Thursday, January 17, 2008

My Attack

A French court ruled Wednesday that the company Total was partly liable for the oil spill their cargo was witness to. The issue was simply that the ship used, The Erika, was in horrible disrepair, and Total employed it anyway. December 12, 1999, the Cargo ship broke in two, spilling roughly 20,000 tons of oil.

This from the original reporting back in 2000:

France is still investigating what happened to the Erika. A preliminary report issued last week found that the spill had probably been caused by a rusty bulkhead. At first the crew, all citizens of India, were detained. But they have since been absolved of blame and released.

The criticism has focused instead on the French company TotalFina for hiring the Maltese-registered boat. Investigators found that at least one other oil company, Shell, had rejected the boat as unseaworthy.

The case appears groundbreaking in the pursuit of broadening responsibility in the case of such disasters. According to today's story:

Edward Bran, a lawyer who specializes in international environmental law, said that under international oil pollution conventions, claims usually are not permitted against parties other than the ship owners unless it can be proved that the damage stemmed from acts of omission.

So, I assume, you could never lie or cheat -- but now you have to do due diligence. That's a big shift. I'm thinking about the things that I check -- I would look at a school bus my kids were going on for a field trip; I would look at a dialyses machine my mother was pouring her blood through -- we check when the cargo is precious -- when the result of failure would be devastating. So Companies must now consider oil precious and environmental disaster personal harm...

... The court also recognized the principle of ecological harm “resulting from an attack on the environment.”

I'm intrigued by this last line. The principle of ecological harm resulting from an attack on the environment. Isn't that what we are doing every day? With our products and our travel and our habits? Don't get me wrong, I think the ruling is terrific, and it certainly seems like they are making environmental strides in Europe we likely will never reach -- but it's a little scary too.

And accidents do... clearly there was gross negligence in this case, but do we really know what we are partaking in? It's aggressive language. Maybe it's true -- I am not passive when I take a plastic bag or wear nylon... in the decisions that I make I am attacking the environment. That is a hostile way to think about this world.

While I want to live in a world where oil spills are taken seriously, and the environment is treated as a victim of our lives, I don't know if I can breathe or heal or help inside the life of a lanuguage of attack...

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