TOAs the impacts of the climate crisis multiply in the US, from intensifying drought and wildfires in the west to the strongest hurricanes in the east, one question is ringing louder: who should it be? responsable?
According to an unprecedented number of lawsuits brought by US cities and states currently working their way through the court system, the answer is fossil fuel companies.
The The lawsuits bring together a wide range of well-established facts that detail how for decades the major oil corporations knew that the burning of fossil fuels was wreaking havoc on the environment. Industry elites heard dire warnings from their own scientists, who predicted the urgency of the climate crisis nearly 60 years ago. But instead of taking swift action, oil conglomerates mounted a coordinated disinformation campaign to stifle political action and public awareness around the growing scientific consensus pointing to a climate emergency.
Now, the lawsuits conclude, fossil fuel companies must pay for the damage they have contributed to causing the planet.
The Guardian’s new series, Climate Crimes, will examine these attempts to hold industry accountable and investigate the tactics used by companies to circumvent their own role in global warming. It will also question the central question that arises from these lawsuits: is the climate crisis in fact a crime scene?
There is good reason to think that we will know more soon. The legal process for the roughly two dozen climate change lawsuits currently pending in the US is likely to reveal more damning information that could further detail the scope of the oil industry’s hoaxes. Research reports have already revealed that companies conducted their own research on climate change decades ago; In 1979, for example, an Exxon study said that burning fossil fuels “will cause dramatic environmental effects” for decades to come, and concluded that “the potential problem is great and urgent.” By copying the playbook used by the big tobacco companies, the firms were able to cast doubt on the existence of the problem that persists to this day.
Legal headaches for the industry are likely to get worse. As the lawsuits progress through the courts and reveal in greater detail what the oil companies knew and when, other states and cities can be expected to join the litigation. That, in turn, could increase popular and political pressure on the oil giants to take the climate emergency seriously and, perhaps, to make restitution.
Besides the lawsuits, there are other signs that the tide is turning for the fossil fuel industry. Over the course of a single day in May, the industry faced a series of shameful reprimands as a Dutch court ordered Shell to cut its emissions by 45% and activist investors won seats on the ExxonMobil board of directors.
At the same time, after decades of denying the true nature of the global warming threat, the oil industry now says it is committed to a greener future through renewable energy and zero-carbon targets. Is this a sincere attempt to ameliorate a global crisis, or just one more public relations move by the oil giants to avoid the regulations and policies that the planet urgently needs?
To help raise awareness of the climate crisis and the role of fossil fuel companies, and to expand the impact and reach of the project, The Guardian shares all the stories in this series with Covering Climate Now, a global news collaboration of more than 400 media outlets.
We also want to hear from fossil fuel experts who can help us tell the story of the industry’s role in climate change. Contact us here.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism