THIS IS VERY SERIOUS
There is only one thing that is a greater threat, and therefore more frightening, than global warming itself and that is the imminent potential for a Trump-initiated nuclear war (see We are sleepwalking toward war with North Korea) that would, among all of its other immediate, incomprehensible horrors, totally derail any and all hope of redressing global warming, ever.
This website was created as a platform for the Grandchildren’s Fund for a Fossil Fuel Free Future initiative. It was not intended to address the threat of nuclear war.
(On this page — and on this site in general — bold text that turns this color when you point at it with your mouse, may be clicked to expand for additional detail.)
What is the Grandchildren's Fund for a Fossil Fuel Free Future?
The Grandchildren’s Fund for a Fossil Fuel Free Future is currently being founded as a 501(c)(3) organization for the purpose of suing the fossil fuel profiteers — the oil and gas drilling and refining conglomerates, the coal mining and processing conglomerates, the carbon-based electrical production utilities, their institutional investors (hedge funds, brokerages, banks, pension funds, university endowments, etc.), their trade associations, their allied foundations and think tanks, and their paid-for congressional hearings expert witnesses — for damages to the health and welfare of our grandchildren, the youth of today and tomorrow.
The very simple premise of the Grandchildren’s Fund for a Fossil Fuel Free Future is that those parties who have created the problem and benefited financially from it should be held accountable to recompense the injuries they have caused and to pay for fixing the problem.
Lawsuits? Why not just legislation?
In a word: Timing.
We are already well past the point of being able to make any kind of gradual and comfortable transition from our current global fossil fuel economy to the renewable energy economy necessary for sustaining Earthly life as we know it. This is not to say we cannot make the needed transition, only that it has to happen rapidly and drastically. (See Alex Steffen’s series, The Last Decade, where he explains that no response to global warming can be effective at this point if it is not fundamentally disruptive. ‘Everything we love is at risk, unless we build a faster, more disruptive and more visionary climate movement, now.’)
There are three key ways the fossil fuel economy can be disrupted and all three depend upon forcing the fossil fuel conglomerates to change their business practices.
Governments can pass laws to make fossil fuel exploitation less profitable and renewable energy development more profitable. In the current political climate of the United States, this may take many years.
Proactive investors can starve the fossil fuel conglomerates by redirecting their funding to renewable energy ventures. This is already beginning to happen (for recent examples: Norway, Netherlands, The World Bank, New York State, and New York City) and can be expected to happen more and more precipitously.
Tort law provides that a person or party who has been injured by another person or party, intentionally or not, may bring suit for and be awarded compensatory damages.
This means that the fossil fuel conglomerates can be held financialy accountable for the past, present, and future damages they have caused and are causing to the environment, to societal infrastructure, and to human health and welfare. These lawsuits will be astronomical in scale and can be expected to take years to fully play out, but, in the course of this process, as the fossil fuel conglomerates become recognized as being actually vulnerable to these damages, their projected profitability will plummet and their investors will abandon them in disruptive droves. When this time comes, this could happen in months, weeks, or even days.
These three approaches are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they are synergistic. In this regard, litigation, which has the benefit of being able to be initiated rapidly and unilaterally, has the potential to drive the agenda and timing for both divestment and legislation.
Have lawsuits been tried before?
There have been many lawsuits brought against fossil fuel companies in recent years and months.
2004 - 2011. American Electric Power Co. v. Connecticut
‘American Electric Power Company v. Connecticut, 564 U.S. 410 (2011), was a United States Supreme Court case in which the Court, in an 8 – 0 decision, held that corporations cannot be sued for greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) under federal common law, primarily because the Clean Air Act (CAA) delegates the management of carbon dioxide and other GHG emissions to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Brought to court in July 2004 in the Southern District of New York, this was the first global warming case based on a public nuisance claim.’ (See Wikipedia, December 21, 2017, American Electric Power Co. v. Connecticut)
Interestingly, the systematic stripping of the EPA’s power and authority by the Trump administration may have the effect of nullifying this ‘protection’ for the fossil fuel conglomerates in future legal cases.
2006 - 2007. Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency
‘WASHINGTON, April 2, (2007) In one of its most important environmental decisions in years, the Supreme Court ruled on Monday that the Environmental Protection Agency has the authority to regulate heat-trapping gases in automobile emissions. The court further ruled that the agency could not sidestep its authority to regulate the greenhouse gases that contribute to global climate change unless it could provide a scientific basis for its refusal.
‘The 5-to-4 decision was a strong rebuke to the Bush administration, which has maintained that it does not have the right to regulate carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases under the Clean Air Act, and that even if it did, it would not use the authority. The ruling does not force the environmental agency to regulate auto emissions, but it would almost certainly face further legal action if it failed to do so.’
(See New York Times, April 3, 2007, Justices Say E.P.A. Has Power to Act on Harmful Gases)
2007. California v. General Motors Corp.
‘California v. General Motors Corp. (2007), the state sued a group of car companies for monetary damages resulting from GHG emissions, however, that case was dismissed.’
(See Louis Spanias’ dissertation Probablistic Event Attribution and the Best-Case Scenario for a Successful Climate Tort in the United Kingdom)
2008 - 2009. Native Village of Kivalina v. ExxonMobil Corporation, et al.
‘Kivalina v. ExxonMobil Corporation, et al. is a lawsuit filed on February 26, 2008, in a United States district court. The suit, based on the common law theory of nuisance, claims monetary damages from the energy industry for the destruction of Kivalina, Alaska by flooding caused by climate change. The damage estimates made by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Government Accountability Office are placed between $95 million and $400 million. This lawsuit is an example of greenhouse gas emission liability.
