San Francisco has become the first major city in the US to sue the five largest fossil fuel producers in the world for the costs of climate change. On Tuesday, San Francisco city attorney Dennis Herrera filed a lawsuit against Chevron, ExxonMobil, BP and Royal Dutch Shell.
The Golden Gate city will join ranks with several other counties and cities that have taken similar legal action in the past few months. These include the counties Marin, San Mateo and San Diego, and the city of Imperial Beach and Oakland.
All of these lawsuits are founded on the claim that these oil and gas companies knew for decades that fossil fuels were contributing to climate change. Yet, instead of informing the public, they actively concealed the information.
Herrera argues these companies are following in Big Tobacco's footsteps and have purposefully created a "multi-million dollar disinformation campaign to deny and discredit what was clear even to their own scientists: global warming is real, and their product is a huge part of the problem."
Big Oil's decision to keep this information from the public has resulted in catastrophic harm to both human life and property, causing billions of dollars in damage. And the damage will only get worse as rising seas encroach on major cities and infrastructure.
As coastal cities, San Francisco and Oakland are the front lines of climate change. A recent state report by Rising Seas in California predicts nearly ten feet of sea-level rise along San Francisco's coastline by 2100. This increase would be catastrophic and would cost these cities billions to prevent.
According to a joint statement from the attorneys of San Francisco and Oakland, the two cities are asking these five companies to pay "for the costs of sea walls and other infrastructure" that will be necessary to protect the cities "from ongoing and future consequences of climate change and sea level rise."
But the five companies being sued do not believe they should be held financially responsible for the effects of a global phenomenon.
"Chevron welcomes serious attempts to address the issue of climate change, but these suits do not do that," company spokeswoman Melissa Ritchie told the San Francisco Chronicle in an email.
"Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is a global issue that requires global engagement and action."
However, studies have shown that these companies have disproportionately contributed to climate change. In July, the Carbon Majors Report revealed that just 100 companies have been the source of more than 70% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions since 1988. And another study, found that nearly 30% of the rise in global sea level between 1880 and 2010 resulted from the emissions of the 90 largest carbon producers. Plus, more than 6% of the rise in global sea level resulted from emissions traced to the three largest contributors: ExxonMobil, Chevron and BP.
Despite the fact that these companies are largely responsible for climate change and the resulting environmental disasters, ExxonMobil, Chevron and BP have together pledged a mere $2.75 million toward Hurricane Harvey relief. In comparison, Amazon alone donated $1 million.
Clearly these companies are not doing enough to compensate for the detrimental effects that they have had on our environment. When the government is doing nothing to hold these companies financially responsible for climate change, it will be up to the courts to make sure that justice is served.