The censorious gazes of seven Supreme Court judges’ ensured that a loud silence reigned in the packed gallery. Social distancing regulations were flouted by journalists and other spectators as they jostled to get a close-up of the legal goings-on.
Earth vs. LFTTWTCOI & others – a historic case pitting Mother Nature against the effects of capitalism – had riveted the world’s attention. All lower courtrooms in which it was conducted registered beyond-capacity attendance since the initial trial and subsequent appeals involving several blue-chip companies. Spectators had had to be accommodated outside the hallowed rooms of justice, with large screen TVs being mounted to accommodate everyone. The standard garb of double masks, gloves and face shields reeked of the sombre air of an ICU ward.
Chief Justice Paula Kahangi turned to the defiant CEOs in the dock; the world’s richest and most powerful individuals whose influence had paradoxically put Earth on her deathbed.
“You are hereby found guilty on all four counts levelled against you. This court sentences you to death by continued exposure to the sun for a maximum of six hours!”
Isabel Traveller, fifty-something CEO of LFTTWTCOI Ltd. (Live For Today, Tomorrow Will Take Care Of Itself) and one of only a handful of quadrillionaires in the world – had at her beck and call a team of overpriced lawyers who had assured her that the case would be a cakewalk. “There is no way,” the smarmy lead counsel had boasted, “that the world’s largest and most profitable company,” which accounted for the livelihoods of tens of millions of employees, “can be held accountable for a few necessary operating evils which guarantee massive profits and yield matching taxes.”
‘Necessary operating evils’ included prolonged and massive deforestation in countries in which LFTTWTCOI was domiciled.
In keeping with The Energy Independence and Security Act passed to decrease developed countries’ reliance on environment-destroying petroleum oils, LFTTWTCOI turned its clutches to plant-based fuels. The resulting conversion of forest land into palm oil, rubber and paper plantations as well as other agricultural uses resulted in a net increase in carbon emissions, causing the planet to heat up, resulting in melting glaciers, ocean acidification, extreme weather events and desertification. Tribal wars broke out between communities in arid northern Kenya over dwindling waterholes and livestock pasture. The wars spread across borders, resulting in innumerable fatalities. LFTTWTCOI was conveniently placed to arm civilians (from both sides) and fatten its coffers significantly.
Count two: War profiteering arising from supplying armaments to countries fighting over ownership of scarce resources.
LFTTWTCOI was incorporated when Isabel was an undergraduate at university: her way of thumbing her nose at ‘tree-huggers’ and environmental conservation fanatic classmates. She had always scoffed at the zeal with which biodiversity proponents peddled their agendas, being a firm believer in the ‘get what you can, while you can,’ ideology. Initially, she was a sole proprietor whose Bachelor’s degree in Computer Hardware Engineering enabled her to repair damaged or discarded computers and export them to third world countries. Within three years, she had employed experts in home electronics and motor vehicle repairs, raking in staggering amounts through the export of almost-obsolete goods. Conservationists railed against this business owing to the imports’ short life span and a dearth of properly regulated disposal mechanisms for them. On many occasions, LFTTWTCOI’s lawyers successfully defended the company’s CEO against accusations of profiting at the expense of the environment.
Isabel was unfazed. Let the importers deal with the eventual breakdown and disposal of her cheap exports. It wasn’t her fault that these underdeveloped countries couldn’t do anything for themselves. She was fulfilling a need, having identified a niche market. If these third-worlders would only motivate themselves to become producers instead of consumers, they would not need to import anything from LFTTWTCOI. In fact, Isabel was being benevolent by selling castoffs at such reasonable prices.
Count one: Involuntary manslaughter. Improper E-waste disposal over several decades contributed to drastic climate change due to chemicals (sulphur dioxide) released when the waste was eventually burned. This led to the acid rains of 2031, with the poisonous deluge killing as many as 650,000 people in East Africa’s slums. The appalling number of fatalities stemmed from the disintegration of makeshift slum dwellings under the onslaught of highly concentrated acid rain. Victims of the freak storm suffered sixth degree burns on their bodies, with resulting deaths being described by incensed human rights organizations, as the largest capitalistic genocide in history.
