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California sues oil giants, saying they downplayed climate change for decades: NPR

In this aerial photo taken Aug. 21, a vehicle wades through floodwaters following heavy rains from Tropical Storm Hilary in Thousand Palms, California.

Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images

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Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images

In this aerial photo taken Aug. 21, a vehicle wades through floodwaters following heavy rains from Tropical Storm Hilary in Thousand Palms, California.

Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images

The state of California has filed a sweeping lawsuit against Exxon Mobil, Shell, BP, ConocoPhillips and Chevron, as well as the nation’s oil industry’s largest lobby, the American Petroleum Institute.

The suit, filed Friday in San Francisco Superior Court, claims the companies misled the public for decades about climate change and the dangers of fossil fuels. It requires companies to help fund recovery efforts related to extreme weather events in California, from sea level rise to drought and wildfires, which have been amplified by human-caused climate change .

“Oil and gas companies have privately known the truth for decades – that burning fossil fuels leads to climate change – but have fed us lies and untruths to increase their record profits at the expense of our environment. Enough, “enough is enough,” said California Attorney General Rob Bonta.

Oil and gas companies already face dozens of lawsuits from states and localities for their role in climate change. California’s case adds to legal threats facing the U.S. oil and gas industry, forcing fossil fuel companies to defend themselves against the U.S.’s largest economy and a major oil-producing state.

“California’s decision to sue Big Oil is a watershed moment in the growing legal fight to hold major polluters accountable for decades of climate lies,” said Richard Wiles, president of the Center for Climate Integrity. , a group focused on fossil fuel ownership. oil companies responsible for their role in driving climate change.

“Whether it’s wildfires, droughts, extreme heat or sea level rise, Californians are living in a climate emergency caused by the fossil fuel industry, and now the state is taking action. decisive action to make these polluters pay,” added Wiles.

Why now?

The lawsuit comes after years of extreme weather events that have battered California’s economy and killed its residents. Over the past year, California has been inundated by record heat, explosive wildfires, unusual bouts of heavy rain and snow, and sea level rise that threatened the state’s coasts – disasters which, according to studies, have been made more likely or more intense due to climate. change.

California filed a lawsuit against Exxon and other oil and gas companies just a day later The Wall Street Journal reported that Exxon executives have continued in recent years to express internal doubts about the dangers of climate change and the need to reduce oil and gas consumption, even though the company has publicly acknowledged that burning Fossil fuels contribute to global warming.

These efforts within Exxon, which continued through 2016, according to Newspaper, occurred just as the company’s scientists were modeling worrying increases in carbon dioxide emissions without significant reductions in fossil fuel consumption. THE Newspaper cited internal company documents that were part of a New York state lawsuit and interviews with former executives.

In response to Newspaper In that article, an Exxon spokesperson told NPR that the company has repeatedly acknowledged that “climate change is real and we have an entire company dedicated to reducing emissions – ours and those of others. others”.

Wiles said in a statement this week that the documents Newspaper discovered will likely be used against Exxon in court.

What are the allegations?

In the 135-page California complaint, the state claims that oil and gas executives knew at least since the 1960s that greenhouse gases produced by fossil fuels would warm the planet and change the climate. According to the complaint, industry-funded reports have themselves directly linked fossil fuel consumption to rising global temperatures, as well as damage to air, land and water.

Despite this, oil companies have intentionally suppressed information from the public and policy makers, it even goes so far as to invest billions to sow doubt and spread disinformation on climate change, says the State.

“Their deception delayed the societal response to global warming,” the complaint states. “And their misconduct has resulted in enormous costs to people, property and natural resources that continue to occur every day.”

The state further accuses oil companies of continuing to mislead the public today about the science and reality of climate change, adding that the industry’s investments in clean fuels and renewable energy are “nonexistent or minuscule.” compared to the resources devoted to the expansion of their fossil resources. fuel production.

How are businesses responding?

Ryan Meyers, general counsel for the American Petroleum Institute, defended oil and gas companies and their commitment to reducing their environmental footprint, adding that climate policy should be left for Congress “to debate and decide, not the court system “.

“This ongoing, coordinated campaign to bring politicized and baseless lawsuits against a fundamental American industry and its workers is nothing more than a distraction from important national conversations and a huge waste of California taxpayer resources,” he said. Meyers said.

Similarly, Shell spokesperson Anna Arata told NPR that the company agrees that climate change must be addressed, but that it must be done collaboratively and not through legal action.

“We do not believe that the courtroom is the appropriate place to address climate change, but that smart government policy and action from all sectors is the appropriate way to find solutions and move things forward ” she said in a statement.

Exxon, Chevron, BP and ConocoPhillips did not immediately respond to NPR’s request for comment.

Why Exxon?

Previous investigations found that Exxon worked for decades to sow confusion about climate change, even though its own scientists began warning executives as early as 1977 that carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels were warming the planet. , thus posing serious risks to human beings.

A study at the start of the year in the journal Nature found that Exxon scientists had modeled global warming trends with “shocking levels of skill and precision,” according to the lead author.

Despite warnings from its own scientists, Exxon led and funded a highly effective campaign for more than 30 years that sowed doubt about human-caused climate change and the science behind it.

United Nations scientists say the world is running out of time to prevent global warming that would have even more dangerous consequences, like storms and heat waves. Climatologists say people need to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit). The world is currently heading towards warming of around 2.5 degrees Celsius.

Climate change is making California wildfires more explosive. Over the past two years, the threat of wildfires has led several major insurance companies to reduce their homeowners insurance business in the state or stop selling new policies altogether in order to avoid paying premiums. billion in damages.


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