Sunday, June 6, 2010

Crimes Against the Planet

There is something seriously wrong when a company like BP continues to pay multi-billion dollar dividends to its shareholders while millions of gallons of oil continue to flow into the Gulf of Mexico.

It is as though the oil spill that in reality is wreaking catastrophic environmental damage to the Gulf's ecosystems is simply a glitch in the company's cash flow. Nothing more, nothing less than an adjustment to the income statement.

Indeed, there is a tendency in the media to attempt to quantify everything: estimates of how much oil has escaped into the gulf, the economic loss to fishermen and to the tourist industry, and the size of the bill BP will be handed for the clean up costs, to mention just a few.

Yet, there is something much more fundamental at issue: when companies like BP are shown to have inflicted harm at this scale to natural ecosystems, charges should be laid against those who are responsible for having committed crimes against the planet.

This is a special category of crime similar in kind to the notion of crimes against humanity, which are are particularly odious offenses in that they constitute a serious attack on human dignity or grave humiliation or a degradation of one or more human beings. They are not isolated or sporadic events, but are part either of a government policy (although the perpetrators need not identify themselves with this policy) or of a wide practice of atrocities tolerated or condoned by a government or a de facto authority.

In this case, the odious offenses, the serious attacks, and degradation target many species and the underlying networks of relations from which the affected ecosystems emerge. These are not ordinary offenses and they should not be treated as such.

In fact, the perpetrators should be brought to trial in an international court beyond the protection of sovereign borders and without the limited liability afforded to corporations. If found guilty of crimes against the planet, justice should be met commensurate with the seriousness of the offense: top officials shall be jailed, corporate charters revoked, assists seized and sold off, and, when applicable, governments be held accountable for the absence of adequate regulatory frameworks.

Laissez-faire is dead.

The time has come to re-establish an order that no longer allows the violence perpetrated against the earth to continue unabated, Such atrocious behavior by individuals, corporations, and governments should no longer be tolerated.

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