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Imagine if the Gulf Could Sue BP for Damages…

19th August, 2010 - Posted by Shannon Biggs - No Comments

Oiled Grass

Oil soaking into the wetlands, the last defense against hurricanes, and vital to the health of the coast. The root system of the wetlands and marshes are rotting from the oil.

Why can’t BP be responsible for “fixing what it broke?”

In part it comes down to the law. Within our current legal structure, corporations, which are fictional, non-living entities, are recognized to have the same rights as individual people. In fact, the law provides corporations to have more say in our lives than we do: decisions made in far away corporate boardrooms about GMOs, mountain top removal mining, fracking and more have real implications for local people and nature.  And we are powerless to say “no”.

Yet while this may seem absurd, what is even more abstract is that while these fictional beings have the most voice, and are the same ones engaging in the most environmentally destructive of operations–all other non-human living beings, forests, rivers and ecosystems have no recognized rights.

Regulatory environmental laws in place do not look at the right for a river to flow, fish to regenerate or the right for an old growth forest to exist. Regulatory law actually legalizes damage – it only regulates how much. Unfortunately regulators turn to the “experts” – that is, the industry to be regulated – for guidance on setting those standards.

More washed up oil in the wetlands

Take the BP spill for example.

The oil spill has shown the ramifications of our regulatory system’s failure to protect people and ecosystems, in that it allows damaging practices–whereby corporations use the regulatory system to legalize harmful practices. And then the regulators turn to BP for answers on clean-up, including disbursement.

And who decides how much BP should pay for clean up? Seems BP executives have a hand in setting that standard too. And it won’t be enough, not nearly enough to return the Gulf to the way it was before the spill.

But what if — just what if —nature itself could sue BP for damages and ensure that the damages paid were enough to restore the Gulf to health?

Thomas Linzey, Executive Director for the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund explores how rights for nature would fundamentally change the way we deal with the crisis in the Gulf, and how this legal concept has been already implemented in various US municipalities, and the nation of Ecuador. Read his exciting article in the Daily Comet here.

Check out more on Rights of Nature on our Global Exchange Rights Based Organizing site.

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Authors: Karen Swift and Shannon Biggs

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