A Chevron oil refinery in Richmond, California dumped an estimated 600 gallons of petroleum into San Francisco Bay Tuesday.
The leak was not detected until an oil sheen on the water near the refinery was noticed around 3 p.m. Many local residents complained of the fumes from the spill, which eventually washed up on shore.
"It smelled like somebody spilled gasoline in front of my house. It smelled very very badly for [the] whole day," Margaret Berczynski, told ABC7-KGO. "I'm really devastated. I cannot take my kids to the water... I'm really scared," she added.
Officials warned the fumes could cause ear, nose, and throat irritation. Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia harshly criticized the refinery. "It is unacceptable to have this happen in our community," he said. "It causes harm to people's health. It causes harm to bird life, wildlife and marine life." The cause of the spill is still unknown.
As reported by the San Francisco Chronicle:
The investigation into the spill is a multi-agency effort involving Chevron, the U.S. Coast Guard, California Office of Spill Prevention and Response, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Contra Costa County, Chevron officials told The Chronicle. Other state and federal agencies "may elect to join the investigation," said Tyler Kruzich, a Chevron spokesperson.
Kruzich told The Chronicle that Chevron officials are "developing an estimate of how much hydrocarbon was released, in addition to testing the hydrocarbon to determine its composition."
County Supervisor John Gioia — who said on Facebook that there was a 5 gallon-per-minute leak of a petroleum product at the Chevron Richmond Long Wharf — said the leak started around 2:40 p.m. and continued until about 4:30 p.m.
For a deeper dive:
- Oil Spills Pose Dire Threats to Marine Life - EcoWatch ›
- Chevron Pipeline Spills 4,800 Gallons of Oil on Public Land, Kills ... ›
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- Pipeline Spills Over 1,600 Gallons of Oil Near Los Angeles Communities ›
The city sued 24 oil and pipeline companies, including major players like ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP and Royal Dutch Shell, The Post and Courier reported. The lawsuit contends that the companies knew that their products were heating the global climate but denied the fact in public. It further seeks to charge them for the costs of protecting Charleston from increased flooding and extreme weather events.
"As this lawsuit shows, these companies have known for more than 50 years that their products were going to cause the worst flooding the world has seen since Noah built the Ark," Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg said during a press conference announcing the suit, as Live 5 News reported. "And instead of warning us, they covered up the truth and turned our flooding problems into their profits. That was wrong, and this lawsuit is all about holding them accountable for that multi-decade campaign of deception."
Charleston, a low-lying city built on a peninsula between three rivers, is especially vulnerable to sea level rise, according to The Associated Press. In the last 50 years, the city has gone from seeing around four flood days a year to almost 89, the suit contends. In addition, the city will feel the impacts of extreme weather events like heat waves and hurricanes. The suit was filed days before the third anniversary of Hurricane Irma, which inundated Charleston with a nearly 10-foot storm surge, the third highest in the city's history.
Tecklenburg made his announcement in front of The Battery, where construction crews were working to lengthen an existing sea wall, The Post and Courier reported. The sea wall extension is the city's first project to adapt to rising sea levels. Others include building more than 8,000 feet of new flood drainage tunnels and installing check valves to prevent tidal water from entering the city's storm drain system, according to Live 5 News.
The city expects sea levels to rise two to three feet in the next 50 years and it predicts that adapting to these changes will cost $2 billion, according to The Post and Courier. However, the lawsuit is not asking for a particular amount from the companies, instead hoping a jury will decide what is fair.
Many of the companies named in the suit did not reply to requests for comments. Those that did said that lawsuits were not the right way to address the climate crisis.
"Legal proceedings like this waste millions of dollars of taxpayer money and do nothing to advance meaningful actions that reduce the risks of climate change," ExxonMobil spokesperson Casey Norton told The Associated Press.
Charleston is now the 21st U.S. community to disagree and file a lawsuit against big oil.
"With today's filing, Big Oil is facing climate lawsuits on both coasts, in the Northeast, the Midwest, the South, the Rocky Mountains, and even Hawaii," Center for Climate Integrity Executive Director Richard Wiles told The Post and Courier by email. "The public is ready to hold this corrupt industry accountable for causing and lying about climate change, and officials across the country are stepping up to take action."
Charleston's suit comes about a week after a similar lawsuit was filed by the city of Hoboken, New Jersey.
It was also followed one day later by another climate liability lawsuit from the state of Delaware Thursday.
🚨BREAKING: It's gonna be one of those weeks. Delaware is the latest state to announce another climate lawsuit again… https://t.co/0ljwUNZLqS— Jennifer Hijazi (@Jennifer Hijazi)1599753021.0
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Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
Norway’s Largest Private Asset Manager Divests in Chevron, Exxon for Lobbying Against Climate Action
A Norwegian hedge fund worth more than $90 billion has become the first major financial institution to divest from companies that lobby against action on the climate crisis, The Guardian reported Monday.
Storebrand, as the fund is called, is the largest private asset manager in Norway, according to Reuters. As part of its new policy, it dumped its shares in major U.S. oil companies ExxonMobil and Chevron, as well as in mining giant Rio Tinto and German chemical company BASF.
"The Exxons and Chevrons of the world are holding us back," Storebrand chief executive Jan Erik Saugestad told The Guardian.
Storebrand announced the divestments as part of a wider set of new climate policies Monday.
