California Sues Fossil Fuel Companies

The State of California has filed a lawsuit against several fossil fuel companies for their contribution to climate change, and for promoting climate disinformation. The lawsuit against Exxon Mobil, Shell, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, BP, and the American Petroleum Institute alleges that the defendants knew about the climate effects that fossil fuels would cause, and deliberately suppressed that information.

The State of California brings up obvious factual points in its lawsuit: that the defendants are responsible for causing and accelerating climate change, that they knew that the use of fossil fuels would have negative effects on the climate, that they sought to conceal the harms of burning fossil fuels, that they slowed the development of alternative energy sources – all so that they could pursue more corporate profits.

On these facts, the State of California is completely correct! But why is California only filing a lawsuit now, in 2023, when the dangers of fossil fuels were known to us for more than forty years? The fossil fuel companies were not the only ones who knew; scientists had been making predictions of warming since at least the 1970s. By 1988, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had formed. That fossil fuels would cause climate change is old news! So why didn’t California – or the U.S., or other national governments, do anything to drastically curb fossil fuel use? The capitalist governments are also working to protect corporate profits! But now that the predictable effects of climate change are happening, they (especially ambitious governors hoping to run for President) need to look like they are doing something meaningful about it.

What will this lawsuit accomplish? We are facing a climate emergency now. We cannot resign ourselves to waiting multiple years for the lawsuit to conclude, so that, maybe, possibly, the fossil fuel companies might be fined a small fraction of their profits.