Suing Big Oil for Climate Change

Thu, 2008-02-28 18:42Mitchell Anderson
Mitchell Anderson's picture

Suing Big Oil for Climate Change

You can sue someone for damaging your car, your house or your health.

Why not your climate? 

That’s the weighty question being asked by a small community in Alaska in a court case filed today in San Francisco against a raft of major oil companies, including Exxon Mobil.
 
The Village of Kivalina, and the local Inuit band, filed their claim on the basis that Exxonmobil, eight other oil companies, fourteen power companies and one coal company have all contributed to radical and expensive changes to the local climate caused by global warming.
 
Kivalina is a native community of less than 400 people on an island in the Bearing Sea that depends on salmon fishing and hunting. The settlement has been protected for generations by sea ice that shields the area from powerful winter storms. Less ice due to a rapidly changing climate has greatly increased the rate of erosion and storm damage, forcing the community to consider relocating at a cost of more than $400 million.
 
“We are seeing accelerated erosion because of the loss of sea ice,” City Administrator Janet Mitchell said in a statement. “We normally have ice starting in October, but now we have open water even into December so our island is not protected from the storms.”
 
If this novel lawsuit proves successful it could spell big trouble for the fossil fuel industry. For decades, Big Oil has been using the atmosphere as a free dumping ground for carbon dioxide. But as they say, there’s no free lunch.
 
Tort lawyers are a uniquely vicious species, especially against industries with deep pockets that are selling dangerous products, and lying about it.
 
For instance, the tobacco industry deceived the public, government and media for decades about the dangerous side effects of using their product. Sound familiar? A series of public and private lawsuits against Big Tobacco have so far extracted about $10 billion annually in the US alone in settlements to pay for burdens of smoking on the health care system.
 
The difference is that Big Oil makes Big Tobacco look like a corner store. The fossil fuel industry worldwide is worth about $8 trillion annually. That is five to six times the size of the next biggest industrial sector – cars. Corporate pockets don’t get any deeper than that.
 
Potential legal settlements in future climate change lawsuits might be astronomically larger than comparatively puny tobacco settlements. The former chief economist of the World Bank, Sir Nicholas Stern estimates that unabated climate change could shrink the global economy by up 20%.  That works out to about $12 trillion each year. Those are the kind of numbers that make any tort lawyer lick their chops.
 
Keep an eye on this small but important lawsuit hailing from a tiny village in Alaska. Things could get interesting.  

Previous Comments

A few comments on this post.

For decades, Big Oil has been using the atmosphere as a free dumping ground for carbon dioxide.

Hmmm. Big Oil produces oil. We consume it. Statistically, we as individuals are the biggest polluters. Should Kivalina add us to the lawsuit?

The fossil fuel industry worldwide is worth about $8 trillion annually. That is five to six times the size of the next biggest industrial sector – cars. Corporate pockets don’t get any deeper than that.

Hmmm. Supports my contention that this lawsuit is simply about extorting money from profitable businesses. If you’re gonna rob a bank, pick the one with the most cash.

Keep an eye on this small but important lawsuit hailing from a tiny village in Alaska. Things could get interesting.

Well, under the laws of public nuisance, every entity that contributes to the C02 problem would be liable, not simply the ones cherrypicked here. So if the lawsuit ended up being successful, it would first have to be amended to sue nearly every person and individual on the planet. Interesting indeed.

The best things in life are free
But you can keep ‘em for the birds and bees
Now give me money, (that’s what I want) that’s what I want…

“Big Oil produces oil. We consume it. Statistically, we as individuals are the biggest polluters.”

Evidence?

“Supports my contention that this lawsuit is simply about extorting money from profitable businesses.”

In other words, big businesses are rich, therefore any effort to get big businesses to pay up is “extortion”. Conclusion: big businesses can never be wrong!

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Frank Bi, http://globaldumbing.tk

“Hmmm. Big Oil produces oil. We consume it. Statistically, we as individuals are the biggest polluters.”

Ummm, the tar sands are the single biggest polluter in Canada, if not worldwide.

The biggest emissions of C02 are not from the production of oil, but from the consumption of oil. Statistically, we who use oil and oil products, are the largest emitters of C02.

Again, where’s your evidence?

