Bill McKibben demonstrating the low-carbon “human public address system” during a speech as part of the amazing Occupy Wall Street demonstration in New York.
Today in the New York Times there was a story that made it completely clear why we have to be here. They uncovered the fact that the company building that tar sands pipeline was allowed to choose another company to conduct the environmental impact statement, and the company that they chose was a company was a company that did lots and lots of work for them. So, in other words, the whole thing was rigged top to bottom and that’s why the environmental impact statement said that this pipeline would cause no trouble, unlike the scientists who said if we build this pipeline it’s “game over” for the climate. We can’t let this pipeline get built. [Read on...]
The CEOs of two of Britain’s largest companies were found guilty in the UK Supreme Court on Friday of the proposed crime of ecocide. The companies were found to have caused “extensive damage, destruction to or loss of ecosystems” in their exploitation of the Canadian tar sands.
The one-day mock trial with real witnesses, real barristers, a real judge and a real jury showed how ecocide might be tried in practice. One of the CEOs (the only participants played by actors) was also charged with ecological destruction caused by an extensive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, but found not guilty.
After the trial, jury foreman Huw Spanner said his panel felt the evidence in the case of the tar sands was “incontrovertible”. Large bodies of toxic water had been allowed to stand and it was inconceivable that the resulting impacts on animal and bird life would be anything other than substantial. In the case of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, he said the jury “was shocked how culpable the CEO was” in terms of actions leading to the spill. However, from the evidence presented on the day, they were not convinced that the resultant damage – especially in relation to birdlife as outlined in the indictment – was extensive.
Making ecocide the fifth crime against peace – along with genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes of aggression – is the brainchild of Polly Higgins. The lawyer said that the mock trial had been a great learning process, identifying a number of gaps in the draft legislation that needed to be filled.
Michael Mansfield QC, who acted as the prosecutor in the trial, said that making the topmost individuals in a company responsible was critical if the law was to act as a deterrent. The proposed legislation has therefore been drafted so that individuals rather than companies are in the dock. In an actual trial, board chairmen, heads of banks and even government ministers could also be on trial.
“I’m not keen to see lots of politicians in the dock,” said Higgins. “What I want to see is people making responsible decisions.” For example, a crime of ecocide could force governments to change the incentive structures for businesses by redirecting subsidises for fossil fuels towards clean energy sources. In this way the dirty energy companies that are wrecking the environment today could be transformed into the clean energy companies of tomorrow.
The crime of ecocide includes the concept of “strict liability” or “superior responsibility” which overcomes the current situation whereby company executives simply use what Michael Mansfield called “the Spanish waiter’s defence” and claim, “I know nothing.” This is something we saw recently, for example in the parliamentary select committee questioning of Rupert Murdoch in the News International phone hacking scandal.
But what is the prospect of such legislation ever becoming law? Higgins presented the legislation in draft form to the UN Law Commission back in April 2010. The lawyer who says the Earth is now her only client thinks we have a critical window of opportunity between now and the Rio+20 Earth Summit in June 2012 to enshrine the crime into international law. This would require an amendment to the Rome Statute – which established the International Criminal Court in 1998 – by a two third’s majority of the signatories.
If this is achieved, the human race will have created a renewed opportunity to overcome our greatest and, up until now, most intractable threat. At a time when international climate negotiations have effectively collapsed, Higgins asserts that a “crime of ecocide will close the door to fossil fuels.”
Full sound recording of Rev Billy and the Church of Earthalujah! exorcising the evil demon of BP from the Tate. 35 minutes. July 18th 2011, 5pm at Tate Modern. TURN UP VOLUME. Starts quietly, levels vary, unadjusted original sound recording. “Got to listen hard: put your ear to the dirt!”
The start of a major campaign. Instead of cutting jobs, create a million new ones to lower carbon emissions and kick start the economy. The full 33 minute version, plus seven more films, are on Reel News 27 – available at Reel News. For more information about the campaign download the One Million Climate Jobs booklet.