– We are not only vulnerable to the systemic disruptions that #climatechange will unleash on ecosystems, societies… https://t.co/PgDrZl1hAb— Storebrand (@Storebrand)1598523456.0
In addition to divesting from companies that lobby against the Paris climate agreement and climate change regulations, the fund will also:
- Make investment decisions in line with scientific consensus and the goals of the Paris agreement
- Divest from companies that make more than 5 percent of their revenues from coal or oil sands
- Make decisions that maintain nature's ability to store carbon dioxide, with a special focus on stopping deforestation
- Increase investments in low-carbon companies
- Connect with energy companies with a view towards encouraging them to transition towards renewable sources
- Provide regular progress reports
- Inform clients about low-carbon, sustainable investment funds
"We aim to maintain our position as a leading provider of sustainable solutions," Saugestad said in a statement. "With this policy we will excel and improve our work on climate and greening the financial system. We will use all the tools at our disposal, including divestment, investing more in solutions and engaging with companies in order to achieve substantial change."
The divestment, completed this year, represented a small share of the fund's assets, Bloomberg News reported. The fund divested a total of $47 million, almost half of it from Exxon and Chevron.
In response, both oil companies said they supported the goals of the Paris agreement and are investing in low-emission technologies.
"[Exxon] is focused on the dual challenge of meeting the growing demand for energy and minimizing environmental impacts and the risks of climate change," spokesman Casey Norton told Bloomberg News in an email.
Chevron, meanwhile, said it was considering a shareholder vote that would encourage transparency around climate lobbying.
UK nonprofit InfluenceMap has reported that Exxon, Chevron, Shell, BP and Total spend around $200 million a year working to delay or block climate policies, according to The Guardian. While the fund did not divest from major European oil companies like BP or Norway's own Equinor, they are not off the hook.
"This initial move does not mean that BP, Shell, Equinor and other oil and gas majors can rest easy and continue with business as usual, even though they are performing relatively better than US oil majors," Saugestad told The Guardian.
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The attorney general for Washington, DC filed a lawsuit on Thursday against four of the largest energy companies, claiming that the companies have spent millions upon millions of dollars to deceive customers in about the calamitous effect fossil fuel extraction and emissions is having on the climate crisis, according to The Washington Post.
The suit names ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell, BP and Chevron as the defendants, and argues that the companies "systematically and intentionally misled consumers in Washington, DC ... about the central role their products play in causing climate change," according to The Hill.
Karl A. Racine, the DC attorney general, said in a news conference on Thursday that the four companies painted a false picture of what effect their products had and therefore violated consumer protection laws.
"For decades, these oil and gas companies spent millions to mislead consumers and discredit climate science in pursuit of profits," Racine said in a statement, as The Washington Post reported. "OAG filed this suit to end these disinformation campaigns and to hold these companies accountable for their deceptive practices."
New York and Massachusetts have both sued ExxonMobil for fraud related to the climate crisis, though New York lost its case against the energy giant. California and Baltimore have filed similar suits. On Wednesday, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison filed a complaint in state court accusing ExxonMobil, Koch Industries, Flint Hills Resources and the American Petroleum Institute of consumer fraud, failure to warn, deceptive trade practices, and fraud and false advertising, as Courthouse News reported.
Ellison's complaint said that Minnesota was already feeling the effects from the climate crisis as droughts, flooding and crop failures have damaged the state's economy. That has all happened while the companies named in the suit invested in public relations campaigns that denied the climate crisis and even promoted increased CO2 as a solution to world hunger, according to Courthouse News.
"Impacts from climate change hurt our low-income residents and communities of color first and worst. The impacts on farmers in our agricultural state are widespread as well," Ellison said in a statement. "Holding these companies accountable for the climate deception they've spread and continue to spread is essential to helping families to afford their lives and live with dignity and respect."
The two suits drew praise from environmental activists and the science community.
In a statement Thursday, Greenpeace USA climate campaign director Janet Redman said, "Climate denial is not a victimless crime. Now, one by one states and local governments are stepping up to hold the perpetrators accountable," as Common Dreams reported. "Just yesterday it was Minnesota Attorney General Ellison standing up to big oil, today it's D.C. Attorney General Racine."
The Union of Concerned Scientists also issued a statement noting that the fossil fuel industry long knew about the devastating impacts of burning fossil fuels, but followed the Big Tobacco playbook and waged a disinformation campaign.
"When scientists, including some employed by ExxonMobil, warned that burning fossil fuels could catastrophically alter the climate, ExxonMobil, BP, Chevron and Shell funded decades-long disinformation campaigns designed to undermine climate science, while simultaneously unleashing an army of lobbyists to block state and federal policies that sought to limit global warming emissions to protect communities across the country," said Rachel Licker, senior climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists in a statement.
"As a result, the nation's capital and communities across the country and world now have to battle worsening floods, heat waves, wildfires and many other avoidable climate impacts," she added.
In the DC suit, Racine specifically mentioned the fossil fuel companies' strategy lifted from Big Tobacco. "The companies not only employed the Advancement of Sound Science Coalition — a fake grassroots citizen group created by Big Tobacco as part of the industry's misinformation campaign — they also funded and promoted some of the same scientists hired by tobacco companies," he said in a statement.
The lawsuit also alleges that the companies have recently exaggerated their investments and commitments to renewable energy.
"Defendants have shifted their advertising strategies to mislead DC consumers into believing that buying Defendants' products supports companies committed to reducing and reversing the effects of climate change," the lawsuit asserts, as The Washington Post reported. "In fact, the opposite is true."
- 'Fossil Fuel Companies Knew': Honolulu Files Lawsuit Over Climate ... ›
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By Andy Rowel
The Norwegian company, Equinor, has announced it is abandoning plans to drill for oil in the highly ecologically sensitive, Great Australian Bight, which has been a battleground between conservationists and the industry for years.
Off the country's southern coast, the area is a marine park home to one of the largest breeding populations of endangered southern right whales in the world. It is seen as a marine treasure.
