Wednesday 31 August 2011

Wilful Blindness or a Wilful Criminal Act? What will we bequeath to our children's children?

In the last week of August 2011 more than 2,000 people travelled to Washington DC to carry out a 2 week protest from August 20 through September 3, to urge President Obama to deny the permit for a 1,700 mile pipeline which would transport Canadian Tar Sands oil from Alberta right through the US heartland to Gulf Coast refineries and ports.
Despite this being a peaceful protest many of the citizens protesting have been arrested for civil disobedience, and still they come to make their views known.

Travel north to where the mighty rivers Athabasca, Smoky, Peace, Chinchaga and Hay, drain north and east from the Rocky Mountains into the Arctic Ocean and you will find yourself in the Boreal Forest; a region comprising almost half of Alberta. The landscape is heavily forested and home to a great diversity of vegetation and wildlife including the arctic grayling, river otter and black-throated green warbler and endangered species such as the whooping crane and the woodland caribou.
The boreal forest has remained wilderness for much of this century however oil sands cover 140,000 sq km of this forest - just over one fifth of the province of Alberta; an area larger than England UK. Imagine driving the length and breadth of England; that is the area of tar sands, 60% of which has been leased for extraction though not all of that is currently being mined.

More than 1,400 known pollutants are emitted by oil sands operations taking the oil sands industry anywhere from third to twelfth place—depending on the pollutant—among all Canadian industrial sources for pollution.

Massive tailings ponds associated with surface mining contain numerous toxic contaminants that can leach at low concentrations through dams and dikes. Volatile contaminants can be transported by air, and the Royal Society of Canada panel, having reviewed reams of publicly available information on factors such as health status, air and water pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, land disturbance, and energy and water consumption, concluded that "for Canada and Alberta, the oil sands industry involves major environmental issues on many fronts which must be addressed as a high priority"

The operation has already had many breaches of safety including numerous spills from processing plants and pipelines, 23 fires and explosions at facilities, fires on wastewater ponds and the deaths of more than 2,000 waterfowl that landed on various tailings ponds.

Many toxins, (such as PACs, antimony, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, copper, lead, mercury, selenium, and zinc,) occur at higher concentrations downstream of oil sands operations than upstream and some of these are elevated enough to kill fish as far away as Lake Athabasca.

Making liquid fuels from oil sands requires energy for steam injection and refining. This process generates two to four times the amount of greenhouse gases per barrel of final product as the production of conventional oil. If combustion of the final products is included, the so-called "Well to Wheels" approach, then oil sands extraction, upgrade and use emits 10 to 45% more greenhouse gases than conventional crude

The area under lease for mining was once awarded a "Special Places" designation by the Canadian Government because of it's great natural beauty. Mining entails clearing it of forest and vegetation and of the wildlife who rely on this habitat.

This has been called "the most environmentally destructive project on earth" and yet this is but one of the profoundly destructive and dangerous projects that has been sanctioned by governments in the name of commercial enterprise. Others commercial projects that cause massive and often irreparable damage to the complex ecosystems that support life on this planet include Arctic or deepwater drilling; deepwater mining; bauxite mining and deforestation of the Amazon.

Margaret Heffernan used the term "Wilful Blindness" in her book of the same name. Sticking our heads in the sand (no pun intended) and pretending that this massive and dangerous destruction of the very ecosystems that sustain us is necessary in order to maintain our energy supplies is indeed wilful blindness.

Polly Higgins, lawyer and award winning author believes that the law created this mess by making it a legal requirement that boards of listed companies deliver shareholder profit. She states that the law must also fix this and has put a proposal to the United Nations to protect the earth by making it a criminal offence to cause such radical destruction. Under a new international and national law onEcocide business leaders and heads of state would become personally liable for the destruction caused to the environment.

This proposed law will be tested in the UK courts at the Supreme Court in London on 30th September 2011 when a mock trial will take place.

Michael Mansfield QC, the prosecuting barrister, and Nigel Lickley QC, the defence barrister together with supporting legal teams, will lead the case for and against a fictional Mr X, CEO of a major corporation. Before the case is heard, legal argument will be put as to whether Ecocide and the Earth Right to Life should be applied to the charge against Mr X. Mr X will be played by an actor and has been charged with a number of ecocides - which one will be tried will be determined on the day. It could be:

Deforestation of the Amazon
Arctic drilling
Fracking for shale gas in Nigeria
Major oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico
Bauxite mining of the Niyamgiri mountain
Unconventional tar sands extraction in Canada
Deep sea mining of the Central and Eastern Manus Basin

The trial will examine how the crime of Ecocide protects the Earth Right to Life and will be tried as though the proposed crime of Ecocide has been adopted by the UN. What will happen is not pre-scripted; it is ultimately for the jury to determine whether the crime of Ecocide is made out and whether the Earth Right to Life is breached.

It will be an interesting day which will be open to the public and live streamed onto the internet and will open debate and discussion on this whole subject.

We are crowdfunding this event. Please go to to help fund this.

Fiona Hayes
07590 425621