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As the Worst Storms Grow More Frequent, San Francisco and Oakland Sue Fossil Fuel Companies over Rising Sea Levels

Faced with ramping damages and increased infrastructure costs from rising seas, both San Francisco and Oakland are suing major fossil fuel companies for their considerable contributions to the problem.

According to a report from SF Gate today, the claim is asking coal, oil and gas companies like Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Shell and BP to pay billions of dollars in damages for not only producing the heat-trapping gases that drove sea-level rise but for knowingly doing so.

Fossil Fuel Companies Sued For Role in Rising Seas, Attempts at Cover-up

The suits join those already filed by San Mateo and Marin counties as well as the community of Imperial Beach. San Francisco and Oakland, however, are the first large cities to engage in the suit –with these two cities combined representing a total population of 1.3 million people.

(Melt in the vulnerable regions of West Antarctica produces proportionately high rates of sea level rise for the U.S. West Coast. Sea levels could rise by as much as ten feet, according to recent scientific reports, resulting in tens of billions of dollars in damages and mass displacement of west coast populations. Video Source: California Sea Levels Could Rise 10 Feet by 2100.)

San Francisco notes that seas may rise by as much as 10 feet by the end of this Century. Consequently, the city expects to invest 5 billion dollars or more in improved flood defenses over the long haul. The suit argues that fossil fuel burning is the primary contributor to this problem and that fossil fuel companies have known since at least the 1980s that burning their products would result in these risks and damages. The suit also notes that these corporations falsely attempted to convince the public that they weren’t the primary cause — standing in defiance of basic scientific facts and public safety alike.

The text of the suit reads:

“Defendants stole a page from the Big Tobacco playbook and sponsored public relations campaigns, either directly or through the American Petroleum Institute or other groups, to deny and discredit the mainstream scientific consensus on global warming, downplay the risks of global warming and even to launch unfounded attacks on the integrity of leading climate scientists.

“This case is, fundamentally, about shifting the costs of abating sea level rise harm — one of global warming’s gravest harms — back onto the companies. After all, it is defendants who have profited and will continue to profit by knowingly contributing to global warming.”

San Francisco and Oakland are just two of thousands of coastal communities that now face rising sea levels and worsening ocean storms that were in great majority caused or worsened by fossil fuel burning.

Rising Seas, Worsening Storms Due to Fossil Fuel Burning

While it is less easy to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a single storm was caused by climate change, it is obvious that they are overall growing worse in a warming world.

As an example, the number of the absolute worst cyclones in the Atlantic basin has considerably risen since the 19th Century — from zero Category 5 storms during the 50 year period from 1851 to 1900 to 13 during the 27 year period of 1991 to today. Where two such most powerful storms formed in the 30 year period from 1901 to 1930, the same number have formed during just the single year that is 2017. The climate dice, in this instance, have, indeed, been terribly loaded. And as we have seen throughout the Atlantic, Caribbean, and along the U.S. East and Gulf Coasts, these more frequent, more intense, most powerful, storms represent a dire threat to those inhabiting the cities, states, and island nations in their path.

Moreover, the link between human-caused climate change through fossil fuel burning and sea level rise is irrefutable. As sea level rise through glacial melt and thermal expansion is a direct and obvious result of the warming that comes from rising global temperatures due to increased levels of heat trapping gasses in the atmosphere.

Links:

San Francisco and Oakland Sue Major Oil Companies Over Rising Seas

California Sea Levels Could Rise 10 Feet by 2100

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38 Comments

  1. Functioning Planetary life support systems are not a Left or Right issue but rather a Human Survival Issue.
    Capitalism unencumbered by the requirements of functioning planetary life support systems = mutually assured destruction. More than 50% of our tax dollars directly or indirectly subsidize this planetary carnage. Why must “We the People” tolerate this atrocity? To enrich the already so rich Pollution Profiteers to the point that they can afford to buy Government with pocket change is morally and ethically indefensible.

    Reply
    • eleggua

       /  September 20, 2017

      Indeed. Well said. Strip them bare of all assets, material and financial, the way the Caribbean islands are being and have been stripped bare by Maria and Irma. We must have a People’s Agreement not just a Paris Agreement (which is not any agreed upon thing anyway).