‘The suit was dismissed by the United States district court on September 30, 2009, on the grounds that regulating greenhouse emissions was a political rather than a legal issue and one that needed to be resolved by Congress and the Administration rather than by courts. An appeal was filed with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in November 2009. In September 2012, the panel of appeals judges decided not to reinstate the case. The city appealed the court of appeals decision to the U.S. Supreme Court and on May 20, 2013 the Supreme Court justices decided not hear the case, effectively ending the city’s legal claim.’
(See Wikipedia, December 21, 2017, Kivalina v. ExxonMobil Corp)
2011. Comer v. Murphy Oil
‘Comer v. Murphy Oil (2011) sought to remedy damages from fossil fuel and chemical companies on the basis that their emissions were responsible for intensifying Hurricane Katrina, but the case went nowhere and failed in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals’
(See Louis Spanias’ dissertation Probablistic Event Attribution and the Best-Case Scenario for a Successful Climate Tort in the United Kingdom)
2015 - ongoing. Juliana v. United States
FLASH! from April 12, 2018 Our Children’s Trust email – “This morning, the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon set October 29, 2018 as the first day of trial in the landmark constitutional climate lawsuit brought by 21 American youth against the U.S. government. Today’s development follows multiple rulings issued in favor of the youth plaintiffs in Juliana v. United States.”
The Juliana v. U.S. lawsuit “seeks to hold the government accountable for the cumulative impact on the environment from decades of unfettered federal support for projects like the Alaskan pipeline. [Attorney Phil Gregory’s] clients, a group of nearly two dozen children now aged 10 to 21, say the current planet-threatening level of carbon dioxide (CO2) was foreseen decades ago by the federal government, and could and should have been the subject of federal planning and mitigation. Failure to do so, they say, has violated the constitutional rights of future generations to ‘life, liberty, and property.’ ‘¦
That right has been violated by the federal government, they charge, because various federal entities: one, knew of the risk of CO2 emission; two, knew they had the power to halt the dangerous rise in CO2 levels; and three, knowingly failed for decades to protect the earth from reaching catastrophic CO2 levels.”
(See Santa Clara Magazine, September 7, 2017, The Most Important Lawsuit on the Planet)
Our Children's Trust - Juliana v. U.S. + 50 states + other countries
Our Children’s Trust is the organization that is pursuing the Juliana v. U.S. lawsuit, along with Earth Guardians. In addition, Our Children’s Trust is coordinating with children’s lawsuits in all 50 states as well as a number of foreign countries.
Other Proceedings in All 50 States
‘Beginning in 2011, Our Children’s Trust supported youth around the United States in bringing legal action in the courts and state administrative agencies of their states, to advance science-based climate recovery action at the state level. Depending on the circumstances of each state, either a lawsuit was filed in court, or a petition for administrative rule making was brought before the appropriate state agency. These actions were variously addressed by the courts and agencies, and are now in resulting phases of development. The prior proceedings, state actions and/or current status is described in detail for each state. Please click on your state below to learn more.’
(See Other Proceedings in All 50 States for a clickable list of states.)
Global Legal Actions
‘Our Children’s Trust is working to support youth and attorneys around the world who are developing and advancing legal actions to compel science-based government action on climate change in their own countries, which will protect present and future generations. The success of our partners include Norway’s successful adoption of a public trust-based constitutional climate amendment; Urgenda’s big court win in the Netherlands mandating specific national emission reductions; and the Supreme Court of Pakistan allowing young Rabab Ali’s constitutional climate case to proceed on behalf of the public and future generations. We streamline our global work by cultivating relationships with partnering attorneys and youth who lead the efforts in their countries and to whom we provide legal, outreach, and communications support. Click on a country below to learn more.’
(See Global Legal Actions for a clickable list of countries.)
2015. Urgenda Foundation v. The State of the Netherlands
“A court in The Hague has ordered the Dutch government to cut its emissions by at least 25% within five years, in a landmark ruling expected to cause ripples around the world.
“To cheers and hoots from climate campaigners in court, three judges ruled that government plans to cut emissions by just 14 – 17% compared to 1990 levels by 2020 were unlawful, given the scale of the threat posed by climate change. ‘¦
‘In what was the first climate liability suit brought under human rights and tort law, Judge Hans Hofhuis told the court that the threat posed by global warming was severe and acknowledged by the Dutch government in international pacts.’
(See The Guardian, June 24, 2015, Dutch government ordered to cut carbon emissions in landmark ruling)
2017 - ongoing. Counties of San Mateo and Marin, and City of Imperial Beach, California
“While Washington dithers, the courthouse could become the next battleground against climate change. San Mateo and Marin counties, along with San Diego County’s Imperial Beach, filed lawsuits Monday against 37 oil, gas and coal companies, accusing them of ramping up extraction of fossil fuels for decades even though they knew the resulting carbon pollution would have devastating effects on the planet.
“To anyone who followed the long legal fight against Big Tobacco, the arguments have a familiar ring. The plaintiffs claim the defendants:
- Have known for 50 years that their products contribute to global warming and ‘those impacts could be catastrophic and that only a narrow window existed to take action before the consequences would not be reversible.’
- Despite that knowledge, the companies engaged in a ‘coordinated, multifront effort’ to discredit scientific evidence and created public doubt about the cause and danger of climate change.
- At the same time, they profited from ‘a massive increase in the extraction and consumption of oil, coal and natural gas.’”
(See San Francisco Chronicle, July 17, 2017, Lawsuits rise against Big Oil)
2017 - 2018. Cities of San Francisco and Oakland, California
“The cities of San Francisco and Oakland are suing some of the world’s largest oil companies over climate change, joining an emerging legal effort to hold the fossil fuel industry accountable for the damages wrought by rising seas.
