The Mauritius Oil Spill Cannot Be Cleaned Up, but Damages Must Be Paid
By Roshan Rajroop, Melita Steele and Hisayo Takada
Oil spills make visible the huge price being paid by the environment, wildlife and human communities for our reliance on fossil fuels. They are a harsh demonstration of the fragility of our oceans. They are a sad reminder of how urgent it is that we end our addiction to fossil fuels and make the transition to alternative renewable energy sources.
On the 25th of July the Japanese bulk carrier MV Wakashio — chartered by Mitsui OSK and owned by Nagashiki Shipping — struck a beautiful and irreplaceable coral reef on Mauritius' southeast coast. The ship was sailing dangerously close to the reef, and ran aground. Twelve days later, the ship began leaking heavy fuel oil, devastating one of the most beautiful places in the world and ruining the livelihoods of coastal communities.
Over the past five weeks in Mauritius, we have witnessed long stretches of ocean, unique mangroves and pristine lagoons become quickly coated with oil. We have watched the people of Mauritius rushing to the beach, risking themselves as they attempt to remove the oil from every rock and grain of sand, desperately trying to recapture their homeland's beauty submerged by toxic waves, being brought relentlessly by the tide to the shore. Our hearts went out to the families of seamen who lost their lives in a salvage operation. Thousands of species around the pristine lagoons of Blue Bay, Pointe d'Esny and Mahebourg are at risk of suffocating or drowning in a sea of pollution, with dire consequences for Mauritius' tourism, and people's food security and health.
Furthermore, some of the most toxic components of the oil spill can build up as hidden contaminants in marine organisms, through which they can enter into the food-chain. Oil residues accumulate in sediments, especially on shores. The impacts of this oil spill — like any other oil spill — will be felt years after the surface oil has been removed. The people of Mauritius are going to have to live with this devastating reality for decades.
There is no question that Mitsui OSK and Nagashiki Shipping are jointly the cause of the devastating pollution in Mauritian waters. After the first 12 days of their silence, Mitsui OSK and Nagashiki Shipping apologized for this disaster. For that apology to mean anything, it must be backed up with action. This would require fully applying the "polluter pays" principle, which means the companies pay for all current and future damages.
At the same time, emerging reports suggest that the Japanese and Mauritian governments have entered into talks for the Japanese government to provide a mere 3.6 billion yen (almost 34 million USD) to the Mauritian government to support the local fisherfolk who have been impacted by the spill.
While steps by the Japanese government to help the government of Mauritius cope with the toxic impacts of the oil spill are welcome, Japanese taxpayers should not be liable for the actions of the Japanese companies, which were reckless enough to allow one of its largest vessels to travel so close to coral reefs and run aground. Ultimately, those who are responsible for the pollution must pay for the damage that their pollution has caused. Mitsui OSK and Nagashiki Shipping seem to be avoiding their responsibilities.
The "polluter pays" principle would require funding, among other things, a fully public independent investigation into the causes and consequences of the oil spill, and a commitment to stop using this shipping route.
This needs to account for the livelihoods of those dependent on fishing and tourism, the coral reefs, mangroves, wetlands and the entire, vulnerable ecosystem. A recent announcement by Mitsui OSK shows a positive early sign as it resolves to address the damages the company caused with a long-term view toward recovery. This goes beyond the charterer's liability, and the social responsibility of the company involved is clearly required in a case like this.
It is impossible to completely hold a company accountable through the law alone. The legal framework for environmental issues is under development. For this reason, Mitsui OSK and Nagashiki Shipping must proactively commit to their social responsibility, rather than taking advantage of legal loopholes.
Most importantly, Mitsui OSK and Nagashiki Shipping should use this disaster as an opportunity to finally break away from fossil fuels and to shift toward sustainable renewable energy. The two companies should give up transporting coal, oil and gas. Specifically Mitsui OSK should end any involvement in oil and gas production, including around LNG.
If it weren't for fossil fuels, none of this would have happened. Companies producing, carrying and burning oil would like us to think that with enough goodwill it can be cleaned up, like milk spilled on the kitchen floor. Unfortunately, that is not the case.
In addition to threatening the biodiversity of the oceans and the livelihoods of coastal communities, our use of oil is a driver of the global climate crisis. The world's foremost climate scientists have warned that we must urgently and radically minimize the use of oil, gas and coal in order to avoid the worst impacts of the climate emergency. The climate crisis is an existential threat and in response to it, there is a movement of millions of people across the world who are taking action. This oil spill is a tragic and devastating reminder that fossil fuels are toxic, and our reliance on them puts both people and the planet at risk. Now is the time to build a better future.
Roshan Rajroop is the President of human rights organization Dis Moi. Melita Steele and Hisayo Takada are the program directors for the environmental organization Greenpeace Africa and Greenpeace Japan.
New fossils uncovered in Argentina may belong to one of the largest animals to have walked on Earth.
- Groundbreaking Fossil Shows Prehistoric 15-Foot Reptile Tried to ... ›
- Skull of Smallest Known Dinosaur Found in 99-Million-Year Old Amber ›
- Giant 'Toothed' Birds Flew Over Antarctica 40 Million Years Ago ... ›
- World's Second-Largest Egg Found in Antarctica Probably Hatched ... ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
- Pruitt Guts the Clean Power Plan: How Weak Will the New EPA ... ›
- It's Official: Trump Administration to Repeal Clean Power Plan ... ›
- 'Deadly' Clean Power Plan Replacement ›
By Jonathan Runstadler and Kaitlin Sawatzki
Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers have found coronavirus infections in pet cats and dogs and in multiple zoo animals, including big cats and gorillas. These infections have even happened when staff were using personal protective equipment.
