I recently posted about the increasing number of lawsuits filed against corporations and government by citizens affected by climate change. One case to watch was initiated—where else?—on our west coast.
In July, Vancouver’s city council took preliminary steps toward supporting a lawsuit against the world’s five largest oil and gas companies, seeking damages for the local costs of climate change. Councillor Adriane Carr brought forward a motion that the city contribute up to $1 for every Vancouver resident toward a proposed class-action suit. The suit is a project of the Sue Big Oil campaign initiated by West Coast Environmental Law.
While dozens of municipalities in the U.S. have taken legal action against oil companies, this would be a first for Canada.
The lawsuit would claim that oil companies should be held responsible for their share of the city’s climate costs because they knew about their industry’s effects on global warming years ago but covered up evidence, produced disinformation and lobbied against action.
Alleged climate damage to Vancouver includes a tornado that brought 110-kilometre winds to the UBC campus, high winds and tides that damaged sea walls in Stanley Park, an unusually cold spell last December, and a heat dome last summer that killed 619 people throughout the province. According to councillor Carr, Vancouver will have to spend $50-million to repair last year’s damages from various natural calamities.
Just how unusual and destructive the heat dome was is indicated by the little town (or former town) of Lytton 90 miles northeast of the city. The temperature hit almost 50 degrees Celsius, shattering the previous high by six degrees, and a wildfire demolished the town.
According to the Insurance Bureau of Canada and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, local governments across Canada will have to spend a total of $5.3-billion a year on infrastructure and other projects to account for the effects of climate change.
Whether or not Vancouver pursues the case will depend on the next city council, to be elected in the fall. As the motion passed the current council by only a narrow 6 to 5, it isn’t guaranteed. It would then be necessary to get the Supreme Court of B.C. to certify a class-action suit
There was a lot of doubt about suing cigarette companies at one time—they just produced what consumers demanded they claimed, and if you suffered from smoking it was your own fault. The companies won the early cases, but when it was revealed that the companies had known for years how destructive their product was and kept the evidence hidden, plaintiffs began to win and since have been awarded billions. Perhaps suing oil companies will follow a similar arc.
Vancouver is an appropriate pioneer for the suit. This city is, after all, the most environmentally conscious in the country, the birthplace of Greenpeace.
If you’re sympathetic to the Sue Big Oil campaign, you can join it here, or just sign their declaration.