Payload from North Korea Test Rocket Lands in Pacific Ocean; My Plea for International Environmental Regulation for Pollution Prevention and Green Commerce

So, the Pacific Ocean is becoming more and more like a landfill every day.

We’ve heard all week about North Korea’s plans to launch a test rocket. Today, they did. Obama looks pissed and says they should be punished. “Rules must be binding. Violations must be punished. Words must mean something.”

And… that’s why the U.S. hasn’t ratified pretty much any treaty the U.N. drafts up.

This including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which entered into force in 1994, partly to arrange for states’ rights to natural resources and responsibilities for pollution prevention. Two countries among the group that signed on but did not ratify the convention: the United States and North Korea (along such fellow countries as landlocked Niger and Chad). 

I’m sure Obama’s interest in rules and enforcement relates primarily to getting the UN Security Council to punish North Korea for its nose-thumbing at international peace and security. But I have to wonder if the U.S.’s economic decline is going to increase U.S. interest in international treaties – not just for security, but for environmental rules, too. I think the purpose of this is two-fold: first, providing increased coordination in regulation of pollution prevention and environmental protection for concerns that necessarily travel across borders (water, pollution, air). Second, the facilitation of economic activities with some standardization to promote exports would solve problems for organic farmers, ranchers, and beekeepers and promote international product safety and stewardship.

So far, we’ve ignored the 1979 Moon Treaty (declaring the Moon to be the “common heritage of mankind”) with our national security policy of exploiting the Moon’s resources (to be fair, The Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies had just upwards of 3 signatories). A lot of little tokens with the Russian emblem are now littered all over the surface of the Moon. We’ve shot lead-filled bullets all over the Gulf. We’ve blown giant potholes in Afghanistan. In pursuit of an enemy, nobody stops to think about the havoc wreaked on the planet (and maybe rightly so – a country’s job is, after all, primarily to protect the citizens in its custody – it’s easier to look at short-term military protection than long-term environmental protection). 

And this is why I think a little international environmental rule making could be a very good thing. I know not to hold my breath for environmental enforcement, but a little rule making a-la-the-U.S.-Constitutional-Commerce-Clause could go a long way. With China testing Johnson & Johnson baby shampoo for carcinogens, water becoming a world commodity, and climate change crossing borders, coordinated treatment of international commerce and pollution could prevent a lot of expensive, deadly mistakes and abuses – not to mention confusion created by multitudes of commercial standards.

Just as the world needs to unite to prevent genocide effectively, environmental protection is a truly international concern that will need coordination and basic agreement.

In other absurd news about international dumping, the March 2009 issue of Harpers details archaeologists’ quest to find Star Wars sets littered across the world (and finds that some have turned into chicken coops in Tunisia).  Read more about the article from Above the Convenience Store.

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