Global Negligence

Frequent destruction of the environment through careless mistakes, such as the recent oil spills in Santa Barbara and Mexico, demonstrates the need for international oversight of pollution.

An international court for crimes against the environment is a necessary and important reform for our society. Our current influence on nature creates huge environmental tragedies that are too commonplace and harmful to be ignored. There must be a system of prevention in place in order to reverse these devastating events. This court needs to be capable of holding individuals,  governments and corporations alike accountable.

Our generation cannot take any more environmental disasters, yet such events remain frequent occurrences. Just look at oil spills. In 2014, roughly 4,000 tons of oil were spilled into the environment, according to the International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation Limited. The ITOPF reports that since 1970 there have been over 10,000 oil spills of ranging quantities. Just last week, there were two oil spills in U.S. oceans: one in Santa Barbara and one in the Gulf of Mexico close to Louisiana. These oil spills are detrimental to our environment and difficult to clean up. According to Conserve Energy Future, in 2010 the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil spill dumped 210 millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, an event which is credited with killing 8,000 animals, the majority of which were endangered.

It’s bad enough that our planet is still feeling the effects of past oils spills, but new oil spills continue to occur. The Los Angeles Times reported that the Santa Barbara oil spill alone released 101,000 gallons of oil. There are few laws that enforce the safety of oil rigs, and those that exist are country-specific and poorly enforced. One reason why the BP oil spill in 2010 was so bad was because it continuously spilled oil for 89 days, as reported by Conserve Energy Future. The reason the spill lasted so long was due to the fact that the emergency plan which was supposed to be enacted was deeply flawed. According to the news source Grist, instead of conducting a new safety plan specifically designed for the Gulf of Mexico, BP copied its outdated, inapplicable safety procedure which was actually written for the Arctic. Mark Davis, director of the Institute on Water Resources at Tulane University who investigated the incident, explained that the BP plan for the Gulf included “provisions for dealing with the impact on walruses.”

If anyone had bothered to rigorously safety-check the oil rig as the federally mandated provisions required, then they would have caught the ineffectiveness of the safety plan. With better safety inspections, not only can the damages from the oil spills be minimized, but in many cases they could have been prevented. During the legal case that emerged from the spill, it was revealed that BP had been bribing officials for years to overlook safety requirements so that it could quickly pass inspections. For profit’s sake, there was a deliberate indifference toward safety measures and a complacent acceptance of unnecessary risks.

Furthermore, that’s only the situation in the United States. When an oil spill happens in other countries’ waters, legal action depends on their laws. According to CounterSpill.org, the 1979 Atlantic Empress oil spill near Trinidad and Tobago resulted in few investigations and minor repercussions simply because it happened in a publically unknown place at a time when no one was paying attention. This event was the fifth largest oil spill in history, and no legal action was taken.

This is why there needs to be an international court. These disasters happen all over the globe and affect the entire planet at once. Both ocean and wind currents let water flow from any one part of the world to another. An oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico can still have effects on South America. An even better example is the deliberate burning of oil fields during the Gulf War. As a war tactic, the Iraqi army purposely released and burnt the Kuwait oil fields so that its enemies would not have access to this resource. This released an absurd amount of carbon dioxide into the air at once, which is part of the reason why the smog in China continues to worsen. Air convection currents in that region of the Middle East blow winds through Asia, where they ultimately travel to China and end up circulating with Pacific Ocean air. It’s difficult to determine the worst consequences of these actions. The result of these deliberate events is that another country is suffering today for Iraq’s mistake, and nobody was held accountable.

Environmental tragedies are too commonplace and destructive to have no repercussions. Our generation cannot afford to allow any more harm against the environment. It’s time to create international laws to reflect this mentality. When atrocities were committed against humanity, the Nuremberg Trials were created to hold individuals responsible. Since crimes against humanity are considered worthy of an international court, there should also be an international court for crimes against the environment. The environment is necessary for our survival. With the creation of an international court, people around the globe would be able to more effectively take responsibility for the environment.