested crews and operators, unreliable charts, weak to non-existent disaster response and salvage capacity, and the inherent challenges of Arctic operations need to be addressed urgently. Aboriginal, local and national economic development initiatives are suffering as a result of these deficiencies.”

So if disasters take place the official line requires us to respond to Big Oil’s environmental disasters ad hoc. Why?

It is assumed, we should prudently rush to get regulations in place for protect the environment from corporate activities and then fly by the seat of our pants.  That’s the official line.

The other inconvenient option: Stop ecocide!

A Greenpeace campaign urges President Obama, “Mr. President, now is the time for leadership. Arctic drilling got its chance. It’s time we kick our addiction to fossil fuels and invest in clean energy sources like wind and solar. I am urging you to take the first step toward a clean energy future and declare Arctic drilling ‘off limits’ forever.”

Greenpeace lists 8 reasons why Shell can’t be trusted in the Arctic:

1. Shell has no idea how much an oil spill clean-up would cost

In March 2012, in response to questions from the UK’s Parliamentary Environmental Audit Committee, Peter Velez, Shell’s head of emergency response in the Arctic admitted that Shell had not assessed the costs of a clean-up operation in the Arctic, leaving shareholders exposed to potentially huge financial losses.

2. Shell’s barge, the Arctic Challenger, was not deemed safe enough by the US government

In July last year the US authorities announced that a key part of Shell’s oil spill response fleet hadn’t been allowed to sail to the Arctic because it did not meet US Coast Guard safety standards. The ship, Arctic Challenger, is a 36-year-old barge used to drag safety equipment through sea ice. But US authorities are not happy with what they’ve seen on-board and didn’t feel confident the Arctic Challenger could withstand the extremely harsh Arctic environment. Originally Shell agreed that the ship would be able to withstand a 100-year storm, but company engineers are now saying that it is “no longer appropriate” for the barge to meet such onerous standards.

3. US Coast Guard “not confident” with Shell’s dispersants in the event of an oil spill

In an interview with Bloomberg the commandant of the US Coast Guard expressed doubts about the impact of dispersants in Alaska in the event of an oil spill, saying – “I’m not confident what it will do in the colder water up in Alaska”. Shell has included dispersant use as a major part of its oil spill response plan for the Arctic.

4. Shell’s drill ship runs aground in a ‘stiff breeze’

On 15 July Shell’s drill ship, the Noble Discoverer, ran aground in the sheltered and relatively calm Dutch Harbour, Alaska, in a 35mph wind. Both the Noble Discoverer and the Kulluk are ageing, rusty vessels and not the state of the art fleet that Shell has been boasting about. The Kulluk has been mothballed for the last 13 years whilst the Frontier Discoverer was built in 1966.

5. Shell’s drill ship catches fire

In November the engine of the drill ship, the Noble Discoverer, caught fire as it returned to Dutch Harbour, Alaska, and had to be put out by specialist fire crews.

6. Shell’s capping stack safety system ‘crushed like a beer can’ during testing

In December it was revealed that the oil spill containment system that Shell was supposed to have on-site in the Arctic was badly damaged in September testing. A Federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement representative disclosed that the sub-sea capping stack was “crushed like a beer can”.

7. Shell’s Alaskan Vice-President admits: “There will be spills”

In an interview with the BBC, Pete Slaiby admits that an oil spill is what people were most concerned about. “If you ask me will there ever be spills, I imagine there will be spills,” he said.

8. Shell’s Arctic oil rig hits the rocks

On 31 December 2012, Shell’s oil rig, Kulluk, ran aground off the coast of Alaska whilst being towed back to harbour in Seattle. It had hit heavy weather in the gulf of Alaska a few days earlier which caused the 400ft towing line to break and the rig to drift free. A tug managed to reconnect with the Kulluk but it “experienced multiple engine failures” 50 miles south of Kodiak Island, causing the rig to drift free once again in 35ft seas and winds of 40mph. The rig eventually ran aground after another attempt to tow it away. The Kulluk had 139,000 gallons of diesel and 12,000 gallons of hydraulic oil on board but as yet no spills

have been reported. It took six days for the rig to finally be freed from grounding – noone knows yet how bad the damage is.

