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Climate catastrophe

Climate catastrophe

From June 6-15, 1972, the First United Nations Scientific Conference on the Environment (also known as the First Earth Summit) was held in Stockholm. It adopted a Declaration of Principles, and a plan of action with recommendations for the enhancement and preservation of the environment. It also led to the creation, perhaps even more important, of the United Nations Environment Programme.

While environmental issues and climate change have been prominently on the international agenda since then, pledges to reduce emissions and protect the environment are not being kept. Without an international enforcement mechanism, governments cannot legally be bound to fulfill their commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by half by 2040. This is what Biden promised that the US would do.

Environmental legislation that aims to impose criminal sanctions on corporations and their employees is equally important. In some countries, it is even non-existent. After a 2007 US Supreme Court decision, several types of criminal violations of the Clean Air Act are listed in the US. In this context, many states continue to ignore the need to protect the environment and public health from illegal air pollution from chemical plants and oil refineries. Texas, for instance, failed to penalize 97% of illegal polluters from 2011 through 2016.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the top two US greenhouse gas emitting companies listed in the new edition of Greenhouse 100 Polluters Index Report by researchers at the renowned Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst are based in Texas. Vista Energy and Duke Energy combined released 194 million tonnes of CO2-equivalent greenhousegas emissions into the atmosphere in 2019. This figure does NOT include biogenic carbon dioxide emission (emissions from stationary facilities that result from the combustion or degradation of biologically-based materials, other than fossil fuels).

Trump’s presidency gave polluters more freedom than ever to destroy the environment. Trump’s nightmare reign of power saw the repeal of more than 125 environmental regulations.

We must not forget about the US military’s carbon footprint, which emits so much greenhouse gases from fuel usage that if it were an actual country, it would rank 47th among the worst polluters in the world, according a 2019 report by social scientist at Durham University and Lancaster University.

China has been the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, with 60% of its power coming from coal. However, it is still behind the US in terms per capita emissions.

Nearly 50 years after the First Earth Summit many environmental problems have worsened. Nature and climate are now on the verge to collapse. Numerous scientific studies show that the rate of species loss is increasing. The burning of fossil fuels such as coal and oil continues to cause an increase in carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. This causes temperature rises, which in turn leads to global warming.

What we see is a cause and effect relationship between anthropogenic global warming and species extinction. Higher temperatures cause a chain reaction that causes other changes to the world, which has enormous impact not only on humans but also on biodiversity and wildlife. According to a major United Nations 2019 report, today’s extinctions are happening at a faster pace than ever before. Around one million species are currently facing extinction within a few decades.

It is time to take drastic measures to save the environment and prevent a global climate catastrophe. Although pollution of the environment is a crime it is rarely prosecuted. While environmental crime is still considered a white-collar crime, it is usually accompanied by civil charges and fines. However, the reality of the planet demands that environmental destruction should be considered a crime against mankind.

Even if fines are not enough to stop greedy and ruthless capitalismists from destroying our environment, the $100 million civil penalty imposed by the US Environmental Protection Agency against Hyundai and Kia, for emitted greenhouse gases, is still not enough. This was in addition to the $1 billion fine that the European Union imposed on German automakers BMW and Volkswagen. Both automakers were fined because they conspired to limit the use emissions cleaning technology.

Volkswagen has a long history of cheating emissions, but it continues to get away with it. Germany does not have criminal liability for corporations and has only recently introduced such a legal framework. According to Virginijus Sinkevicius (EU environmental commissioner), there is no penalty for any environmental crime in Europe.

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Another reason why fines don’t deter polluters, is that the costs associated with such penalties are passed on to shareholders and consumers rather than being borne solely by the responsible individuals.

Environmental crimes must be treated as such, even though it is obvious that they cannot all be combined into one category. For serious environmental crimes (any crime that causes a change in globalcommons and the Earths ecological systems, such as the destruction by Bolsonaro of the Amazon forest), severe imprisonment sentences are required.

It is clear that environmental degradation has devastating effects on human health, biodiversity loss, atmospheric changes, and scarcity of natural resource. The most horrific crime is the murder of nature. Ecocide should be made an international crime, on par with genocide or war crimes, and placed under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court.

There is no other way than to save the Earth.

Excerpted: Killing Nature must be treated as a crime on par with Genocide, War Crimes.

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