“The suits, filed separately in Superior Court in San Francisco and Alameda County and announced Wednesday, claim that a slate of oil, gas and coal producers not only caused the heat-trapping gases that drove sea level rise but knowingly did so, a challenge akin to litigation against big tobacco companies in the 1990s.
“Both cities are asking the companies, which include Bay Area-based Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Shell and BP, to pay billions in compensation for past and future flooding, coastal erosion and property damage resulting from climate change.
‘The bill has come due,’ said San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera. ‘It’s time for these companies to take responsibility.’”
(See SFGate, September 20, 2017, San Francisco, Oakland sue major oil companies over rising seas)
Update, June 26, 2018: “So why throw out the lawsuit?
Well, Alsup sees a danger that worries him more than climate change — the danger of a single unelected judge deciding that countries around the world are better off without oil.
Alsup wrote that a ruling against Big Oil would trigger a cascade of other lawsuits, and eventually put petroleum producers out of business. And this, he argued, would trample on the policies of countries that are actively encouraging oil production. While the harms of fossil fuels are clear, so are the benefits, Alsup argued. “Without those fuels, virtually all of our monumental progress would have been impossible,” he wrote. “All of us have benefitted.”
San Francisco and Oakland’s lawsuit, Alsup wrote, is effectively asking the court to “conduct and control energy policy on foreign soil.” If any branch of government is going to do something as big as shutting down global oil production, Alsup reasons, it needs to be done by elected representatives, not one judge and jury making a decision for the entire world.” (See grist.com, June 26, 2018, Here’s why the Bay Area lost its lawsuit against Big Oil)
2017 - ongoing. The City and County of Santa Cruz, California
The city and county of Santa Cruz are suing 29 companies, including ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP, and Shell, not only “for the impacts of sea level rise, but also damages to the hydrologic cycle and its resulting increase in severe weather, drought and wildfire.
‘With miles of coastlines and steep, forested mountains, Santa Cruz County is particularly vulnerable to impacts from climate change,’ County Supervisor Ryan Coonerty said in a statement. ‘It’s time for Big Oil, who chose profit over people and the environment, to be held responsible. It’s time for oil companies to pay for the damage they’ve caused, rather than ask local residents to pick up all the costs associated with protecting us from sea level rise, increasing fires, and severe weather.’”
(See Climate Liability News, December 20, 2017, Latest California Climate Liability Lawsuit Filed by Santa Cruz)
2017 - ongoing. Portuguese schoolchildren crowdfunding climate change case
“Portuguese schoolchildren from the area struck by the country’s worst forest fires are seeking crowdfunding to sue 47 European countries, alleging that the states’ failure to tackle climate change threatens their right to life.
‘The children, from the Leiria region of central Portugal, where fires this summer killed more than 60 people and left hundreds injured, are being represented by British barristers who are experts in environmental and climate change law.’
(See The Guardian, September 24, 2017, Portuguese children to crowdfund European climate change case)
2017 - ongoing. Nine-year-old sues Indian government over climate change inaction
“A nine-year-old girl has filed a lawsuit against the Indian government for failing to take action on climate change, warning that young people will pay the price for the country’s inaction.
“In the petition filed with the National Green Tribunal, a special court for environment-related cases, Ridhima Pandey said the government had failed to implement its environment laws.
“‘As a young person [Ridhima] is part of a class that amongst all Indians is most vulnerable to changes in climate, yet are not part of the decision making process,’ the 52-page petition reads. It calls on the tribunal to direct the government ‘to take effective, science-based action to reduce and minimise the adverse impacts of climate change’.
‘Speaking to the Independent in the UK, Ridhima said: ‘My government has failed to take steps to regulate and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which are causing extreme climate conditions. This will impact both me and future generations.’
(See The Guardian, April 7, 2017, Nine-year-old sues Indian government over climate change inaction)
2017 - ongoing. German court to hear Peruvian farmer's climate case against RWE
“A German court has ruled that it will hear a Peruvian farmer’s case against energy giant RWE over climate change damage in the Andes, a decision labelled by campaigners as a ‘historic breakthrough’.
“Farmer Saul Luciano Lliuya’s case against RWE was ‘well-founded,’ the court in the north-western city of Hamm said on Thursday.
“Lliuya argues that RWE, as one of the world’s top emitters of climate-altering carbon dioxide, must share in the cost of protecting his hometown Huaraz from a swollen glacier lake at risk of overflowing from melting snow and ice.
“RWE’s power plants emitted carbon dioxide that contributed to global warming, increasing local temperatures in the Andes and putting property at risk from flooding or landslides, Lliuya argues.
”Even people who act according to the law must be held responsible for damage they cause to property,’ the judges said.’
(See The Guardian, November 30, 2017, German court to hear Peruvian farmer’s climate case against RWE)
2018 - 2018. To Fight Climate Change, New York City Takes On Oil Companies
“Seeking to position himself as a national leader against climate change, Mayor Bill de Blasio on Wednesday announced a two-pronged attack against the fossil-fuel industry, including a vow that city pension funds would divest about $5 billion from companies involved in the fossil fuel business.
The mayor also announced a lawsuit against five major oil companies, seeking to collect billions of dollars in damages to pay for city efforts to cope with the effects of climate change.
“This city is standing up and saying, ‘We’re going to take our own actions to protect our own people,’” the mayor said, wearing a green necktie and sitting in front of large green sign that said “NYC: Leading the Fight Against Climate Change.” He added, “We’re not waiting.”
But in fact the city will have to wait, potentially for many years.
The mayor acknowledged that the lawsuit, which he compared to successful lawsuits against large tobacco companies, could take years to reach a resolution.
The city lawsuit says that the oil companies — BP, Chevron, Conoco Phillips, Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell — were aware for years that burning fossil fuels caused climate change but hid the conclusions of their own scientists. It says that the city has spent billions of dollars and will spend billions more to deal with the consequences of climate change, such as the effects of Sandy, and it seeks to hold the companies responsible for those costs.
