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California Cities Sue Oil Firms Over Climate Change

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Two California cities are suing five major oil companies, accusing them of contributing to climate change.

San Francisco and Oakland are arguing that Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell and BP should be held accountable for bringing about higher sea levels, more extreme weather conditions and other effects of human-made climate change, The Hill reports.

"These fossil fuel companies profited handsomely for decades while knowing they were putting the fate of our cities at risk," said San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera.

"Instead of owning up to it, they copied a page from the big tobacco playbook," Herrera added. "They launched 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."

A number of suits have been brought against oil companies using similar arguments, including two by Marin and San Mateo counties in northern California. In 2008, a federal court threw out another lawsuit filed by a village in Alaska.

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The suits from San Francisco and Oakland refer to company documents and industry material, which attorneys say prove the companies knew the negative impact their products were having.

"The harm to our cities has commenced and will only get worse," Oakland City Attorney Barbara Parker added.

Chevron rejected the allegations in a statement, adding, "Chevron welcomes serious attempts to address the issue of climate change, but these suits do not do that."

"Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is a global issue that requires global engagement and action," Chevron's statement said. "Should this litigation proceed, it will only serve special interests at the expense of broader policy, regulatory and economic priorities."

Exxon spokesman Scott Silvestri agreed, stating that the allegations were "without merit."

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Figures show climate change-related lawsuits have been on the rise since 1990, Nexus Media reports. Since 2006, suits making use of climate science have also increased sharply.

A study published in the journal Science found that opponents of government regulation won 58 percent of cases on air pollution. On the other hand, pro-climate change litigants won the majority of cases involving renewable energy and energy efficiency.

"The new watch-phrase in climate change activism -- from both sides -- is, 'see you in court,'" said the study's lead author, Sabrina McCormick. "The judiciary is a critical piece in upholding a just society." McCormick is a professor of environment and occupational health at George Washington University.

Sources: The Hill, Nexus Media / Featured Image: Dllu/Wikimedia Commons / Embedded Images: Coolcaesar/Wikimedia Commons, Nancy Pelosi/Flickr

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