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Frank Bi, http://globaldumbing.tk

Incredibly, Frank seems to think oil production is a net consumer of energy.

“Globaldumbing”, indeed.

“The biggest emissions of C02 are not from the production of oil, but from the consumption of oil.” – Paul S/G

I still don’t see any facts forthcoming to support this claim. And rob isn’t providing any facts either.

- - -

Besides, this claim is a red herring anyway. Oil consumers aren’t the ones funding astroturf groups. Oil consumers aren’t the ones giving money to the Heartland Institute to hold their advertorializing “scientific” “conference”. Oil consumers aren’t the ones putting crappy ads on TV promoting bogus “science”.

It’s oil producers like ExxonMobil who are doing these things. It’s oil producers who are going out of their way to deceive the public. All this stuff is well-documented, and well-known… too bad for ya deniers.

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By the way Paul, it’s CO2 – carbon(C) di(2)-oxide(O), not C-zero-two. But since when did a denialist need to understand this basic stuff?

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Frank Bi, http://globaldumbing.tk

We will always require and use an increasing amount of fossil fuels because for most all application, there are no suitable substitutes with the requiste chemical and physical properties. For example, boats, planes, freight trains and trucks, emergency vehicles, mining, construction, agricultural machines, cars with spirit and muscle (i.e., V-8 engines), snowmobles, motorcycles, etc will always use hydrocarbon fuels because these fuels have high energy density. If you have a schemes to replace these fuels, I am quite sure the engineers who design engines would be happy to learn of it.

Other heavy hitters that will always use fossil fuels are lime and cement kilns, all plants making ceramics, metal smelters, foundries and metal casting plants, all food processing and distribution, space and water heating especially in countries with cold winter climates, cooking and baking, etc.

Frank, you are suffering from such severe carbon dioxide
anoxia your brain no longer functions properly.

Consider this: No liquid fossil fuels, no pro sports.

I am surprised that you have such a low opinion of human ingenuity, Mr Pierce. The fact of the matter is that fossil fuels are a finite resource, and whether or not AGW were an issue, sooner or later we would HAVE to come up with an alternative. Following your logic that there is no substitute and we will use more and more all the time, it will run out even faster. You’ve heard of “peak oil”?

If we assume that we can carry on as usual we’ll be in for the mother of all shocks when the last of the gas drips from the pump and the wheels of industry grind to a halt. For my part I have great optimism that we are capable of overcoming the problems that you cite as insurmountable. Otherwise we might as well party like it’s 2200, because it will all be over soon.

Fern Mackenzie

Hello Fern!

Peak oil refers only to convential oil which can be recovered by primary, secondary and tertiary methods. It does no include unconvential oil or synthetic oil made from coal. Presently, there an estimated 1.5 trillion barrels that can be readily recovered by convential methods.

Unconvential oil refers to heavy oil, extra heavy oil, tar sands and oil shale. There are estimated 15 trillion barrels of oil equivalent in these reserves. For more info, GO: htpp://www.heavyoilinfo.com.

Synthetic oil can always be made from coal as Germany did on a massive scale during WW II. South Africa uses this same process to provide 40% of its liquid hydrocarbons. Google “SASOL

BTW, I just happen to be one of those ingenious organic chemists. You give me earth, air, water and fire and I will turn limestone into all the high octane gasoline that you could ever possibly use.

HPJ said: “I just happen to be one of those ingenious organic chemists. You give me earth, air, water and fire and I will turn limestone into all the high octane gasoline that you could ever possibly us”.

Harold, you do realize that hydrocarbons contain very high levels of chemical energy? The material you suggest may be used as starting materials contain either zero energy (limestone) or very little energy.

What mythical source of energy are you going to mix into your alchemist brew to convert zero energy into high energy gasoline?

Did you do your thesis on transformation of lead into gold by any chance?

You are a disgrace to organic chemists with the nonesense you put out on the internet.

Still recovering from your spanking over at RealClimate? (http://preview.tinyurl.com/2putxy)

Ian Forrester

The Four Elements will bring on the Four Horsemen …

Fern Mackenzie

Never heard of the Subway Series?
All 15 of them?
Of course the first one in 1889 should be called a Trolley Series…
Harold…before you say something, be sure you know what your talking about…

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