In a groundbreaking move, California has launched a legal battle against five major oil corporations, accusing them of a decades-long campaign of misinformation regarding climate change. The complaint targets industry giants ExxonMobil, Shell, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and BP, all of which rank among the top eight largest oil corporations worldwide. The lawsuit seeks to hold these companies accountable for their role in concealing the environmental impact of fossil fuels.
Governor Gavin Newsom minced no words, asserting, "For more than 50 years, Big Oil has been lying to us, covering up the fact that they’ve long known how dangerous the fossil fuels they produce are for our planet." The state is seeking redress for the devastating consequences of climate change-related extreme weather events, such as wildfires, storms, and droughts. California taxpayers should not bear the burden of these disasters, Newsom argued.
The evidence against these oil giants is compelling. Recently, the Wall Street Journal disclosed internal documents showing that ExxonMobil developed strategies to downplay public concern about climate change, despite acknowledging its role in global warming as early as 2006. Congressional investigations also uncovered records suggesting that Shell and ExxonMobil executives privately disavowed their climate change commitments.
Additionally, a report in Science revealed that Exxon experts accurately predicted future warming trends between 1977 and 2003, despite the company's public denial of climate science.
California's lawsuit represents a significant milestone in the fight against climate deception. In addition to 36 municipalities and the District of Columbia, seven other states also hold these corporations accountable for their actions. This united front demonstrates a growing determination to challenge the powerful fossil fuel industry.
Crucially, the case is likely to remain in state court, where historically, plaintiffs have seen more favorable outcomes. The Supreme Court's recent decision to reject attempts by oil companies to move local government litigation to federal courts reinforces this precedent, further bolstering California's position.
Unsurprisingly, the industry is pushing back, arguing that climate policy should be debated in Congress, not the courtroom. However, this lawsuit highlights a crucial truth: these corporations cannot evade responsibility for their contributions to climate change simply because their products are widely used.
If California prevails, it could pave the way for other states to pursue similar legal action to recover the costs of climate change. As University of Miami Climate Accountability Lab director Geoffrey Supran aptly noted, "California is a bellwether for U.S. environmental action." With the world's fifth-largest economy taking a stand, a new era of accountability for Big Oil may be on the horizon. The floodgates have opened, and the industry can no longer operate with impunity.