Opportunities to take action

The howls of protest have come also from leading environmental groups including, for example, National Resources Defence Council (NRDC),, The Council of Canadians, and SumOfUs.

Take a moment and support their petitions.

Earthjustice’s  Lawyers

Without proper laws in place, Big Oil executives with principal responsibility for disasters will continue unimpeded. We have to change the rules that govern corporate behavior.

For example, this week Earthjustice reported that ConocoPhillips— one of the principal players in the Mackenzie Delta and Beaufort Sea—is eager to drill in the Arctic Ocean.

From an Earthjustice blog by Kari Birdseye:

“A  report out this week says drilling activities can harm endangered bowhead whales, native to the very seas Big Oil wants to drill. The National Marine Fisheries Service analysis reports that increased drilling and other oil exploration in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas could have “major” impacts on bowhead whales, even without an oil spill.

And even though Shell called off plans to drill in the Arctic Ocean this summer (just as both of its drill rigs are being carried to Asia for repairs), another big oil company is requesting permission to explore the icy Arctic waters in 2014. ConocoPhillips has submitted drilling and oil spill response plans, but the government has so far refused to make those proposed plans available to the public.

As ill-equipped as Shell looked last summer, ConocoPhillips’ proposal looks even worse. Shell’s huge drill rig, the Kulluk, was helpless as it listed on the rocks of an Alaskan island—even though it was designed to withstand the harsh weather and icy waters of the Arctic Ocean—but ConocoPhillips wants use a warm water drilling rig, called a jack-up rig, to drill in the Arctic’s icy waters. These drill rigs perch on long, spidery legs that extend down to the ocean floor. It is hard to picture such a precarious rig withstanding summer ice floes the size of Manhattan or 35-foot waves and hurricane-force winds. The potential for disaster is obvious.

Earthjustice attorneys will continue to represent clients in challenging flawed and unlawful oil and gas activities that put the Arctic Ocean, its wildlife and its people at risk. Our aim is to promote a clean energy future and protect the pristine American Arctic waters from harmful industrial activities in the short term with a long-term focus of conservation based on the best available science.”

The Conclusion

Don’t let Big Oil trash the Arctic. Clearly we need an Ecocide Act to contain transnational energy conglomerates and complicit governments. We also need a strategy to pass a Canadian Ecocide Act.

Why Energy Experts Get Things Wrong So Often

A history of failed guesses shows how hard it is to forecast fuels of the future.

This post by Andrew Nikiforuk, appearedMar22,  2013 on

Rolling house image

‘A House Rolling through the Countryside’: In the late 1800s, French artists published visions of the year 2000 like this one on cigarette boxes and postcards. Source:Messynessychic.

“Partisans across the opinion spectrum are vulnerable to occasional bouts of ideologically induced insanity.” — Philip Tetlock

After the unpredicted fall of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s due primarily to an oil price shock, Philip Tetlock, a U.S. psychologist, started to question the wisdom of experts.

It seemed rather incredible to Tetlock that political commentators, including Soviet scholars, had uniformly failed to forecast the dissolution of the world’s second mightiest empire. Tetlock wondered why and how they could be so blind and dumb?

So the psychologist assembled 234 experts, including government forecasters, university professors, “talking head” journalists, and economists.


1870s: Experts told the British House of Commons that electricity didn’t have the slightest chance of competing with gas lighting in London.

1900s: The Edison Company not only predicted that the electric car would be king of the road. but asked Henry Ford to do “something really useful.” The quest for a high energy battery that can outperform a combustion engine continues.

1950s: Experts including Nobel Prize winners claimed that nuclear reactors would make electricity “too cheap to meter” and that people would soon clean their homes with atomic vacuum cleaners. Yet nuclear power is now in retreat and remains the world’s most expensive form of energy.

1970s: In response to growing foreign oil dependency, president Richard Nixon declared “Project Independence,” which predicted that the U.S. would be energy self-sufficient by 1985. It didn’t happen.

1980s: The International Fusion Reactor Council predicted that the world would soon be running on power provided by a different kind of reactor. Nearly 50 years and $20 billion later, no commercial fusion reactor yet exists.

All together the group made approximately 28,000 expert predictions about everything from economic growth to nuclear proliferation. Tetlock then compared the accuracy of the experts to dilettantes, dart-throwing chimps, and computer algorithms.