      Reply
      • eleggua

         /  September 20, 2017

        To be clear, the “them” I refer to are the companies, not humans. Though many/most/all of their execs, current and former, are (over)due financial comeuppance, too.

        Reply
  2. wili

     /  September 20, 2017

    Maria just opened her eye again, suddenly and rather frighteningly. “She’s alive!”

    Flood gauges in some rivers in PR are showing 80 feet above record level. Something pretty horrific just happened to many of the people on that godforsaken island!

    Reply
    • wili

       /  September 21, 2017

      Reply
      • wili

         /  September 21, 2017

        Puerto Rico’s Emergency Manager: “Puerto Rico is Destroyed”

        https://www.nbcnews.com/news/weather/hurricane-maria-makes-landfall-puerto-rico-category-4-storm-n802911

        “Once we’re able to go outside, we’re going to find our island destroyed,” Emergency Management Director Abner Gómez Cortés said at a news briefing. Rosselló imposed a 6 p.m.-to-6 a.m. curfew, citing flood warnings and the importance of keeping streets clear for repair and rescue teams.

        San Juan San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz told MSNBC that the devastation in the capital was unlike any she had ever seen.

        “The San Juan that we knew yesterday is no longer there,” Yulín said, adding: “We’re looking at four to six months without electricity” in Puerto Rico, home to nearly 3.5 million people.

        Reply
      • wili

         /  September 21, 2017

        Reply
        • wili

           /  September 21, 2017

          From cat6’s latest post: “Water levels at the Rio Gurabo at Gurabo, where the nearby Gurabo Abajo rain gauge recorded 23.64” of rain in less than 24 hours, jumped by 27 feet in less than 12 hours (see Figure 2), so that rainfall amount is believable.”

    • eleggua

       /  September 21, 2017

      Tropical Tidbit for Weds. evening.
      “conditions are favourable now that the eye is back over water for some re-intensification”

      “former peak unlikey”
      “cannot rule out (Maria) impacts to mainland”

      Reply
    • Still at Cat 3. We have a 24-36 hour window for further strengthening prior to Maria encountering stronger wind shear. At that point prospects for strengthening become more murky. Although one or two models still show a slight potential beyond the 36 hour timeframe. Consensus NHC forecast is for slight strengthening over the next 24 hours to 120 mph, then gradual weakening going forward. That said, the storm has a lot of inertia and it will likely take a while for it to weaken. 96 hour official NHC forecast calls for a 100 mph storm.

      Worth noting that total ACE for 2017 is now 161.

      Reply
  3. eleggua

     /  September 21, 2017

    French President Emmanuel Macron pushing Trump to get real about climate change.

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/global-opinions/macron-is-on-a-mission-to-save-trump-from-himself/2017/09/20/86e9b258-9e52-11e7-8ea1-ed975285475e_story.html

    “…Macron said he tried to interest Trump in a similar approach on climate change. As with the Iran agreement, the French president said he believes that Trump’s first motivation for tearing up the deal was that it was negotiated by President Barack Obama. But he said he believes that Trump also thinks his voters don’t like it and would be harmed by it, and that he could negotiate a better deal.

    Macron said he made clear to Trump that France will support no renegotiation. But again he tried to suggest that Trump could find a winning political strategy without abandoning the deal. He said he pointed out that many of Trump’s middle-class voters will be hurt by hurricanes and other effects of climate change — and that many of them could be helped if the United States embraced innovation and the new jobs that it could bring.

    “What we need is for President Trump to find something belonging to him regarding climate change,” Macron said. “I want to convince him the solution is not to break what we have,” just as with the Iran deal.

    Did he think the U.S. president was persuaded? Macron wouldn’t go that far, but said he noted that Trump didn’t mention climate change at all in his address. “It’s very complicated to implement what he has announced, and part of his people are not in favor of leaving,” Macron said….”

    Reply
    • Not sure it’s going to work out. Trump has a tendency of turning on those who offer him good advice.

      Reply
      • eleggua

         /  September 21, 2017

        He knows that he’s smarter than all of them.

