This month a group of U.S. Senators filed a legal brief seeking to re-instate a lawsuit by California cities, including Oakland and San Francisco (Oakland, SF Appeal for Reinstatement of Climate Change Lawsuits Against 5 Oil Companies), to hold major oil companies accountable for climate change.
The senators want the courts to hear a lawsuit that seeks to require five companies (Chevron, BP, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and Shell) to pay some of the costs of rising sea levels, like building seawalls, and any other costs the cities can blame on climate change and oil companies.
The hypocrisy and irony of the climate change lawsuits (as well as the unfortunate – but to-be-expected – sloppy news coverage in the San Francisco Chronicle) is overwhelming. (That is not to say climate change itself is the basis of a hypocrisy, however – it’s very real.)
When U.S. District Judge William Alsup threw out the cities’ climate change lawsuits last year, he noted, “Having reaped the benefits of that historic progress, would it really be fair to now ignore our own responsibility in the use of fossil fuels and place the blame for global warming on those who supplied what we demanded?” He said it was a question properly directed to policymakers in Congress and the White House.
Judge Alsup got it. We are all to blame for climate change and we have all benefited from petroleum and oil-products that are part of the very fabric of modern life. Each of us has to find a way to reduce our carbon footprint and thereby reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Ironically, the cities attempting to sue to get money from the oil companies are some of the largest users of oil products and other energy sources that impact our environment. Yet, they want to sue the companies for very products that they (and their citizens) depend upon to survive and to travel to work, their police and fire departments use for public safety, their elected leaders use to get to public meetings, and, in most cases, that they have invested their employees’ pension funds in.
The cities, including Oakland, who have clearly demanded their U.S. Senators apply political, legal, and media pressure to reinstate their lawsuit, are more interested in creating a public relations fight then they are in finding a real solution to the very complex issue of global warming.
The oil companies, including California’s progressive Chevron Corporation, have acknowledged that climate change is real and that human activity contributes to it. So, instead of fighting thoughtful companies like Chevron, which understand, accept, and are attempting to reduce emissions and climate change impacts, why don’t the cities work together, with oil companies, with communities, with Congress, to develop sound policies to limit climate change impacts?
The “leave it in the ground” philosophy of anti-oil zealots is preposterous. None of us could exist a day without the benefits and products produced by oil companies. The demand for gasoline and oil products will continue even under the most aggressive efforts in a low-carbon future. And demand for the use of coal will not go away soon, even as activists rob Oakland of much-needed basic jobs by opposing development of the Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal in West Oakland, or bullying its developers, Phil Tagami and Insight Terminal Solutions.
A constructive route forward must include global solutions like the Paris Agreement, balanced policies that ensure that long-term economic, environmental and energy security needs are met, continued innovation of new technologies and alternative forms of energy, and thoughtful policy-making that recognizes that oil and alternative forms of energy can peacefully co-exist, and will co-exist, for decades, if not centuries, to come.
It’s time for cities like Oakland, and anti-oil extremists, to put aside their propaganda, lawsuits, and public relations campaigns, and get real. Litigation and vilification are neither an honest nor a constructive way to solve climate change issues. Climate change is a global issue requiring governmental policy decisions that cannot be made by local courts. Let’s work together to reduce global warming and save the world for future generations, rather than engage in a fight in which no one wins.
The truth in all of this, one that no one talks about, is that global warming is a function of the Earth’s total human population: its rise is due to the increase in the number of people on the planet. But here’s the catch: increases in economic wealth and education are proven factors in humanly reducing the rate of population growth. Maybe the focus should be on improving the World’s standard of living, rather than denying others the right to have a good standard of living?
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