Despite this, Equinor, which is two-thirds owned by the Norwegian Government, had been granted environmental approval back in December to drill about 400 kilometers off the South Australian coast. This was despite the fact that BP had abandoned plans to drill there in 2016, and Chevron in 2017.
When these companies pulled out it was seen as a significant victory, so the decision by Equinor to press ahead was "met with an outcry from Traditional Owners and environmental activists," according to the Australian NITV news.
The news this week that Equinor was abandoning drilling due to it not being "commercially competitive" was met with joy by opponents of the plan.
The Great Australian Bight Alliance, a coalition of environmental organizations along with the Mirning Indigenous people, had previously accused Equinor of refusing to formally consult with "key Indigenous groups and local governments."
Once the news broke, they were ecstatic.
Mirning Elder, Bunna Lawrie told NITV news, "It was just fantastic news to hear. To hear that news, it's going to be a collective future for all to enjoy and for our Mirning Elders and our people to continue to celebrate and to practice our culture and traditions and song and dance and our connection to that country."
The Wilderness Society's Peter Owen also told NITV news the decision was "fantastic," adding that "the Australian people have opposed drilling in the bight over a number of years. It's inappropriate to be expanding the fossil fuel industry when we're in the middle of a climate emergency and we should be transitioning away from fossil fuels."
Sarah Hanson-Young, the green Senator for South Australia, tweeted:
Breaking!! Oil giant Equinor has scrapped plans to drill in South Australia’s gorgeous Great Australian Bight. This… https://t.co/SRBFQ9qHV1— Sarah Hanson-Young💚 (@Sarah Hanson-Young💚)1582586731.0
The fight is not over yet, though, as other smaller companies still have plans to drill in the Bight.
And despite the unprecedented bush fires that have ravaged parts of Australia, the Government is still determined to press ahead with drilling, if at all possible, too.
According to ABC, the Federal Resources Minister, Keith Pitt, said the company's decision to withdraw was "disappointing" but "expressed support for future exploration in the Bight."
He added: "The Bight Basin remains one of Australia's frontier basins and any proposals for new oil and gas fields in this area will be assessed fairly and independently."
Amazingly, the Federal Government remains in denial.
Reposted with permission from Oil Change International.
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British-based oil and gas giant BP set the most ambitious climate goal of any company in its industry yesterday when it announced that it will eliminate or offset all of its greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, according to The New York Times. Its ambitious plans included offsetting the burning of oil and gas it takes out of the ground.
The company's chief executive Bernard Looney, who stepped into the top job this month, said the 111-year-old company must "reinvent" itself, a strategy that will eventually include more investment in alternative energy, according to the BBC.
"The world's carbon budget is finite and running out fast," CEO Bernard Looney said in a statement, as CNN reported. "We need a rapid transition to net zero. We all want energy that is reliable and affordable, but that is no longer enough."
The pledge is a tacit acknowledgement of the pressure that fossil fuel producers face from the public and from investors who are either divesting or demanding action to stop the global climate crisis. While the move is significant, Looney did not detail a plan for how BP would hit its ambitious target, as The New York Times reported.
"We are aiming to earn back the trust of society," Looney said at a news conference in London, as The New York Times reported. "We have got to change, and change profoundly."
While the details are scant, Looney did acknowledge that much of BP's business model and its priorities will have to change in response to the climate crisis and to the changing demands of the market economy, which is looking for affordable renewable energy.
"This will certainly be a challenge, but also a tremendous opportunity. It is clear to me, and to our stakeholders, that for BP to play our part and serve our purpose, we have to change. And we want to change - this is the right thing for the world and for BP," Looney said as the BBC reported.
"Providing the world with clean, reliable affordable energy will require nothing less than reimagining energy, and today that becomes BP's new purpose," he added. "Reimagining energy for people and our planet. We'll still be an energy company, but a very different kind of energy company: leaner, faster moving, lower carbon, and more valuable."
Looney said that details would be revealed at a presentation in September. As CNN noted, the commitment is the most ambitious of any oil company. Shell set targets to rein in emissions while Chevron and ExxonMobil are still far behind.
"They really are setting a new standard for what leadership looks like in the industry," Andrew Logan, senior director of oil and gas at Ceres, a nonprofit that lobbies for companies to take action on climate change, said as CNN reported.
Logan noted how important it was that BP acknowledged that it needs to offset the oil and the gas that consumers use, as MarketWatch reported. "There is no reason that Exxon and Chevron can't follow suit," he said.
The carbon footprint of the oil and gas that BP and other companies sell is massive. In its own reporting, BP said that the company emits about 55 million tons of greenhouse gases each year directly from its extraction operations and refineries. However, an additional 360 million tons each year is released when their extracted oil and gas is burned in vehicles or to heat homes, as The New York Times reported.
The plans drew a tepid response from environmental groups and even criticism from some who see fossil fuel extraction as something that needs to stop immediately.
"Unless BP commits clearly to stop searching for more oil and gas, and to keep their existing reserves in the ground, we shouldn't take a word of their P.R. spin seriously," Ellen Gibson, a campaigner for fossil-fuel divestment with the environmental group 350.org in Britain, said as The New York Times reported.
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By Brenda Ekwurzel
If you look at headlines from the last year, ExxonMobil, Chevron and other major fossil fuel companies have seemingly turned a new page on climate change. Recently, ExxonMobil received major kudos for giving $1 million to Americans for Carbon Dividends, a lobbying offshoot of the industry-backed Climate Leadership Council. Shortly before that, ExxonMobil, Chevron and Occidental Petroleum got good press for each pledging $100 million to the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative, which amounts to less than one percent of their capital and exploration budget for 2018 (ExxonMobil's is $28 billion while Chevron's is $15.8 billion). Companies have also touted their support for the Paris climate agreement as well as their research and investments in renewables.
