US Local Governments Sue Fossil Fuel Companies for Climate Change Damages

Category: Science/Environment


Unlocking Word Meanings

Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article.

  1. fossil fuel / ˈfɒs əl ˈfyu əl / (n) – fuel such as oil, gas, or coal formed underground from ancient plant and animal remains

    Some Middle Eastern countries have rich deposits of fossil fuels.

  2. hold (someone/something) accountable / hoʊld əˈkaʊn tə bəl / (idiom) – to believe that someone is responsible for something

    The residents hold the chemical factory accountable for water pollution in their area.

  3. catastrophe / kəˈtæs trə fi / (n) – a disastrous event

    Natural catastrophes are difficult to prevent.

  4. hold water / hoʊld ˈwɔ tər, ˈwɒt ər / (idiom) – to be reasonable and valid

    I am confident that our case will hold water because I have enough evidence.

  5. trace / treɪs / (v) – to find out the cause or origin of something

    Experts traced the cause of the oil spill to a leak in the pipes.


Read the text below.

Local governments in the United States are filing lawsuits against fossil fuel companies for aggravating climate change.

New York, San Francisco, and Oakland are among the nine US cities and counties that have sued Big Oil, a group of fossil fuel companies that include BP, Exxon Mobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and Royal Dutch Shell. The local governments are holding these companies accountable for greatly contributing to climate change, which caused extreme weather conditions like floods, wildfires, landslides, and other similar catastrophes.

A report published in the Washington Journal of Environmental Law and Policy revealed that in 2010, Exxon Mobil alone was accountable for global climate change damages that amounted to $19.6 billion. The company’s annual contribution to costs and damages related to climate change is also forecasted to reach $138.6 billion by 2030.

Although no climate lawsuit has reached the trial stage, Vic Sher—a partner at the law firm Sher Edling LLP—is confident that the local governments’ cases will hold water. According to Sher, scientific data can now trace about two-thirds of the greenhouse gas emissions since the Industrial Revolution back to fossil fuel companies. Greenhouse gases cause greenhouse effect or the situation wherein the atmosphere traps heat radiation from the sun. Greenhouse effect, in turn, leads to climate change.

Aside from scientific data, the recent lawsuits will also present evidence that the companies did not take action despite knowing that fossil fuels cause climate change. Leaked internal documents show that the companies deliberately misled the public by promoting their products as environment-friendly in order to protect their business.

Viewpoint Discussion

Enjoy a discussion with your tutor.

Discussion A

• Do you agree that the local governments should hold fossil fuel companies accountable for climate change? Explain.
• Apart from fossil fuel companies, what other industries should be held accountable for causing climate change?

Discussion B

• How do you think your country is affected by climate change?
• What can your country do to address the effects of climate change? Discuss.