Sadly, the experts did only slightly better than the “proverbial dart-throwing chimpanzee,” and a lot worse than mathematical equations predicting business as usual.

The findings astounded academia, but were ignored by the mass media. In fact, the modern news machine devotes a majority of its space to so-called economic and political experts who remain about as authoritative as a gaggle of unaccountable bonobos in an Irish pub.

However, Tetlock found two distinguishable groups of thinkers among the experts: hedgehogs and foxes.

The hedgehogs, which tend to dominate the airways, behaved in an authoritative manner and overconfidently relied on one source of information. In other words, they knew one thing well.

In contrast, the foxes, a humble lot rarely sought out by reporters, cautiously drew from a diversity of sources. Not surprisingly, the foxes produced more accurate judgments than the hedgehogs.

These findings taught Tetlock, the author ofExpert Political Judgment, a few lessons about pundits. They “were hard pressed to do better than chance, were overconfident, and were reluctant to change their minds in response to new evidence. That combination doesn’t exactly make for a flattering portrait of the punditocracy,” he recently told

Tetlock also concluded that experts weren’t really in the business of making accurate predictions, but served entrenched multi-billion dollar forecasting industries.

These paid prognosticators are “in the business of flattering the prejudices of their base audience and they’re in the business of entertaining their base audience.” Accuracy is about the last thing many an expert worries about these days.

Now, Tetlock’s insights apply to energy analysts in barrels. Oil price predictors and forecasters get things so wrong that energy and business reporters have unwittingly become pipelines for misinformation as black as bitumen.

University of Manitoba scholar Vaclav Smil, a genuine energy fox, devoted an entire chapter in one of his many energy books (Energy At the Crossroads) to the phenomenon and called it “Against Forecasting.”

(An historical aside: prior to the advent of cheap fossil fuels, energy forecasting really didn’t exist: there were slave and animal audits as well as ship inventories, but no clique of energy forecasters.)

Too complex to predict

Given the grim historical record on modern energy forecasting, Smil refuses to engage in the game. In fact, Smil offers only one energy prediction: “We will spend more time and money on playing the future game” and most predictions will continue to be dead wrong.

Energy systems are so large and complex that unpredictable political events, economic disasters, disruptive technologies and public policy changes can quickly alter the course of events.

Alberta’s bitumen industry, for example, grew like topsy on the lazy assumption that the continent couldn’t say no to the world’s most expensive and carbon intensive oil.

As a result, Alberta’s pathetic growth forecasts of doubling or tripling oil production to five million barrels a day resolutely ignored popular resistance to the resource’s carbon liabilities as well as a temporary upsurge in U.S. oil production from shale oil developments in Eagle Ford, Bakkan and the Permian fields. Consequently, the province’s economic future now looks like a deflated balloon as it preaches pipeline mania.

Aerocab station

Aero-cab station: Public transit would be by air in the year 2000 according to French artists assigned to forecast based on the trends they saw emerging in the late 1800s. Source:Messynessychic.

Alberta’s energy hedgehogs are not alone. Consider the Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA). The resolute hedgehog has plied dubious global oil forecasts for years and its annual 2012 World Energy Outlook carries on the tradition.

The WEO report, as thick as a 1970s phone book, suggested that the United States would extract more oil than Saudi Arabia due to the shale gas and oil boom and even become a global energy net exporter by 2030. As a consequence, no one has to worry about peak oil or the end of cheap energy for the next 50 years, claims the IEA.

An expert friendly media then gushed predictable headlines proclaiming a new “Saudi America” as well as an era of “U.S. energy independence.” (President Nixon promised the same in the 1970s, and his children still await its arrival.)

But when physicist and global energy fox Kjell Aleklett checked the real numbers, he found a different story than that presented by the IEA. For eight years now the testy Swede has criticized the agency for its unreliable forecasts. (In 2004 the agency predicted, for example that Saudi oil production would reach 22-million barrels by 2025 — an overestimation that defied geology: now IEA forecasts that Saudi production will sit at 11-million barrels by 2025.)

EIA’s attitude seems to be that “you should rely on us because we are telling you the truth, and governments around the world trust the IEA,” once wrote the energy physicist.