But, as I and my colleagues have analyzed, this "support" is a PR distraction when these companies are keeping up business-as-usual. They intend to continue producing, marketing and selling fossil fuels at current levels for the foreseeable future, which runs counter to the steep reductions in carbon dioxide and methane emissions needed to limit global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
Tuesday the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) released a scorecard, which analyzed what eight major fossil fuel companies are saying they're doing about climate change, and just how much these companies are doing to drastically lower their emissions.
What did we find? Contrary to media reports and shiny company press releases, most of these major fossil fuel companies continue to mischaracterize climate science.
Why is this important? Any company that makes, markets and sells a product that is the primary cause of climate change has a responsibility to stay on top of and clearly communicate with the public scientific developments regarding their product. Misrepresenting climate science and underplaying the urgency of action allows companies to justify their business as usual practices all while climate impacts, including increasingly frequent and severe weather events such as Hurricanes Harvey and Florence, get worse and costlier. Releasing inaccurate statements allows companies to "check the box" for voicing belief in climate change, while continuing to funnel tens of tens of millions of dollars to climate-denying politicians, trade associations and other industry groups that do the dirty work of opposing climate policies.
Major Fossil Fuel Companies Fail to Accurately Represent Climate Science
We measured whether companies consistently and accurately acknowledged the scientific evidence of climate change in their public platforms. Overall, they didn't do great.
We found that five of the eight companies we studied had made public statements on climate change that underplayed the need to urgently reduce emissions, emphasized scientific uncertainty and/or were blatantly incorrect. Only BP amended its statement after UCS and Barnard College called the company out for its deceptive language.
These statements are surprising since these companies have known about climate change for at least four decades now, which would be plenty of time to figure how to make it a priority to accurately convey the latest developments in climate science. Since 1990, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has issued climate assessments which companies can rely on. The IPCC's Fifth Assessment (2014) represents the latest* mainstream scientific consensus on climate change and it clearly states that "It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century." The primary human influence is through the burning of fossil fuels.
*(Earlier this month, this group released a special report detailing the impacts of a global average temperature increase of 1.5C relative to 2C above pre-industrial levels, and pathways to limit temperature increase to that level. See my colleagues' blog series about what the report means for us and for climate policy).
Let's see how oil and gas company statements on climate change stacked up.
ExxonMobil employs a dedicated climate change team and boasts about leading research around cutting-edge technology, such as carbon capture and storage. Yet the company's statements on climate change, including the one above, do not consistently reflect the current scientific consensus around the issue.
Contrary to ExxonMobil's claims, scientific understanding of the likelihood, magnitude and time frame of climate impacts as tied to human-caused climate change has advanced greatly. Research has over the last decade developed to the point where scientists can identify and quantify the part human-caused climate change plays in many types of extreme weather and other climate impacts. For many impacts, the likelihood is high; the magnitude is severe; and the timeframe is now. Scientists have shown, for example, that the likelihood of heat wave similar in magnitude to the one that hit Europe in 2003—during which over 30,000 people died—has doubled. Scientists have also shown that human-caused climate change made the record rainfall that hit Houston during Hurricane Harvey roughly three times more likely and 15 percent more intense.
No matter how much ExxonMobil talks about using oil to lubricate wind turbines, the company knows that most of its oil and gas are being burnt by cars, by energy generation, by human activity—which is the primary cause of climate change.
Chevron's statement misrepresents the IPCC Fifth Assessment's conclusions, as mentioned earlier, that human activity is "extremely likely" to be the dominant driver of warming since the 1950s, not simply one possible cause of many possible causes, as is implied by Chevron's phrase "due in part." Chevron's seemingly subtle shift in wording is significant because the report shows that the overwhelming majority of the world's top researchers agree that burning fossil fuels is by far and away the largest contributor to climate change. Injecting any doubt or uncertainty into that conclusion is disingenuous at best, and outright deceiving at worst.
Above: Chevron Corporation. 2018. Climate change resilience: A framework for decision making. Online here, accessed Oct. 15.
If Chevron is going to quote the IPCC, the company should, at the very least, cut-and-paste from the panel's report.
ConocoPhillips's statement on climate science suggests the last decade-worth of climate research, including the most recent IPCC report, simply doesn't exist.
Above: ConocoPhillips. No date. Climate change position. Online here, accessed Oct. 15.
There are three major issues with the company's statement: 1) the claim that increasing atmospheric concentrations of heat-trapping gases "can lead" rather than "are leading" to climate change, as has been established since at least the IPCC third assessment report, is followed by 2) highlighting uncertainties on the first point, when there are none and 3) proposing that it is sufficient for the company to "manage" global warming emissions rather than reducing them. Alone, each of these statements is problematic and inaccurately represents the mainstream scientific consensus. Together, they subvert the public's understanding of climate science and supply the company with an alibi for continuing to extract, sell and profit off of fossil fuels.
BP – Old and New
When we analyzed BP's statements from 2018 we found similarly misinforming language. But when we pointed the problematic language out to company representatives (as we did with all eight companies studied), BP promptly made changes that brought its statement back in line with climate science. As you can see in the first attempt, BP emphasizes scientific uncertainty by referring to atmospheric carbon's "possible" climate impact. Svante Arrhenius, more than a century ago, published the fundamental scientific principle that changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration results in changes to Earth's temperature.
Above: BP PLC. 2018a. Energy and the environment. Online here, accessed May 22.
BP's new statement, on the other hand, is an excellent example of an accurate copy-and-paste. The company's new statement mentions the IPCC 5th Assessment and, unlike Chevron, gets its facts right in stating that human activity, including the burning of fossil fuels, is extremely likely to be the primary driver of climate change.