        Reply
        • An apology for my earlier harsh words for Branson. He was willing to give Trump a chance and I saw this as folly. He has since stepped up his criticisms following the loss of his home in the Caribbean.

          I understand the sentimentality of wanting to reach out to a person like Trump. But we have to understand what we are dealing with — a person who has proven again and again that he is incapable of compassion or rational thinking. That he shows only contempt and disdain for those who are less powerful or fortunate than he is. His pandering to the middle class is little more than a theater show of political expediency. He has no desire to help these people — only to gain and retain power. Only to pursue a number of ends that appear to be motivated by a range of negative emotions charting a gambit of greed, hubris and hate. And his likewise cynical pandering to fossil fuel special interests is a political power calculation fueled by a similarly misplaced sympathy toward power-givers (no matter how corrupt or harmful). Add to that the fact that he shows strong inherent racism, elitism, and actual vitriolic disdain for the less fortunate (poor people and any form of minority) and you have a combination of the worst brand of Machiavellian and hate-filled thinking we have ever seen for a U.S. leader. How do you reason with a person who thinks this way?

          It’s like the scorpion and the frog. The only way to keep from getting stung is to dump the jerk in the river. I know the temptation to attempt to bargain with a powerful person is high. But unless he capitulates due to his perception of your relative position of strength, it’s a generally worthless endeavor.

        • eleggua

           /  September 22, 2017

          Exactly. Very well said, Robert. No reasoning with a madman.
          He obviously affords himself great pleasure in being meanspiritedly oppositional.
          This sort of dictator in other realms often attracts a coup, a violent overthrow. Not going to happen here, thankfully, however until he’s indicted the madness is certain to continue at an ever-accelerating pace.

          The look on his face in this video, the set of his upper lip, tellingly soulless. Inwardly sneering and laughing at those folks, of whom at least one (Robert Jeffress) is near-equally bonkers.

          Only one one-line tweet from the twit re: Puerto Rico in the past day-plus, amidst nearly 20 total, including re-twits, in that same span.
          “We are with you and the people of Puerto Rico. Stay safe! ”

          “Stay safe” i.e. “good luck; you’re on your own; I’m busy right now.”

  4. Greg

     /  September 21, 2017

    Money talks. These court cases may be the only way to get real actuon. In the mean time Puerto Rico in its entirety is facing flooding:

    Reply
  5. Donald Trump nominated Sam Clovis — a racist, homophobic, anti-science radio talk show host — to be the USDA’s Chief Scientist.
    Clovis is blatantly unqualified for the top scientist job at the USDA. He’s a political operative, not a scientist. Clovis has said climate science is “junk science.” And he lacks expertise in food and agriculture policy. This is alarming, because our industrial agriculture systems are a leading cause of climate change.

    But now, Trump wants to put him in charge of a $3 billion budget for our nation’s food and agriculture. It’s clear that Trump wants to give him this job because Clovis supports Trump’s racist, anti-science and pro-industry policies.

    In addition to his climate denial, he also has a history of racist rants, including calling progressives “race traders and race traitors.” And he’s vocally against fair wages for working people. Recently it was also revealed that Clovis is vehemently against civil rights protections for the LGBT community.

    Click “Start writing” now to tell your Senators: Stop Sam Clovis from becoming the USDA’s top scientist!

    This is someone who shouldn’t be in any sort of leadership position — let alone running key federal programs to protect our food system!

    Momentum is building to stop Clovis from being confirmed. Senate Minority Leader Schumer and Senator Schatz stated that they will oppose his nomination. But many senators haven’t yet heard from their constituents about this. This is a critical moment to put more pressure on the Senate to reject Clovis

    Participating organizations:

    Center for Food Safety
    Climate Hawks Vote
    Daily Kos
    Friends of the Earth Action
    Oil Change International
    Real Food Medi These groups want us to call our Senators..and sign a petition

    Reply
  6. Interesting that all the media is focused on Mexico’s earthquake and hardly anything about Puerto Rico….

    Reply
    • eleggua

       /  September 21, 2017

      I don’t watch television so cannot comment on that media however from what I gather elsewhere the evolving tragedies in Puerto Rico are at least as much on the docket as those in Mexico City.