Ugly geological truths

Although shale gas and shale oil production in North Dakota and Texas may add to U.S. reserves in the short run, both resources deplete rapidly, says Aleklett. And the IEA largely ignored that uncomfortable reality.

Nor can unconventional resources reverse some ugly geological truths: extreme hydrocarbons cost more money, burn more energy and take more time to develop. Even with the best of luck, U.S. oil production in 2020 (10 million barrels a day) won’t surpass projected Saudi figures (10.8 million barrels a day).

So a temporary oil boom based on hydrocarbons as extreme as bitumen and shale gas won’t turn America into a new Saudi Arabia or deliver energy independence. “We can conclude that it is unlikely that the future will follow any of the precise paths described in the IEA’s scenarios,” reported Aleklett.

“I frequently say that we have entered an era when physics is more important than economics. I’m a professor in physics (and global energy systems) and it is the laws of physics that are limiting to oil production in the future.”

Calling the U.S. a new Saudi Arabia, added Aleklett, “can be regarded as a clever sales trick to generate interest in the WEO-2012 report.”

Aleklett also deconstructed the agency’s global outlook for oil production. IEA forecasters reported that, “In 2011, 12 billion barrels were discovered, equal to 40 per cent of the oil produced during the year.” But given global consumption of 30 billion barrels a year this paltry addition, despite a five-fold increase in oil prices over the last decade, means that available resources are resolutely shrinking, adds Aleklett.

School children wired up

Electrified learning: Another postcard vision of the year 2000 from just over 100 years earlier in France. Source: Messynessychic.

Moreover, conventional oil production will drop by 26 million barrels a day by 2035. According to the IEA, however, OPEC countries will make up the short fall from “undeveloped fields” while the rest will come from other places. “To expect that OPEC’s giant fields will not be affected by large declines in production during the coming 25 years is completely unrealistic,” says Aleklett.

“I find it very hard to understand how IEA can smile and say ‘Don’t worry, be happy’.”

US energy misinformation agency

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), which makes regular forecasts on energy supply, demand and prices, hasn’t fared much better on the accuracy front. In March 2012, the U.S. agency released an annual retrospective report that compares how well EIA’s forecasts actually mirrored reality.

Not surprisingly, the EIA routinely missed the boat. To Deborah Rogers, a former investment banker and energy fox at Energy Policy Forum, the results were dismal if not eye-popping. MORE


As trustees of Earth, it is our duty to speak out against activities that risk ecocide.

This is an action alert from the Sierra Club of Canada
One day soon, people in Ontario may spot an armed convoy passing through their town. Heavily armed guards will be protecting trucks carrying thousands of litres of radioactive waste containing highly enriched (weapons-grade) uranium in a toxic mixture of acid and countless other radioactive isotopes. It will be the most dangerous transport of nuclear waste ever attempted in Canada.
In a move reminiscent of the 2010 decision to allow Bruce Power to ship radioactive waste through the Great Lakes and on to Sweden (which we opposed), the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) has decided NOT to hold public hearings before permitting Atomic Energy Canada Limited (AECL) to proceed with the radioactive convoys.
Surprised? We were too.
Sierra Club Canada believes everyone has a right to be consulted before they are put at risk by the nuclear industry. We can’t stand idly by and let this undemocratic decision go unchallenged. We didn’t stand by three years ago when a Sierra Club Canada email campaign sparked such an outcry that CNSC was forced to reverse a similar decision NOT to hold public hearings (on the planned shipment of radioactive waste to Sweden via the Great Lakes). The risks are FAR GREATER this time around and we will take a stand.
It’s a sad day in Canada when the only information we can obtain about the radioactive convoy is through sources in South Carolina and the media. Here’s what we know: AECL is planning to truck 23,000 litres of highly radioactive waste (containing weapon’s grade enriched-uranium) from its Chalk River Laboratory in Renfrew County, Ontario to a U.S. Department of Energy facility (the Savannah River Site) in South Carolina. The shipments could begin as early as this summer.
The guards, though heavily armed and trained to deal with threats from terrorists and organized crime, will NOT, however, be able to protect Canadian and American communities from the effects of a nuclear spill — which could have catastrophic human health and environmental implications!
Despite the fact that the scheme would see the most dangerous cargo ever shipped through Canada, AECL and the CNSC is not consulting local authorities, First Nations or the public. It’s simply outrageous and all Canadians – not just Ontarians — should be angry as hell.
So why all the secrecy? The CNSC claims security trumps our right to know, but we don’t buy it. Is it instead because AECL and CNSC do not want to investigate alternatives to the convoy scheme? And there are alternatives! In fact, the best plan may be to leave the material where it’s being currently stored in Chalk River. It is relatively safe and secure there, and it’s isolated from the environment.