Above: BP PLC. No date. Energy and the environment. Online here, accessed Oct. 15.
Above: First quote: Royal Dutch Shell Corporation. No date. Climate change and energy transitions. Online here, accessed, Oct. 15. Second quote: Royal Dutch Shell Corporation. 2018c. Energy Transition. Online here, accessed July 10.
Shell's PR machine has gone into overdrive recently in an effort to paint the company as a climate leader. While Shell falls short in a number of areas, its statements on climate science and the need to reach net-zero emissions are accurate and consistent. There's no equivocating, no hedging, no backsliding, no prevaricating and no hiding inaccurate climate statements on less popular pages of its website. Climate change is real, it's caused by human activity, primarily the burning of fossil fuels, and we need to make changes immediately. Check, check and check.
Additional Studies on the Language of Climate Deception
Several peer-reviewed academic papers have documented how fossil fuel companies have used public communications to mislead the public about the state of climate science and its implications. A University of Reading study published this year showed that up until the mid-2000s, climate change was discussed as a problem with a solution; more recently fossil fuel company language has portrayed climate change as unpredictable and unknowable. Last year, Geoffrey Supran and Naomi Oreskes analyzed 187 climate change communications by ExxonMobil and found that while company's scientists were quietly contributing to climate science and writing reports about it to company executives, the company was paying for advertisements that told a different story.
Whether through outright climate denial, sowing public confusion on climate science, or funding of third-party groups that spread climate disinformation, each of these companies has tried to obscure climate science. But, as we saw with BP, the threat of public exposure and pressure apparently pushed the company to correct its website. As with most companies, major fossil fuel companies want to avoid the reputational risk of being branded climate deniers. This is why public watchdogging really matters.
Fossil fuel companies need to acknowledge scientific evidence that shows
1. The extraction and burning of their product is the main driver of climate change and,
2. avoiding the worst climate impacts requires dramatic cuts to carbon emissions immediately.
UCS and members of our science network and supporters will continue to hold these companies accountable for what they (and their trade groups) say and do on climate change.
Brenda Ekwurzel is a senior climate scientist and the director of climate science at UCS.
A federal judge ruled on Thursday in favor of a motion by five big oil companies to dismiss a lawsuit brought against them by New York City, which demanded they pay the costs of adapting the city's infrastructure to climate change, The New York Times reported.
The ruling comes nearly a month after a federal judge in San Francisco dismissed a similar case brought by the cities of Oakland and San Francisco.
In his decision Thursday, Judge John F. Keenan of United States District Court for the Southern District of New York echoed the reasoning of Federal Judge William Alsup when he dismissed the San Francisco and Oakland case.
While both judges acknowledged the reality of climate change, they thought that crafting policy around it was too large an issue for the courts to settle.
"Global warming and solutions thereto must be addressed by the two other branches of government," Keenan wrote in his decision.
But environmentalists pointed out that fossil fuel companies like the defendants had done everything in their power to stop the other branches of government from acting.
"There is a grave irony here. The fossil fuel company defendants claimed in court—and the judge apparently agreed—that it is entirely up to Congress and the President to address climate change. But these same defendants and their trade groups have fought successfully against even modest laws and regulations to cut the carbon pollution from burning fossil fuels that causes global warming," Union of Concerned Scientists President Ken Kimmel said in a statement reported by Climate Liability News.
Like San Francisco, New York City spokesperson Seth Stein said the city would appeal the decision.
"The mayor believes big polluters must be held accountable for their contributions to climate change and the damage it will cause New York City. We intend to appeal this decision and to keep fighting for New Yorkers who will bear the brunt of climate change," he told The New York Times.
The city had argued that the defendants―Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, BP and Royal Dutch Shell―had known about the risks posed by burning fossil fuels since the 1950s and had "engaged in an overt public relations campaign intended to cast doubt on climate science," an argument Keenan acknowledged in his decision.
The cases brought by New York, San Francisco, Oakland and other municipalities attempt to sue oil companies using state public nuisance law that allows courts to find defendants liable for interfering with the use of property, according to The New York Times.
Attempts to sue oil companies over climate change under federal nuisance law led to a Supreme Court decision in 2011 ruling that the Clean Air Act displaced nuisance law on the federal level and put the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in charge of dealing with the issue.
The new batch of lawsuits argues state nuisance law still applies, but Keenan rejected the idea that state law would apply to the city's lawsuit, saying climate change was an area of "federal concern," The New York Times reported.
However, environmental law experts said judges trying similar cases in state courts might rule differently.
"The cases that are either filed in federal court or—as with the San Francisco and Oakland cases—removed to federal court are decided under federal law," University of California Los Angeles environmental law professor Ann Carlson told Climate Liability News. "Federal nuisance law is much less favorable for the cities and counties than state law is. The state courts are where we are likely to see interesting and perhaps surprising rulings."
There are currently similar cases pending in courts in California, Washington, Colorado and Rhode Island, Climate Liability News reported.
Judge Throws Out Historic Climate Liability Cases Brought by Oakland and San Francisco https://t.co/uWjK3UJaNg… https://t.co/xKX1zFKNTL— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1530025579.0
By Jason Mark
Can any one group of actors be held responsible for the damages caused by global climate change?
That was the central question argued in federal court on Thursday as attorneys representing San Francisco and Oakland tried to beat back efforts by ExxonMobil, BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips and Royal Dutch Shell to have a judge throw out a potentially groundbreaking climate change related lawsuit.