Similar lawsuits were filed last year against oil companies by San Francisco and Oakland; the California counties of Marin and San Mateo and the City of Imperial Beach; and the City of Santa Cruz and Santa Cruz County.
“Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is a global issue and requires global participation and actions,” Exxon Mobil said in an emailed statement. “Lawsuits of this kind — filed by trial attorneys against an industry that provides products we all rely upon to power the economy and enable our domestic life — simply do not do that.”
A spokesman for Chevron responded in similar terms, saying the lawsuit would “do nothing to address the serious issue of climate change.”
Eric A. Goldstein, a senior lawyer with the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group, had a different view, calling the lawsuit a “classic example of impact litigation that’s designed to upend the existing order.” He said that lawsuits targeting the tobacco industry were once considered long shots but ended up being successful.
(See The New York Times, January 10, 2018, To Fight Climate Change, New York City Takes On Oil Companies)
Update, July 19,2018: Federal Judge John F. Keenan ruled to dismiss, concluding that federal common law and the Clean Air Act superceded the city’s claims, “Climate change is a fact of life, as is not contested by Defendants. But the serious problems caused thereby are not for the judiciary to ameliorate. Global warming and solutions thereto must be addressed by the two other branches of government.”
2018 - ongoing. Richmond Becomes Latest California City to File Climate Lawsuit Vs. Big Oil
“Richmond, Calif., became the latest community on Monday to file suit against 29 fossil fuel companies, seeking monetary damages to pay for costs of adapting to climate change. It is the latest in a wave of liability lawsuits attempting to hold the fossil fuel industry accountable for its role in both causing climate change and misleading the public for decades on the seriousness of the risk.
Richmond is home to a Chevron oil refinery that processes 250,000 barrels of crude oil daily and is the city’s largest employer. Chevron is the lead defendant named in the complaint. “As we have said previously, such lawsuits will do nothing to address the serious issue of climate change,” Chevron said in a statement. “Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is a global issue that requires global engagement.”
The complaint mirrors one filed last month by the city and county of Santa Cruz, citing impacts from sea level rise as well as other extreme weather events such as droughts, heatwaves and extreme precipitation. Marin and San Mateo counties and the city of Imperial Beach filed similar complaints, but those focused exclusively on sea level rise and targeted more companies. All of these suits, including Richmond’s, allege public and private nuisance, trespass, negligence, negligence for failure to warn, strict liability for failure to warn, and strict liability for design defect. Sher Edling, the firm leading the other communities’ suits, is also providing outside counsel to Richmond.
Richmond is now the ninth community overall, and the eighth in California, to take the fossil fuel industry to court. The city’s lawsuit comes on the heels of New York City’s announcement that it would be suing five of the largest oil companies, in addition to divesting $5 billion of its pension holdings in fossil fuel stock. Richmond’s Bay Area neighbors Oakland and San Francisco filed their own liability lawsuits last September.
Like other Bay Area communities, Richmond is particularly vulnerable to flooding and sea level rise. The city is located on a peninsula surrounded by water on three sides.
“With 32 miles of shoreline, more than any other city on San Francisco Bay, Richmond is at extreme risk from sea level rise,” Mayor Tom Butt said in a statement. “We have two rail lines, 3,000 acres of public waterfront parks, vulnerable neighborhoods, two wastewater treatment plants, and a refinery, all subject to inundation. Sea level rise is already affecting our long-term planning and will cost our community far more than any foreseeable resources we have to mitigate it.”
Richmond is one of the poorest communities in the Bay Area, giving it few resources to respond to climate impacts. According to the complaint, the city “has already spent significant funds to study, mitigate, and adapt to the effects of global warming.”
Now the city is looking to shift the burden of these expenses from its taxpayers to the companies who produce and profit from fossil fuels, which have been shown by scientists to be the overwhelming driver of climate change.
“The fossil fuel companies need to be part of the solution, rather than making it worse,” said Mayor Butt. “After being warned by their own experts of the potential damage, the fossil fuel industry could have taken steps to transition to a lower carbon future, but they didn’t. Instead they continue to spend billions fighting public policies intended to reduce GHGs, even in some cases, while their own assets are endangered by rising seas.”
(See Climate Liability News, January 23, 2018, Richmond Becomes Latest California City to File Climate Lawsuit Vs. Big Oil)
2018 - ongoing. Boulder County, San Miguel County, and City of Boulder
“Boulder County, San Miguel County, and the City of Boulder sue Suncor and ExxonMobil for damages related to climate change.
Costs of climate change impacts estimated to top one hundred million dollars by 2050
Just like coastal communities, high-altitude mountains and plains communities are on the front lines of climate change. They are already experiencing trends in heat rise, drought, and more frequent wildfires. Colorado is one of the fastest warming states in the country.
Over the next few decades, climate change is going to create profound threats to these communities’ local economies, health, and safety. They need to take protective measures now. But those measures to adapt to and mitigate the impacts of climate change are expensive and over the next three decades, the costs to local taxpayers will top one hundred million dollars.
Colorado communities have been leaders in trying to reduce their own contributions to climate change, funding efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve air quality. They’ve also made substantial investments to mitigate the harms of climate change – increasing wildfire defensive spaces around homes, helping residents deal with dead trees caused by pine beetle outbreaks, and spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to understand impacts to water supply, as just a few examples.
For years, these western communities have done everything in their power to address climate change and reduce their carbon footprints. But the costs to local taxpayers are mounting. It’s time for the oil companies profiting from the problem in Colorado to be part of the solution.
Companies like Suncor and ExxonMobil (“Exxon”) deceived the public and policymakers for decades about the truth so they could keep making billions of dollars. For the past year, local governments and legal advocates have gone to court to ask these companies to use their vast profits to pay their fair share of what it will cost a community to deal with the problem the companies created.
