Saturday, April 26, 2014

Want to Stop Climate Change?  Take the Fossil Fuel Industry to Court

Demonstrators gather during a protest against the Keystone XL Pipeline outside the White House on Sunday, November 6, 2011, in Washington. (Credit: AP Photo/Evan Vucci) Click to enlarge.
In November 2013, American climate scientist Richard Heede, of the Colorado-based Climate Accountability Institute, published a paper with a revolutionary thesis. After nine years of researching the energy industry in dozens of countries, he concluded that nearly two-thirds of the world’s carbon dioxide and methane emissions dating back to the dawn of the industrial era were the responsibility of just ninety companies. Heede called them the “carbon majors.”

Not surprisingly, the biggest players were publicly owned fossil fuel corporations like Exxon-Mobil and Chevron, along with state-held or nationalized energy monopolies in countries like Russia and Saudi Arabia. Just five investor-owned companies—BP, Chevron, Conoco-Phillips, ExxonMobil and Shell—produced enough fossil fuel to account for 12.5 percent of human-generated CO2 since 1854.  Seven of the carbon majors are cement manufacturers, a particularly noxious, carbon-intensive industry.  The eighty-three energy producers on Heede’s list extracted, refined and marketed the oil, gas and coal that have powered modern civilization.  Along the way, they started the process that will ultimately cause our climate system to crash.

“The anti-tobacco guys lost and lost and lost in court for decades—until they won,” says Kert Davies, who worked on the breakthrough case on behalf of Oakland, Boulder and other cities while a researcher at Greenpeace.  “That’s point number one.  Plus, advocates like me can say that we don’t care if we win as long as we make a point.

“We want to influence the court of public opinion,” Davies continues.  “We have to educate people about the truth after all this industry disinformation.  So let the lawsuits produce documents and testimony and all sorts of information for the public.  That’s one of their functions.  That’s where the tobacco wars were won.  Even [Representative Henry] Waxman’s famous tobacco hearings in Congress—the tobacco execs never admitted anything.  You didn’t need to get to that.  By the time they left the hearing room, they were already pariahs.  We’d seen through them.”

Want to Stop Climate Change?  Take the Fossil Fuel Industry to Court

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