The nearly three-hour hearing was the latest round in a burgeoning effort by cities and counties nationwide to hold major fossil fuel producers accountable for climate change-related damages. Last year, seven California cities and counties sued the oil majors, claiming that their production and sale of fossil fuels—even as they were aware of the risks of CO2 emissions—constitute a public nuisance. Since then, similar suits have been filed by New York City; Boulder and two Colorado counties; and King County, Washington, home to the city of Seattle. (For more, see SIERRA's May/June cover story, "The Case for Climate Reparations.")
Thursday's hearing represented the first major test of such lawsuits as Judge William Alsup considered whether the Oakland and San Francisco complaint should move forward. The defendants challenged the lawsuit on a broad range of grounds, forcing Judge Alsup, a Clinton-appointee known for being an idiosyncratic jurist, to say at one point, "There are a lot of arguments here. As soon as I focus on one, you run off to another one."
The defendants' arguments for dismissing the suit centered on two main questions: whether the Federal District Court for Northern California is an appropriate jurisdiction to decide the case, and, of larger concern, whether the lawsuits might be displaced by existing federal laws and policies.
Arguments hinged on a welter of legal terms such as "general jurisdiction" versus "personal jurisdiction" versus "specific jurisdiction," while also touching on the distinctions between a holding company and an operating company. (Lawyers for Royal Dutch Shell maintained that the Netherlands-based multinational corporation is a holding company, and therefore has no agents in California.) In the course of the arguments it became clear that the very scale of the contested issue—global climate change—further complicates the questions of jurisdiction. The defendants argued that it's hard, if not impossible, to establish direct causation for a specific harm when the source of that harm is billions of people burning fossil fuels worldwide.
"[The plaintiffs] have decided that they do not want to and cannot disaggregate the conduct that leads to their harm," Jaren Janghorbani, an attorney representing ExxonMobil, said. "They cannot attribute any of the harm they are alleging to the company's activities in California."
Jonathan Hughes, a lawyer representing BP, echoed that point. "The amount [of CO2 emissions from its California operations] that could be attributed to BP would be a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a percent. And under the but-for argument, if BP hadn't produced any fossil fuels, would they have still suffered an injury? The answer is yes. We are talking about a speck in the ocean."
In response, Benjamin Krass, a lawyer representing San Francisco and Oakland, said the oil company attorneys were "muddying up" the but-for argument—the principle of tort law that establishes liability. "The end result of the defendants' argument is that a company that does business everywhere should be held accountable nowhere."
In the end, Judge Alsup said he didn't have enough information to make a decision on the jurisdiction question. He gave both sides at least 60 days for a discovery process and depositions to establish whether each of the defendants has sufficient business operations in California for the two California cities to claim injury.
That left Chevron, the only defendant headquartered in California, to argue for dismissal based on the merits of the case. Chevron attorney Theodore Boutrous, Jr. began by saying that the cities' claims stretch federal common law and that "the plaintiffs are asking this court to throw caution to the wind." Boutrous went on to argue that a complex issue like climate change "should be committed to those who write the laws rather than those who interpret them." And Congress, Boutrous argued, has again and again passed laws in favor of fossil fuel production. "Congress has made clear that energy production is not a public nuisance; it is a public necessity."
As a rebuttal, Steve Berman, the lead counsel for the two cities, argued that the cities' complaints are not nearly as novel as the defendants make it seem—but instead merely the application of ancient laws to contemporary circumstances. "The law of nuisance has been around forever, and it has responded to changes in mankind. What we are doing is applying hundreds of years of law to a new situation." Berman later said, "We allege that this was a deliberate nuisance, based on phony science."
The San Francisco and Oakland case has generated a great deal of attention among legal scholars and climate change activists. In March, Judge Alsup held an unusual "climate science tutorial" as a preliminary step in the case—an event that attracted so big a crowd, the court had to reserve an overflow room. The case has also become a proxy battle of sorts. Fifteen states with Republican attorneys general—including Indiana, Colorado, Kansas and Louisiana—filed an amicus brief in support of the oil corporations' position. Meanwhile, California, New Jersey and Washington filed their own brief backing the cities' arguments.
The federal government has also weighed in. Two weeks ago the U.S. Department of Justice filed a brief supporting the five oil companies, and on Thursday, Eric Grant, a deputy assistant attorney general, was given time to express the federal government's opposition to the San Francisco and Oakland suits. "It is upon Congress, not the courts, to prescribe policy in areas of special interest," Grant said. "As this court knows, in respect to domestic emissions, the kind of national policy-making sought by plaintiffs is inappropriate … [Climate change] is a complex issue involving trade-offs affecting a nation of more than 300 million people. Individual federal district courts lack the competence to undertake that task."
The federal government's arguments appeared to give Judge Alsup pause, even as he continued to express exasperation with the legal maneuverings of some of the defendants. "There is no court in the history of the universe that has extended this [federal common law] to global warming," the judge said. "The United States is pointing to Supreme Court language that judges like me have to move slowly … There's no doubt there will be some sea rise. But will it be in 75 years or 25 years? We don't know."
To which Berman, the plaintiff's attorney, responded, "That's what the trial is for. Today we're talking about a motion to dismiss."
Whether the case will ever make it to a trial is, of course, now in the hands of Judge Alsup.
Chevron Presents on Climate Science While Oil Companies Move to Dismiss Landmark Case https://t.co/5G7gd1Ondw… https://t.co/7LzfhEl7y3— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1521729666.0
Reposted with permission from our media associate SIERRA magazine.
- Schwarzenegger to Sue Big Oil for 'Murder' ›
- Charleston, SC Becomes First City in U.S. South to Sue Big Oil for Climate Costs - EcoWatch ›
King County, which covers the Seattle metropolitan area, followed the lead of 10 other cities and counties in the U.S. when it filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the world's five largest oil companies for damages incurred by climate change, a county press release announced.
