'Watershed Moment for Climate Liability' as Rhode Island Files Historic Lawsuit Against 21 Big Oil Companies
By Jessica Corbett
In what advocates are calling a "watershed moment" for climate litigation, Rhode Island's Democratic Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin announced on Monday that the state has filed a lawsuit against 21 major oil companies—including BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil and Shell—"for knowingly contributing to climate change, and causing catastrophic consequences to Rhode Island, our economy, our communities, our residents, our ecosystems."
"This lawsuit marks the first in the country filed on behalf of a state and its citizens against Big Oil," Kilmartin declared. "For a very long time there has been this perception that they, Big Oil, were too big to take on, but here we are—the smallest state, the Ocean State—taking on the biggest, most powerful corporate polluters in the world, because it's the right thing to do. They need to be held accountable."
The suit is supported by Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, Reps. Jim Langevin and David Cicilline and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse—all Democrats. Whitehouse, a congressional leader on climate action, commended Kilmartin for "holding some of the world's most powerful corporations responsible for the damage they're inflicting on our coastal economy, infrastructure, and way of life."
Bill McKibben, cofounder of 350.org, called it a "major" development:
Major! RI becomes first state to file suit against 21 oil and gas companies for "knowingly contributing to climate… https://t.co/za5FoppUz8— Bill McKibben (@Bill McKibben)1530552354.0
The filing comes on the heels of a similar pair of landmark lawsuits brought by two cities in California, which U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup dismissed last week. Following Kilmartin's announcement, Richard Wiles, executive director of the Center for Climate Integrity, said the Rhode Island suit "takes climate liability to another level, and puts Judge Alsup's recent decision in the rearview mirror."
"When state attorneys general start filing suit it's a game changer, as it was with tobacco and currently is in opioid litigation. In the same way, Rhode Island's lawsuit is a watershed moment for climate liability," Wiles added. "Kilmartin recognized that if polluters don't pay, then taxpayers will, and that is completely unacceptable."
As the complaint filed in the Rhode Island Superior Court, outlines:
Defendants, major corporate members of the fossil fuel industry, have known for nearly half a century that unrestricted production and use of their fossil fuel products create greenhouse gas pollution that warms the planet and changes our climate. They 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. They have nevertheless engaged in a coordinated, multi-front 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, journalists, teachers, and the public about the reality and consequences of the impacts of their fossil fuel pollution.
Speaking at the iconic Narragansett Sea Wall, Kilmartin explained the specific allegations against these oil companies, including that they "created, contributed to, and assisted in creating the conditions in Rhode Island that constitute a public nuisance," and "violated the state's Environmental Rights Act by polluting, impairing, and destroying natural resources of the state."
https://t.co/2ycrkFtsrt— Peter Kilmartin (@Peter Kilmartin)1530551410.0
"Rhode Island seeks to ensure that the parties who have profited from externalizing the responsibility for sea level rise, drought, extreme precipitation events, heatwaves, other results of the changing hydrologic and meteorological regime caused by global warming, and associated consequences of those physical and environmental changes, bear the costs of those impacts on Rhode Island," the complaint concludes, "rather than the state, the local taxpayers, residents, or broader segments of the public."
"Taxpayers should not be expected to shoulder the steep financial burden of rebuilding after super storms like Harvey and Irma, or the yet to be named storms that will only increase in frequency if climate change continues unabated," asserted Greenpeace climate campaigner Naomi Ages, praising Kilmartin for his leadership. "Despite having clear evidence that its products were harming the planet, the fossil fuel industry failed to warn consumers and regulators about the dangers. For this, it must pay."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.
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Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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