Suncor and Exxon are two of the world’s largest contributors to climate change and have worked closely together in Colorado to market and sell fossil fuels. Exxon is the largest investor-owned fossil fuel producer in history. Suncor’s U.S. operations are based in Denver and the company supplies about 35 percent of the state’s gasoline and diesel fuel demand. Their carbon footprint is already enormous; worse, both companies are investing heavily in the dirtiest forms of petroleum, expanding fossil fuel production from tar sands and other projects.
Suncor and Exxon now admit that climate change is real and that it’s caused by their products, but they’ve known about the risk for at least fifty years – long before they informed the public. Even now, their business plan is to produce even more products that will worsen the problem.
In Colorado communities suffering from the economic, health and safety consequences of climate change, it is unjust for these costs to fall entirely on taxpayers. It’s only fair that the companies that profited from their own reckless behavior to compensate communities for the harm they caused.”
(See bouldercounty.org, April 17, 2018, Communities File Lawsuit Against Oil Giants for Climate Change Costs)
2018 - ongoing. King County sues oil companies for climate change impacts
“The legal action against BP, Chevron, Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch and ConocoPhillips seeks an order requiring the companies to fund the costs of adapting infrastructure such as stormwater management, as well as salmon recovery, protecting public health, and other costs.
“The science is undisputable: climate change is impacting our region today, and it will only cause greater havoc and hardships in the future,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine. “The companies that profited the most from fossil fuels should help bear the costs of managing these disasters. Big Oil spent many decades disregarding and dismissing what is our most pressing generational challenge. We must hold these companies accountable as we marshal our resources to protect and preserve what makes this region great.”
Attorneys for the county say this abatement fund could be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. The lawsuit was developed with the Seattle-based law firm Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP, which helped lead the historic case and settlement against Big Tobacco in the 1990’s.
Jurisdictions in California, New York and Colorado have filed similar lawsuits.
King County noted in its 2015 Strategic Climate Action Plan: “Even if global and GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions decrease dramatically, many climate change impacts are now inevitable and preparation for those changes is essential.”
Already, areas of King County that were once above the mean high tide line now experience regular flooding. Sea level is projected to continue rising through the 21st century, increasing by as much as 56 inches in the Puget Sound region from 2000 to 2100. This would have significant consequences for King County and the region.”
(See kingcounty.gov, May 9, 2018, King County sues oil companies for climate change impacts)
2018 - ongoing. Rhode Island sues oil companies over climate change
“Rhode Island’s attorney general sued a dozen oil and natural gas companies and their affiliates Monday in state court, accusing them of causing climate change and not sufficiently mitigating its effects.
Attorney General Peter Kilmartin (D) said Rhode Island is uniquely harmed by global warming, with its more than 400 miles of shoreline, fishing industry, marine economy and other factors.
“Rhode Island is especially vulnerable to the effects of climate changes that is now on our doorstep with sea level rise and an increase in severe weather patterns, as seen by the extensive damage caused by storms in the past several years, including Super Storm Sandy and the floods of 2010,” Kilmartin said in a statement.
“The defendants’ actions for the past several decades are already having and will continue to have a significant and detrimental impact on our infrastructure, economy, public health, and our eco-systems, and will force the state to divert already-limited resources to mitigate the effects of climate change, thereby diminishing resources for other vital programs and services.”
The defendants in the lawsuit include big companies across the petroleum supply chain, including Exxon Mobil Corp., Chevron Corp., ConocoPhillips Co., Marathon Oil Corp. and Hess Corp.
Kilmartin’s lawsuit is the first time that a state has sued fossil fuel companies to hold them responsible for the effects of climate change.
The litigation strategy has become popular in recent years among some cities and counties, particularly ones frustrated that Congress and the Trump administration have not taken an aggressive stand to fight global warming.”
(See thehill.com, July 2, 2018, Rhode Island sues oil companies over climate change)
2018 - ongoing. Baltimore files suit against oil and gas companies for their role in spurring climate change
“Baltimore’s top lawyer filed a lawsuit Friday against more than two dozen oil and gas companies that do business in the city, seeking to hold them financially responsible for their contributions to global climate change.
City Solicitor Andre M. Davis said the city will argue that the companies violated state laws, including a consumer protection statute, by concealing and disputing links between fossil fuel emissions and climate change.
“The companies knew of the harm decades ago,” the former federal judge said. “If it had been disclosed, the problem of climate change could have been mitigated significantly. That’s our claim.”
The lawsuit, filed in Baltimore Circuit Court, follows more than a dozen similar complaints filed by governments around the country — some of which judges have quickly tossed.
Just Thursday, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit New York City officials filed against oil companies, echoing a 2011 Supreme Court ruling that called climate change “an undertaking for the political branches” of government.
General Assembly keeps green-energy subsidy for incinerator, kills other environmental bills
But Davis said he thinks state courts are an appropriate venue for the claim.
“The Founding Fathers would approve of this lawsuit,” he said. “They understood that states and localities have a role to play, and state court judges have an important role to play to ensure that justice is delivered to the people.”
The 26 defendants in Baltimore’s lawsuit include companies that transport fuels through the Port of Baltimore, including BP, Citgo and CONSOL Energy. Others market their fuels at gas stations around the city and state, including ConocoPhillips, Marathon Oil and Hess Corp.
Many are among the largest fossil fuel companies in the world, including ExxonMobil, Shell and Chevron.
The lawsuit argues that the companies knew that emissions from combustion of oil, gas and coal were building up in the atmosphere and trapping heat, and that the greenhouse effect would raise global temperatures and disrupt climate patterns. It cites revelations made in recent years that oil and gas companies were anticipating and preparing for the risks of climate change for decades, but did not share those concerns publicly.