"The science is undisputable: climate change is impacting our region today, and it will only cause greater havoc and hardships in the future," King County Executive Dow Constantine said in the press release. "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," he said.
In particular, King County is suing the companies for help with stormwater management, salmon restoration, and protecting public health, as well as other measures to adapt the region to climate change.
Overall, eight California cities and counties have sued a variety of oil companies for damages. The suits aren't limited to the West Coast. New York City and Boulder, Colorado, together with Boulder County and San Miguel County, have also filed climate-related suits against oil companies this year. Since the Colorado cities and counties filed their lawsuit together, that would make King County the eleventh U.S. urban area to take on Big Oil.
"This is a moment of reckoning for the oil and gas industry," Center for Climate Integrity executive director Richard Wiles said in a statement responding to the new suit.
"Taxpayers are tired of paying for climate damages that the oil industry knowingly caused. And just like lawsuits against tobacco, lead, and asbestos manufacturers, they are taking action to recover costs," Wiles said.
The King County suit was filed in King County Superior Court and was developed by Seattle's Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP, a firm that helped win a historic settlement against tobacco companies in the 1990s.
The lawsuit further accuses the defendants of "[stealing] a page from the Big Tobacco playbook" during the 1990s and early 2000s by launching misinformation campaigns discrediting climate science and downplaying the risks of global warming. "'Uncertainty' of the science became the constantly repeated mantra of this Big Oil communications campaign just as 'Doubt is our product' was the Big Tobacco communications theme," the lawsuit said.
The county's attorneys said the oil companies might owe hundreds of millions of dollars into a fund to offset the impacts of climate change in the region.
According to the lawsuit, climate change is already impacting King County in the form of warmer temperatures, ocean acidification, increasing flood risk due to sea level rise, less snow on the region's many mountains in the winter and less water in the summer. These impacts are only projected to worsen.
Parts of King County above the historic mean high tide line now experience regular flooding, and the water level of Puget Sound is projected to increase by as much as 56 inches by 2100, the press release reported.
First, the five companies in question—Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, BP and Royal Dutch Shell—filed a motion Tuesday to dismiss the case, arguing that the U.S. Supreme Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit had dismissed similar cases in the past because the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, not private companies, is responsible for setting and enforcing carbon dioxide levels, Forbes reported.
But they didn't file in time to avoid participating in Wednesday's historic climate science tutorial. U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup, who is currently hearing the case, ordered both sides to answer a series of questions about climate science in a two-hour presentation each.
Chevron was the only company whose lawyer actually presented at the tutorial. The other companies did not present as a show of their opposition to the court's jurisdiction, Alyssa Johl, an attorney and the founder of Climate Rights Collective, reported in a live tweet of the tutorial.
Judge Alsup interrupts Chevron lawyer to ask whether he represents all defendants or Chevron only... Boutrous makes… https://t.co/553TXSKZZs— Alyssa Johl (@Alyssa Johl)1521658403.0
Alsup, however, did not let the other companies off the hook, but gave their lawyers two weeks to file statements detailing any differences they had with the testimony of Chevron's lawyer.
Judge Alsup speaks directly to defendants who did not present... you cannot sit in silence. You have 2 weeks to acc… https://t.co/Hbh9oIh6tB— Alyssa Johl (@Alyssa Johl)1521661904.0
Chevron was represented by Theodore Boutrous, Jr., who did not attempt to deny the science behind climate change and based his presentation on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report, which was published in 2013.
According to Grist's Nathaniel Johnson, the strategy behind this move was revealed when Boutrous cited part of the report which states that climate change is caused "largely by population and economic growth.
Chevron's lawyer at #climatetutorial - "IPCC does not say it's the extraction of fossil fuels [that causes climate… https://t.co/PKoarhlgd9— Jessica Wentz (@Jessica Wentz)1521657040.0
"This appears to be the core of the oil companies' strategy," Johnson wrote in his write-up of the session. "First, believe everything the IPCC says. Second, the IPCC says the real problem is prosperity, economic growth! Therefore, blame the ones burning the oil—all we did was dig the stuff up."
Several observers also questioned Boutrous' reliance on five-year-old data in such a fast-moving field, since it played up the IPCC's "uncertainties" regarding the impacts of climate change, which have only gotten frighteningly more certain in the intervening years.
"Sea-level rise science from the past few years blows this out of the water," journalist Amy Westervelt noted in a tweet from the courtroom.
This! Sea-level rise science from the past few years blows this out of the water. Seem disingenuous to present 5-ye… https://t.co/uEmHELQsCc— Ida Tarbell (@Ida Tarbell)1521659112.0
Even one of the scientists who presented for the cities, University of Illinois professor Don Wuebbles, who helped write the IPCC and the more recent 4th U.S. Climate Assessment, cast shade on Boutrous' reliance on the report.
"The science doesn't stop at 2012," Wuebbles said, according to the McClatchy Washington Bureau.
Wuebbles highlights the fact that #climatescience does not stop at 2012. Chevron lawyer cherrypicked data on sea le… https://t.co/b8VXxqAdhq— Alyssa Johl (@Alyssa Johl)1521661728.0
Two other scientists presented for the cities before Boutrous and Wuebbles spoke. The University of Oxford's Myles Allen spoke on the history of climate science and University of California, Santa Cruz professor Gary Griggs spoke on the relationship between climate change and sea level rise, according to Alyssa Johl's live tweets.
Deborah Moore, western states campaign manager at the Union of Concerned Scientists, was a courtroom observer. She noted a part of Allen's testimony that might be particularly useful to the cities' case: it is, apparently, possible to directly link products sold by particular companies to the emissions they produced.