- Gorillas in San Diego Test Positive for Coronavirus - EcoWatch ›
- Wildlife Rehabilitators Are Overwhelmed During the Pandemic. In ... ›
- Coronavirus Pandemic Linked to Destruction of Wildlife and World's ... ›
- Utah Mink Becomes First Wild Animal to Test Positive for Coronavirus ›
By Peter Giger
The speed and scale of the response to COVID-19 by governments, businesses and individuals seems to provide hope that we can react to the climate change crisis in a similarly decisive manner - but history tells us that humans do not react to slow-moving and distant threats.
A Game of Jenga<p>Think of it as a game of Jenga and the planet's climate system as the tower. For generations, we have been slowly removing blocks. But at some point, we will remove a pivotal block, such as the collapse of one of the major global ocean circulation systems, for example the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), that will cause all or part of the global climate system to fall into a planetary emergency.</p><p>But worse still, it could cause runaway damage: Where the tipping points form a domino-like cascade, where breaching one triggers breaches of others, creating an unstoppable shift to a radically and swiftly changing climate.</p><p>One of the most concerning tipping points is mass methane release. Methane can be found in deep freeze storage within permafrost and at the bottom of the deepest oceans in the form of methane hydrates. But rising sea and air temperatures are beginning to thaw these stores of methane.</p><p>This would release a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, 30-times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming agent. This would drastically increase temperatures and rush us towards the breach of other tipping points.</p><p>This could include the acceleration of ice thaw on all three of the globe's large, land-based ice sheets – Greenland, West Antarctica and the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica. The potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is seen as a key tipping point, as its loss could eventually <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/324/5929/901" target="_blank">raise global sea levels by 3.3 meters</a> with important regional variations.</p><p>More than that, we would be on the irreversible path to full land-ice melt, causing sea levels to rise by up to 30 meters, roughly at the rate of two meters per century, or maybe faster. Just look at the raised beaches around the world, at the last high stand of global sea level, at the end of the Pleistocene period around 120,0000 years ago, to see the evidence of such a warm world, which was just 2°C warmer than the present day.</p>
Cutting Off Circulation<p>As well as devastating low-lying and coastal areas around the world, melting polar ice could set off another tipping point: a disablement to the AMOC.</p><p>This circulation system drives a northward flow of warm, salty water on the upper layers of the ocean from the tropics to the northeast Atlantic region, and a southward flow of cold water deep in the ocean.</p><p>The ocean conveyor belt has a major effect on the climate, seasonal cycles and temperature in western and northern Europe. It means the region is warmer than other areas of similar latitude.</p><p>But melting ice from the Greenland ice sheet could threaten the AMOC system. It would dilute the salty sea water in the north Atlantic, making the water lighter and less able or unable to sink. This would slow the engine that drives this ocean circulation.</p><p><a href="https://www.carbonbrief.org/atlantic-conveyor-belt-has-slowed-15-per-cent-since-mid-twentieth-century" target="_blank">Recent research</a> suggests the AMOC has already weakened by around 15% since the middle of the 20th century. If this continues, it could have a major impact on the climate of the northern hemisphere, but particularly Europe. It may even lead to the <a href="https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/handle/10871/39731?show=full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cessation of arable farming</a> in the UK, for instance.</p><p>It may also reduce rainfall over the Amazon basin, impact the monsoon systems in Asia and, by bringing warm waters into the Southern Ocean, further destabilize ice in Antarctica and accelerate global sea level rise.</p>
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has a major effect on the climate. Praetorius (2018)
Is it Time to Declare a Climate Emergency?<p>At what stage, and at what rise in global temperatures, will these tipping points be reached? No one is entirely sure. It may take centuries, millennia or it could be imminent.</p><p>But as COVID-19 taught us, we need to prepare for the expected. We were aware of the risk of a pandemic. We also knew that we were not sufficiently prepared. But we didn't act in a meaningful manner. Thankfully, we have been able to fast-track the production of vaccines to combat COVID-19. But there is no vaccine for climate change once we have passed these tipping points.</p><p><a href="https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-global-risks-report-2021" target="_blank">We need to act now on our climate</a>. Act like these tipping points are imminent. And stop thinking of climate change as a slow-moving, long-term threat that enables us to kick the problem down the road and let future generations deal with it. We must take immediate action to reduce global warming and fulfill our commitments to the <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Paris Agreement</a>, and build resilience with these tipping points in mind.</p><p>We need to plan now to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, but we also need to plan for the impacts, such as the ability to feed everyone on the planet, develop plans to manage flood risk, as well as manage the social and geopolitical impacts of human migrations that will be a consequence of fight or flight decisions.</p><p>Breaching these tipping points would be cataclysmic and potentially far more devastating than COVID-19. Some may not enjoy hearing these messages, or consider them to be in the realm of science fiction. But if it injects a sense of urgency to make us respond to climate change like we have done to the pandemic, then we must talk more about what has happened before and will happen again.</p><p>Otherwise we will continue playing Jenga with our planet. And ultimately, there will only be one loser – us.</p>
By John R. Platt
The period of the 45th presidency will go down as dark days for the United States — not just for the violent insurgency and impeachment that capped off Donald Trump's four years in office, but for every regressive action that came before.
- Biden Announces $2 Trillion Climate and Green Recovery Plan ... ›
- How Biden and Kerry Can Rebuild America's Climate Leadership ... ›
- Biden's EPA Pick Michael Regan Urged to Address Environmental ... ›
- How Joe Biden's Climate Plan Compares to the Green New Deal ... ›