The waste is being moved under a US-Canada agreement to return weapons grade uranium to the United States to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands. This is a noble and laudable goal, but the nature of the Chalk River waste is very, very different from the spent reactor fuel the agreement was designed to cover.
The uranium was originally shipped to Canada (in a solid, stable and easily transported form) to make medical isotopes. The process, which sees the uranium dissolved, produces a HIGHLY radioactive liquid waste containing strong acids that are extremely difficult to handle and especially dangerous to transport. Should it escape into the environment, the radioactive liquid waste would have a devastating impact. There are no specially-built containers for transporting this type of liquid nuclear waste therefore AECL’s plan to use containers designed to carry solid waste is very questionable and needs further examination.
More worrying news is that the South Carolina facility where the radioactive waste is destined has no experience processing liquid nuclear waste of this type. In essence, the nuclear industry is planning a dangerous 2000 kilometre road trip into the unknown, turning the 40 million people along the route into guinea pigs.
The whole scheme is unnecessary to begin with – there is no need to subject the public to such senseless risk. Sierra Club Canada and many experts agree the safest place for this waste is right where it is now – in a secure container in Chalk River.
We have written the CNSC and formally requested a public hearing to examine the risks – and alternatives. We encourage you to join us in requesting a hearing – it only takes a few seconds!
As we send you this Action Alert, the Fukushima nuclear plant — which melted down following a March 2011 earthquake and tsunami — is facing a new and extremely serious emergency.
It will take 40 years (and billions) to ‘clean’ the Fukushima site and tens of thousands of evacuees will never return home. ACT TODAY and send our government a clear message. We want a clean, green future and we definitely don’t want Radioactive Roadtrips taking place on Canadian soil.
Yours sincerely,
John Bennett, Executive Director
Sierra Club Canada
412-1 Nicholas Street
Ottawa, Ontario K1N 7B7
John on Twitter / Bennett Blog

Tar Sands Tailings Contaminate Alberta Groundwater

It’s just one of those ho-hum ecocides. It could only be met with indifference by a Canada ruled by the shameful Harper government, focused on ‘Canada’s Economic Action Plan.’

The post by CAROL LINNITT first appeared on on Feb 18, 2013. The full post is found here.

The massive tailings ponds holding billions of litres of tar sands waste are leaking into Alberta’s groundwater, according to internal documents obtained by Postmedia‘s Mike De Souza.

An internal memorandum prepared for Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver and obtained through Access to Information legislation says evidence confirms groundwater toxins related to bitumen mining and upgrading are migrating from tailings ponds and are not naturally occurring as government and industry have previously stated.

“The studies have, for the first time, detected potentially harmful, mining-related organic acid contaminants in groundwater outside a long-established out-of-pit tailings pond,” the memo reads. “This finding is consistent with publicly available technical reports of seepage (both projected in theory, and detected in practice).”

This newly released document shows the federal government has been aware of the problem since June 2012 without publicly addressing the information. The study, made available online by Natural Resources Canada in December 2012, was still “pending release” at the time Minister Oliver was briefed of its contents in June.

The study in question, co-authored by 19 scientists from both provincial and federal bodies including Natural Resources Canada, Environment Canada, the Geological Survey of Canada, was designed to distinguish naturally-occurring chemical substances from mining-related contaminants.

Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) spokesman Travis Davies told Postmedia’s De Souza the study’s evidence of chemical seepage into groundwater did not come as a surprise.

“Their study isn’t new in any way other than perhaps the laboratory methods and detection limits,” Davies said. “We also know and report on the chemistry of groundwater from our monitoring wells that surround tailings facilities. So again, (there’s) no surprise.”

CAPP’s website had recently been updated to acknowledge(s) “seepage into ground water can occur,” although still claims “comprehensive monitoring programs have not detected impacts from tailings ponds seepage on surface water or to ground water.” MORE

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.