By Kiana Wilburg
The City of Charleston, South Carolina (SC), has slapped ExxonMobil and 23 other fossil fuel giants for their deception on climate change, the contributions of their operations to this global phenomenon, and the inherent costs to now deal with the consequences of increasing floods and rising temperatures in that American city. Other companies being sued in this regard include royal Dutch Shell, Chevron, Hess Corporation, and Conoco Phillips.
The 144-page court document filed by the City of Charleston notes that the defendants which are major corporate members of the fossil fuel industry, have known for nearly half a century that unrestricted production and use of fossil fuel products create greenhouse gas pollution that warms the planet and changes the climate.
The City stated that these companies have known for decades that those impacts could be catastrophic and that only a narrow window existed to take action before the consequences would be irreversible.
The plaintiff said that the fossil fuel companies have nevertheless engaged in a coordinated, multifront effort to conceal and deny their own knowledge of those threats, discredit the growing body of publicly available scientific evidence, and persistently create doubt in the minds of customers, consumers, regulators, the media, teachers, and the public about the reality and consequences of the impacts of their fossil fuel pollution.
At the same time, the City accused the defendants of having promoted and profited from a massive increase in the extraction, production, and consumption of oil, coal, and natural gas, which has in turn caused an enormous, foreseeable, and avoidable increase in global greenhouse gas pollution and a concordant increase in the concentration of greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide (“CO2”) and methane, in the Earth’s atmosphere.
The Plaintiff claimed that those disruptions of the Earth’s otherwise balanced carbon cycle have substantially contributed to a range of dire climate-related effects, including, but not limited to, global atmospheric and ocean warming, ocean acidification, melting polar ice caps and glaciers, more extreme and volatile weather, drought, and sea level rise.
Accordingly, the Plaintiff said that the defendants are directly responsible for a substantial portion of the climate crisis related impacts in Charleston and to the City. As a direct and proximate consequence of defendants’ wrongful conduct, the plaintiff said that the environment in and around Charleston is changing, with devastating adverse impacts on the City and its residents.
In this regard, the City highlighted that average sea level has already risen and will continue to rise substantially along Charleston’s coast, causing flooding, inundation, erosion, and beach loss; extreme weather, including hurricanes, drought, heat waves, and other extreme events that will become more frequent, longer-lasting and more severe; and the cascading social, economic, and other consequences.
As a direct result of those and other climate crisis-caused environmental changes, the City said it has suffered and will continue to suffer severe injuries, including, but not limited to: injury or destruction of City-owned or -operated facilities critical for operations, utility services, and risk management, as well as other assets essential to community health, safety, and well-being; increased planning and preparation costs for community adaptation and resiliency to the effects of the climate crisis; decreased tax revenue due to impacts on Charleston’s tourism- and ocean-based economy; and others.
Accordingly, the City said it has brought this action against the defendants to ensure that the parties who have profited from externalizing the consequences and costs of dealing with global warming and its physical, environmental, social, and economic consequences, bear the costs of those impacts on Charleston, rather than the City, taxpayers, residents, or broader segments of the public.
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