The complaint also includes data showing that the globe has not recorded below-average temperatures since the 1970s, as compared to the global mean for 1910 through 2000, and that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have been rising steadily since the 1950s.
It lists eight offenses by the companies, including public nuisance, failure to warn, and trespass, and says their actions violate Maryland’s Consumer Protection Act. That law prohibits misleading statements and “knowing concealment.”
It is seeking unspecified damages, legal penalties and court costs.
Mayor Catherine Pugh said she doesn’t see a conflict between the lawsuit and the city’s continued use of fossil fuels. City lawyers argue that Baltimore and the rest of the world could have weaned themselves from fossil fuels if not for the energy companies’ actions to fend off regulation and slow development of alternative technologies.
“That’s just reality,” Pugh said of fossil fuel dependence. “This lawsuit talks about the history.”
As a coastal city, Baltimore will have to face sea level rise and extreme storms, as well as more frequent heat waves, because of fossil fuel combustion, Pugh said. Climate threats are also making the city’s efforts to repair its aged water and sewer systems more difficult, she said.”
(See thebaltimoresun.com, July 20, 2018, Baltimore files suit against oil and gas companies for their role in spurring climate change)
As you can see from the list above, there have been many lawsuits brought around the world in recent years and months against fossil fuel companies for global warming damages to the environment and to human infrastructure.
However, to our knowledge, as of the end of 2017 there have been no tort cases filed against any fossil fuel conglomerate anywhere for global warming damages to human beings.
Moreover, again, to our knowledge, there are no other fossil fuel related tort cases that have been filed as yet against the owners of the fossil fuel conglomerates – that is, their large scale, institutional investors (pension funds, investment houses, hedge funds, insurance companies, universities, and governmental bodies) – or their trade associations, or their allied foundations and think tanks. In addition to the fossil fuel conglomerates themselves, these institutions are all culpable for global warming related damages to the health and welfare of our grandchildren, the youth of today and tomorrow.
Holding all the responsible parties accountable is precisely the intent and focus of the Grandchildren’s Fund for a Fossil Fuel Free Future.
The Tobacco Lawsuit
In 1998 the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement was agreed to between the attorneys general of 46 states and the four top tobacco companies. It stipulated a settlement of $206 billion to be paid out over 25 years to cover the states’ Medicaid healthcare costs.
$206 billion is a lot of money. But for perspective, one might wonder which is going to have more of an effect on the health and welfare of our grandchildren over the next 25 years, smoking or global warming and climate change?
The scale of the problem
It’s a very big problem.
No, it’s a VERY BIG problem.
Consider that the recovery costs for the 2017 hurricanes and wildfires have been estimated at upwards of $300 billion (September 28, 2017, Inside Climate News).
But if only that were all; the costs to our grandchildren will go much deeper, wider and further.
Here are some of the costs, both existential and correspondingly financial.
A partial list:
- pollution induced asthma
- chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
- decreased air quality
- physical and psychological effects from weather-related disasters
- increased physical and psychological heat stress
- climate-sensitive diseases and infections
- increased incidence and range of vector- and water-borne diseases
- increased drought and agricultural challenges
- increased insecurities of food, water, and nutrients
- potential for release of dormant pathogens from melting ice and permafrost
- worsening heat waves
- larger, more numerous and longer lasting wildfires with resultant smoke and erosion
- dust storms
- continuously rising sea levels
- increased oceanic acidification, coral reef destruction, and depressed fisheries
- more intense winter and tropical storms including hurricanes, typhoons, and superstorms
- increased coastal and inland flooding
- prenatal, infant and pre-K developmental disadvantages reducing earnings potential
- diminished quality of life (including reduced sense of security, well-being and optimism, lessened availability of robust and healthy natural resources, parks, forests, beaches, rivers and lakes, diversity of animal life, etc.)
- increased economic vulnerability including absorbing the unprecedented economic burdens resulting from all of the above problems
These gargantuan existential costs have been building and building over many years and are only going to be getting much worse in the years to come.
There is only one thing that is equal to them in scale – the scale of the profits that the fossil fuel conglomerates have been reaping for over 150 years.
The scale of Fossil Fuel profits
Four of the top publicly traded conglomerates, ExxonMobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and Occidental Petroleum, taken together, represent a total of 524 years of oil and gas production. Their combined revenues for just one of these years, 2016, total to $366.9 billion. Likewise, revenues for privately owned Koch Industries in the 2013 to 2015 period were $115 billion per year.
$366.9 billion + $115 billion + $115 billion + $115 billion = $711.9 billion. And that’s only five companies over four years.
$711.9 billion over four years is $178 billion per year.
How much is $178 billion per year?
The current population of the United States is approximately 326 million (December 21, 2017, U.S. Census Bureau). Doing the math, this means that each and every person in the United States is effectively paying $546 per year to ExxonMobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Occidental Petroleum, and Koch Industries. For a family of 5, this amounts to $2730 per year.
(In actuality, this figure would only be truly accurate if these companies operated only in the United States. Since they are global conglomerates and their revenues are global in scope, this means that each and every one of the planet’s 7.5 billion people is effectively paying them $23.73 to equal $178 billion per year.)
And this $178 billion figure reflects only the revenues of five fossil fuel conglomerates for one year.
In this regard, consider (1) that there are literally hundreds of fossil fuel companies world wide and (2) that large scale fossil fuel exploitation began about 160 years ago.
What are fossil fuel subsidies? In a nutshell, they are schemes that enable the fossil fuel conglomerates to receive tax payer monies and other resources from governments around the world to enhance their profits and increase their holdings.
