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Climate Activists Turn to Lawsuits, Seeking to Damages for Climate Related Disasters


Legal scholars and climate activists are gathering at the Hawaii State Capitol on Friday to outline a new strategy for combating climate change. Cities and states around the country are suing major oil producers over the financial cost of climate-related disasters.

Ann Carlson is one of the legal experts helping to pioneer this new approach. She is a professor of environmental law at UCLA’s law school and works pro-bono for plaintiffs in the cases.

Those plaintiffs, which are primarily municipalities, have filed suits against large fossil fuel extractors under what is known as public nuisance doctrine. They are seeking damages for the staggering cost of climate-related disasters.

Activists say that they have been forced to take action by the federal government’s lack of action on the issue.

Major producers like ExxonMobil and Chevron were chosen because of substantial percentage of greenhouse gas emissions can be traced back to their activity. Past lawsuits against smaller emitters failed because plaintiffs were unable to demonstrate the emitters had contributed significantly to climate related externalities.

Perhaps most importantly according to Carlson, the new suits allege that big oil companies knew for years about the link between climate change and the burning of fossil fuels, but deliberately misled the public.

“So at the same time the oil companies were funding this campaign of disinformation to the American public, they knew climate change was occurring and they were spending money to protect their own assets against the climate change they were denying.”

Carlson says this process is in the very early stages and that we will likely not see any action in the courts for at least 2 years.

Activists, legal scholars, and elected officials will be gathering at the Hawaii State Capitol in Room 325 on Friday, May 3rd to discuss the effort. The event is open to the public.

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