Restorative justice and the BP catastrophe
Jun 30, 2010
The BP disaster demands justice. People are looking for asses to kick, ways to make BP–or the government—pay for their failures. Some have argued that we are all to blame because we use fossil fuels. Others argue that the oil industry is solely liable because they were negligent, under-prepared and greedy. These are all demands for a kind of justice that requires retribution. Punish the perps. I share the rage but I think this catastrophe calls for another larger kind of justice. Restorative Justice.
Restorative Justice is a theory of justice that “emphasizes repairing the harm caused or revealed by unjust behavior.”
The focus of restorative justice is to heal relationships, and make the victim whole. In the case of the oil hemorrhage in the Gulf the list of victims (or future plaintiffs, if you will) is long. The Ocean herself, all the sea creatures, the residents of the Gulf, and future generations, have suffered unspeakable damage from the Deepwater Horizon explosion. Restorative justice would assign blame as a way to allocate responsibility for the actions necessary to restore the environment, to restore all the relationships that are woven into the Ocean and coast. All of them.
Many key voices have called for the precautionary principle to be employed so that something like this never happens again. Essentially the principle is an ethic of refraining from doing harm. It is another expression of the Golden Rule that says, “Do unto others as you would have them do to you.” This ethic is reflected in the concept of Restorative Justice. How should we behave when the damage has already happened? First we apply the precautionary principle to prevent any more harm and then we restore the environment so the cascade of damage can be stopped.