More specifically, a “fossil fuel subsidy is any government action that lowers the cost of fossil fuel energy production, raises the price received by energy producers, or lowers the price paid by energy consumers. Essentially, it’s anything that rigs the game in favor of fossil fuels compared to other energy sources.
‘The most obvious subsidies are direct funding and tax breaks and giveaways, but there are many activities under this definition – loans and guarantees at favorable rates, price controls, purchase requirements, below-market insurance and indemnification, exclusive access policies, import and export restrictions, exclusive information sharing, government ownership, research and development funding, preferable regulation and/or exemption from regulation, and more.’ (See Oil Change International: Exposing the true costs of fossil fuels)
‘Global fossil-fuel subsidies, which jumped to $523 billion in 2011, are providing an incentive to emit CO2 that is equivalent to $110 per ton.’ (See World Energy Outlook: Challenges and oportunities for renewables, April 9, 2013)
In addition, large sums – more than $78 billion per year (again, see Oil Change International: Exposing the true costs of fossil fuels) – of these monies are exploration subsidies, allocated for the purpose of discovering and extracting new sources of oil, gas, and coal when it is clearly and widely understood that even partial exploitation of existing reserves will exceed the 2-degrees global warming limit of the Paris Accord.
‘The elimination of these subsidies is widely seen as one of the most effective ways of reducing global carbon emissions.’ (See Wikipedia, December 21, 2017, Energy subsidies)
In addition to the direct subsidies discussed above, fossil fuel conglomerates also enjoy what are known as ‘implicit subsidies,’ where they avoid financial responsibility for the economic damage that they are causing to society and instead leave the costs to be paid by the public at large, either directly as with hurricane cleanup or indirectly as with increased health costs.
How much do these implicit costs come to?
“Fossil fuel companies are benefiting from global subsidies of $5.3 trillion ‘¦ a year, equivalent to $10 million a minute every day, according to a startling new estimate by the International Monetary Fund.
“The IMF calls the revelation ‘shocking’ and says the figure is an ‘extremely robust’ estimate of the true cost of fossil fuels. The $5.3 trillion subsidy estimated for 2015 is greater than the total health spending of all the world’s governments.
‘The vast sum is largely due to polluters not paying the costs imposed on governments by the burning of coal, oil and gas. These include the harm caused to local populations by air pollution as well as to people across the globe affected by the floods, droughts and storms being driven by climate change.’ (See The Guardian, May 18, 2015, Fossil fuels subsidised by $10m a minute, says IMF)
This number, then, the IMF’s $5.3 trillion, could be taken as a rough estimate of the scope of financial culpability shared each year by the fossil fuel conglomerates themselves, their owners/investors, their trade organizations, and their allied foundations and think tanks.
Then again, this number is dwarfed by the what follows in the next section.
Existential fairness - generational
The problem was caused by the parent and grandparent generations. The bill is being handed to the children and grandchildren generations.
According to a study published in Earth System Dynamics, a journal of the European Geosciences Union, ‘today’s young people may have to spend up to 500 trillion euros ($593 trillion) on technologies to extract carbon dioxide from the air, if high emissions continue.’ Lead author, James Hansen states that continued use of fossil fuels will ‘saddle young people with a massive, expensive cleanup problem and growing deleterious climate impacts, which should provide incentive and obligation for governments to alter energy policies without further delay.’ (See European Geosciences Union, July 18, 2017, Removing CO2 from the air required to safeguard children’s future)
It should be noted that these $593 trillion expenses are only what will be required to remove sufficient existing CO2 from the atmosphere to prevent global warming effects from getting worse, not to deal with the costs of problems that have already been caused. Current levels of CO2 of approximately 400 parts per million need to be reduced to 350 parts per million to achieve sustainability. This reduction requires that no new CO2 be added to the atmosphere and that existing CO2 levels be drawn down either by reforestation and better agricultural practices and/or by costly (and as-yet-undeveloped) carbon extraction technologies.
A peer reviewed study published in Earth System Dynamics, states ‘If rapid emission reductions do not begin soon, the burden placed on young people to extract CO2 emitted by prior generations may become implausibly difficult and costly.’ (See Climate Science, Awareness and Solutions, July 18, 2017, Young People’s Burden: Requirement of Negative CO2 Emissions)
Existential fairness - vulnerable populations
Unfortunately, the costly, painful, and disruptive effects of global warming are not equally shared all around the globe. Some countries and some population groups are affected more than others.
Here is a partial listing, including particular vulnerabilities:
- Children and infants – air pollution, ozone, elevated health and logistical risks from extreme weather events (hurricanes, floods, wildfires), additional poverty/race/class vulerabilities, current and especially future economic costs, emotional stress
- Elderly – heat exposure, social and residential isolation, limited mobility, increasing numbers, economic insecurity, emotional stress
- Poor people – people in poor countries, poor people in wealthy countries, poor health, poor health care, lack of air conditioning, especially in urban heat islands where elevated daytime and nighttime temperatures exacerbate cardiovascular and respitory and obesity conditions, increased flood and storm surge vulnerability, food and water insecurity, lack of health insurance, increased economic insecurities for farming, fishing, animal husbandry and herding, emotional stress
- Environmental refugees – displaced by rising sea levels, expanding desertification, weather events, wildfire events, weather-related political events, increased communicable disease vulerabilities, physical violence, emotional stress
- Countries threatened by rising sea levels – up to 216 million people in 20 countries (from China to Italy) live where they will be below sea level or regular flood levels by the end of this century. Additionally, the Alliance of Small Island States includes 39 member countries that are especially vulnerable to rising sea levels.
(See Physicians for Social Responsibility report, Health Implications of Global Warming: Impacts on Vulnerable Populations)
Assuming that the Grandchildren's Fund for a Fossil Fuel Free Future wins, what happens with the settlement monies?