LFTTWTCOI enjoyed immense success with exports, and Isabel’s occasional vacation forays into her destination markets opened up whole new opportunities for even more profitable partnerships. One such joint venture was with Beauty Within Mother Earth Incorporated
(BWME), a mining conglomerate which focused on extracting gemstones such as the rare Tsavorite garnet from Kenya’s protected Twende National Park. The communities which lived adjacent to Twende vehemently protested at not benefitting from the mining on their land, which was carried out without clear government regulations. BWME Inc. acquired the rights to prospect for minerals in Twende and other mineral-rich areas, from the administrative centres of Kenya’s capital city Nairobi, in a hasty process criticized for its zero community participation.
Locals were excluded from their ancestral lands by licences which gave BWME the power to hive off large tracts of acreage. Other small-scale local miners were also forced out of business due to the economies of scale advantage held by the conglomerates. When community anger reached a crescendo, BWME took to tokenism – hiring local underage school drop-outs to silence disgruntled, starving families. Operations were finally shelved after too many explosives were used in a mine-blasting incident which resulted in the deaths of 200 child labour providers. The Commission of Inquiry into this incident unearthed a host of ugly human rights abuses perpetrated on the communities over several decades. Count three: Corporate human rights abuses
LFTTWTCOI was listed as a blue chip company within five years of its formation, a recordbreaking feat that was dissected in renowned business schools, social media and across the world. Isabel Traveller was hailed as the epitome of modern femininity, although a consensus could not be reached as to whether she had more beauty than brains. Like all other large manufacturers, LFTTWTCOI was required to balance profits with maintaining, or restoration of the environment. The 1990 cap-and-trade bipartisan Congress program for sulphur dioxide was one of the market-based approaches adapted by companies to cut emissions.
LFTTWTCOI was vehemently against these expensive carbon pricing plans to curb greenhouse gas emissions, rejecting clean energy sources which sliced into the bottom line. Isabel Traveller authorized the transfer of all major operations from the United States to Africa, where the company’s operations flouted the requirement for paying carbon taxes (paid per ton by emitters of greenhouse gases) and made no effort to take up other environmental justice responsibilities such as setting up carbon sinks or reducing taxes on personal income or businesses.
Count four: Violation of duty of care under Kenyan law and human rights obligations.
Whilst delivering the guilty verdict, Chief Justice Paula called out the impunity which marred all LFTTWTCOI’s operations.
“Your non-existent action against pollution and climate change, as well as harmful practices seen in your mining and recent oil-rig operations in Turkana grossly violated your duty of care to the residents of those areas, human and non-human.”
The Deputy Chief Justice reprimanded Isabel’s rigid stance against the adoption of Plug-in electric vehicles in her zeal to exploit her company’s thriving oil fields.
“Direct vehicle emissions include smog-forming pollutants (such as nitrogen oxides), other pollutants harmful to humans, and greenhouse gases (GHGs), primarily carbon dioxide. The defendant could have opted for Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs), which have a gasoline engine in addition to an electric motor. They are more efficient than conventional vehicles and produce fewer tailpipe emissions, even when relying on gasoline.”
“In light of direct, cumulative and harmful practices by LFTTWTCOI Ltd. and others enjoined in this suit – practices which have been determined to nearly obliterate what is left of the ozone layer, this court feels it mandatory to pass a significantly deterrent sentence, even as we work to save our dying planet,” read Chief Justice Paula. “The sustainability of once thriving agricultural sectors is almost impossible, which translates to zero food security. This will exacerbate the vicious cycle of ugly wars. Due to these inculpatory circumstances, this court sentences you to death by continued exposure to the sun from 9 a.m. tomorrow, for a minimum of six hours. As there is no possibility for appeal, the sentence will be executed immediately. Sentencing of the other co-defendants will commence in two days.” The Chief Justice banged her gavel to dismiss the court, while reporters hurried out to post ‘Breaking News’ on social media.
Isabel Traveller sat, head bowed, pondering what would doubtless be a drawn out, agonizing death: blistering, reddened skin, pain and tingling, swollen body, headache, dizziness, cracked skin and severe dehydration. She murdered Earth. Earth took revenge.