      Reply
    • I thought about that also..especially I have noticed much concern for the well being of Mexican people before by the MSM

      Reply
  7. eleggua

     /  September 21, 2017

    Good news.

    Reply
  8. “to pay billions of dollars in damages for not only producing the heat-trapping gases that drove sea-level rise but for knowingly doing so.”

    Anyone have any idea what the legal argument is here? Because Exxon, etc made gasoline, which is not a greenhouse gas. And the product worked exactly as described – it made all of our cars move around. We, the users of gasoline, are the folks who knowingly decided to turn that ignition on. We, the users, are the ones who watched our exhaust pipes spewing GHG’s into the atmosphere. And we have been watching ourselves do this – knowingly – for at least three decades now.

    I don’t see how simply selling gasoline can be construed as a crime.

    That is not to say that they are not guilty of a conspiracy which is resulting in the murder of billions. They have secretly financed a knowingly false propaganda and political influence campaign that has subverted the proper responsible functioning of governments. This seems to me to be the quintessential definition of Crimes Against Humanity, and I would hope every executive, media talking head, and anti-AGW blogger who has profited by the promotion of this conspiracy is tried in the proper court.

    And the politicians who have given these scoundrels quarter, and taken their payoffs have the same blood on their hands. These are people who completely neglected their responsibilities to every citizen of the U.S., indeed to every person in the world.

    Reply
    • If you sell a product that is harmful. Knowingly do so. Then lie about it. That is fraud, false advertising, and inflicting harm all in the same go. Legally, numerous companies from tobacco companies, to vehicle companies, to chemical companies, to food companies have all been held to account for this form of malfeasance. There is certainly a case for financial liability. Especially to the degree that both the public was misinformed and that markets were captured to prevent alternative choices to harmful products. With regards to criminality, sure I’m of the opinion that what was done was criminally amoral. Was it against the law? Certainly in a civil liability sense. But as for jailable crimes, I think that’s for future courts to decide.

      Let’s be clear that morality is the basis for laws and that, ultimately, laws exist to protect the functioning and health of civilizations (meaning cities and collections of cities) and their populaces from harm. So if an action produces vast harm to cities and their constituents, then the moral basis for criminally prosecuting the perpetrators exists at a level never before seen for corporations. But outside of criminality, the financial liability for such vast malfeasance and immorality is even more extensive.

      Reply
      • Gasoline, by itself is not harmful. It is harmful only when we burn it. That makes it inherently different than tobacco, which has a direct effect on human health. Big tobacco lied to Congress about the direct action of its product on human health. I do not think Exxon can be said to have directly and explicitly lied about its product. And I am not sure that it is even Exxon’s responsibility to stop selling a product that the EPA has regulation over, and did nothing whatsoever to ban.

        And there are tons of products that “are harmful”: tobacco, fast food, alcohol, swimming pools, fast cars, guns, ice cream, beef, prescription drugs, pornography, video games. Risks and benefits to everything, and I doubt if any but a fringe element would prefer that we live in a world where all things that come with some inherent risk are banned.

        But, what they did do, was to subvert the process of regulation, the proper functioning of government. And that is causing real harm to people, ecosystems, and species. In a just world, they would be on the hook for those things both civilly and criminally.

        That said, I hope you are right and I am wrong. What has been wrought in the name of climate science denial is the largest evil ever perpetrated against civilization in its history.

        Reply
  9. eleggua

     /  September 22, 2017

    ” I do not think Exxon can be said to have directly and explicitly lied about its product.”

    Sure they did and we have the facts to prove it. They pushed it as ok and denied climate change even after their own scientists told them differently.

    “What has been wrought in the name of climate science denial is the largest evil ever perpetrated against civilization in its history.”

    No disagreement there.

    Reply
    • eleggua

       /  September 22, 2017

      Plenty of great info in that NYT piece, including lots of links to other articles that prove the criminal activity of Exxon.

      For instance.

      ‘What Exxon knew about the Earth’s melting Arctic’
      By Sara Jerving, Katie Jennings, Masako Melissa Hirsch and Susanne Rust
      Oct. 9, 2015

      https://perma.cc/NA86-5PWH

      Reply
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