Settlement monies will be spent to address health and welfare damages that the grandchildren (the youth of today and tomorrow) have suffered. Additionally monies will be spent on supporting and developing organizations and institutions that will help to mitigate the effects of global warming.
Here are a few possibilites:
- Establish a medical fund to assist with the grandchildren’s medical expenses (outright coverage for any climate related illness and interest free loans for other medical expenses)
- Establish an education fund to cover tuition for trade schools, colleges and universities (free tuition for climate change related programs, interest free loans for other programs)
- Found and fund a school of journalism focused specifically on climate change and science related investigative journalism
- Found and fund a school of law focused specifically on climate change and science related jurisprudence
- Found and fund an institute focused specifically on scientific research pertaining to climate change
- Found and fund a think tank type research center focused specifically on climate change and science related policy issues for purposes of proposing and influencing appropriate legislation at the local, state and national levels
- Provide supportive funding for existing academic programs that are already addressing the above issues
Thanks anyway, but I'm already donating my time and money to . . .
There’s no shortage of good and even critical causes that deserve our attention, our time, and our money, far more than we could ever support.
Because of this, we are in the habit of setting budgets for what causes and charities we can afford to devote our attention, time and money to. We often do this at the beginning of the year and we often spend the rest of the year saying, ‘Sorry, I’ve already made my donations for this year.’
We’re familiar with this. This is business as usual.
But business as usual didn’t prevent us from getting to where we are today. And it’s not going to get us out of the trouble we’re in today.
We cannot afford, life on earth cannot afford, more of the same – the problems are piling up faster than we are generating solutions. This is not to say there aren’t many promising developments unfolding: increased public commitment to reducing personal carbon footprints, reductions in the costs of renewable energy, demonstrations and petitions, lawsuits to redress governmental inaction, even lawsuits to require fossil fuel companies to remediate infrastructure damages and vulerabilities.
All of these business as usual approaches are methodical, deliberate, and important and they deserve our attention and support. But, as becomes clear in Alex Steffen’s series, The Last Decade, we no longer have the luxury to find out if methodical and deliberate business as usual approaches will by themselves prove to be sufficient, we ALSO need to develop approaches that are actually disruptive of global warming and fossil fuel business as usual.
Bringing tort lawsuits against the fossil fuel conglomerates for damages to people, most especially the grandchildren, is a major way to provide this disruption.
This is for three reasons:
- It can be initiated rapidly without having to wait for political evolution and legislative deliberation.
- When the threat of both the fossil fuel conglomerates’ and their owners’ legal vulnerability to gargantuan tort lawsuits for damages to people becomes increasingly recognized, large scale investors – pension funds, investment houses, hedge funds, insurance companies, universities, and governmental bodies – will begin a rapidly cascading sequence of divestment.
- We plan to bargain with some of the settlement monies that we hope and trust will eventually be awarded, to additionally incentivize the fossil fuel conglomerates to convert their operations from fossil fuel exploitation to renewable energy development.
With reference back to the top of this page, just as there is little hope for doing anything about global warming if Trump, God forbid, initiates a nuclear war with North Korea, similarly, there is little long run hope for panda protection, helping the homeless, symphony season support, or whatever your charitable commitments are, if global warming is allowed to continue at its currently accelerating pace.
And the best chance for avoiding this is both continuing to pursue the existing business as usual approaches (including your current charitable commitments) and pursuing disruptive tort lawsuits for damages to individuals.
After all, in the parallel words of Josh Silver, founder of Represent.Us, ‘You don’t have to abandon your issue in order to work for democracy. You can, you know, love two children at once.’
OK, then, I'm with you; how can I help?
You can help by becomming a member of the Grandchildren’s Fund for a Fossil Fuel Free Future or gifting a membership ==> click HERE
Over and above becoming a member or gifting a membership, you can make a donation ==> click HERE
You can send information to your family and friends about the Grandchildren’s Fund for a Fossil Fuel Free Future.
Watch this space for additional ways to become involved in the near future.
- Purchase tickets to support concerts
- High school campus chapters
- College and university chapters
- Local chapters
- Arrange to have a speaker for your group or organization
Lastly, Nuclear War?
If you haven’t read it, you owe it to yourself and your loved ones to read Zack Beauchamp’s December 18, 2017, Vox.com article, ‘We are sleepwalking toward war with North Korea.’
On January 24, 2107, Representative Ted Lieu (Dem, California) introduced H.R. 669 Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act of 2017. It was immediately referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, where it remains today. 73 out of 435 members of the House of Representative have signed on as cosponsors. Click HERE to see if your representative supports this legislation.
Also on January 24, 2107, Senator Edward Markey (Dem, Massachusetts) introduced S. 200 Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act of 2017. It was immediately referred to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, where it remains today. 13 out of 100 members of the Senate have signed on as cosponsors. Click HERE to see if your senator supports this legislation.
On October 31, 2107, Senator Christopher Murphy (Dem, Connecticut) introduced S. 2047 Preventing Preemptive War in North Korea Act of 2017. It was immediately read twice and referred to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, where it remains today. 8 out of 100 members of the Senate have signed on as cosponsors. Click HERE to see if your senator supports this legislation.
An easier to send a written message to any member of congress is with Democracy.io.
Finally, for a comprehensive perspective on our existential circumstances with respect to both the potential for nuclear war and the certainty of continued global warming, read Thom Hartmann’s December 11, 2017, Alternet.org article, ‘The Uncanny, Frightening Ways That Trump’s America Mirrors Hitler’s Germany.’
Dealing with this is going to require a lot more than merely contacting congress, but, again, I refer you to Democracy.io.
Please click here to make a donation and become a member.
Contact: Nelson Bonner
Grandchildren’s Fund for
a Fossil Fuel Free Future
7 Avenida Vista Grande, Box 403
Santa Fe, NM 87508