Prof Allen notes 50% of emissions produced since ~1980 and that it is possible to trace CO2 emissions directly to p… https://t.co/3rNzeMR9Vb— Deborah Moore (@Deborah Moore)1521648233.0
But first, Alsup will have to decide if there will continue to be a case at all. According to Forbes, Alsup will likely hear the companies' motion to dismiss in April.
By Ken Kimmell
A major front in the climate change debate has moved to the courtroom, as I've previously discussed. Last week, plaintiffs in two separate cases won significant procedural victories—one against major fossil fuel companies, and a second against the Trump administration. Here are the latest developments and their implications.
Bay Area vs. Big Oil
In this suit, The People of the State of California v. BP et al., the cities of San Francisco and Oakland sued five major oil companies (BP, ExxonMobil, Chevron, Conoco Phillips and Shell), charging that these companies created a public nuisance by extracting and selling oil, coal and gas while misleading the public about the harms that these products cause.
The two cities filed in state court and under state law. This was an important strategic choice, as the U.S. Supreme Court and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (which covers California) had dismissed prior cases brought in federal court, holding that congress enacted the Clean Air Act to comprehensively address the emission of greenhouse gases, and that therefore there was no role for federal lawsuits of this kind.
Citing the precedent of these earlier rulings, the defendant oil companies transferred the cities' cases to federal court, and argued that the cities' claims were preempted by federal law. In response, the cities claimed that they had a right to file in state court and that their claims under state law were not preempted by federal law, and they asked the judge to send the cases back to state court.
A federal district court judge issued a decision that neither side argued for. The court decided in the oil companies' favor that the case was properly in federal court, reasoning—with some logic—that climate change is an international problem, that state courts might apply inconsistent standards if allowed to adjudicate these cases, and that only the federal court could apply a uniform standard.
But, the court went on to find that the two earlier cases which had dismissed federal court suits did not apply to this case. The court found that while the Clean Air Act addresses the emissions from fossil fuel combustion, the San Francisco/Oakland case was not about emissions of pollutants, but rather an alleged scheme to sell a product through deception. The court reasoned—again with some logic—that the Clean Air Act offered no remedy for that conduct, and therefore did not preempt this lawsuit.
This part of the ruling was a major win for the plaintiffs, as it seems to take away the key defense of preemption that the oil companies seemed to be counting on.
On top of this, the court also ordered the parties to participate in a five-hour "climate science" tutorial for the court, to be held on Mar. 21. The judge ordered the parties to "trace the history of scientific study of climate change, beginning with scientific inquiry into the formation and melting of the ice ages, periods of historic cooling and warming, smog, ozone, nuclear winter, volcanoes and global warming." And further, to inform the court of "the best science now available on global warming, glacier melt, sea rise and coastal flooding."
This is fascinating and highly unusual. As anyone who has seen a trial on television or in the movies knows, courts don't conduct tutorials; they oversee trials, in which lawyers present the testimony of witnesses under oath and each side gets to examine and cross examine. The sheer novelty of this procedure is a good sign for the plaintiffs. Why would the judge invest time and energy to learn about climate science unless he thought the plaintiffs' legal claims might rest on a durable foundation? Also, the fact that the court asked for a climate science timeline suggests the court is honing in on some key questions: what did the fossil fuel companies know about climate change, when did they know it, and how did their public statements square with the scientific consensus at the time?
All eyes will be on this climate science tutorial, which will presumably be open to the public. To my knowledge, this is the first time climate science will be presented to a court in this fashion, and it offers an excellent opportunity to highlight the longstanding and well-supported scientific consensus.
It is too early to confidently predict what lies ahead but, on the basis of the judge's initial opinion, one can say this: the courtroom door is open now on these issues as it never has been before.
Kids sue to protect themselves and future generations.
In this case, Juliana v. the United States, a group of kids are suing the Trump administration for failing to protect them against the harms of climate change. I wrote about the novelty of this case last fall, and its early success when a federal district court judge in Oregon ordered the case to trial, rejecting all the Trump administration's procedural defenses.
Since that time, the Trump administration asked the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal to dismiss the case. This was an unusual move because, ordinarily, a party to a lawsuit cannot appeal until the trial court has issued a final judgment. In this case, however, the district court had not done so. Predictably, the court of appeals ruled that the appeal was therefore premature, and sent the case back to the district court.
(Full disclosure: UCS joined a friend of the court brief on this issue, ably authored by Earthjustice attorneys).
The case was originally set for trial in February, 2018, but the Trump administration's appeal delayed that. Presumably, the next step will be for the court to set another trial date.
This is not good news for the Trump administration. At a minimum, a trial on this will be a public relations nightmare in which an appealing group of kids, represented by experienced attorneys, will have the opportunity to question Trump administration officials in open court. They will no doubt ask questions that the administration will find extremely difficult to answer, such as: Why has the Trump administration sought to withdraw from the Paris agreement, rolled back regulations to lower greenhouse gas emissions, and promoted subsidies for coal? Does the Trump administration not accept climate science? Does it not care about the harm of runaway climate change?
Further down the line, if the plaintiffs are successful in district court and if the court of appeals or the supreme court affirms the ruling (all very big "ifs," of course), the Trump administration faces the prospect of being forced under court order to develop and implement a plan to address climate change.
Chickens coming home to roost.
These lawsuits and the apparent judicial receptiveness to them—at least so far—are not accidental. Courts are heavily influenced by historic context, and judges are no doubt well aware of the pressing urgency of climate change and the failure of the federal government to address it. With no solution in sight, it is not surprising that courts are increasingly willing to hear cases urging a strong judicial role.
Is it ideal that courts, rather than our elected representatives, would decide these issues? Of course not. Maybe it is time for those who have opposed having our elected leaders take action on climate to consider this question–would they prefer the courts to do that job?