The village of Kivalina--population roughly 400--is suing 14 electric power producers, 5 oil companies and the company that sold 238 million tons of coal last year--fuel for a full 10 percent of U.S. electricity generation. The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court in San Francisco, alleges that these companies create a public nuisance by emitting or contributing to the emission of millions of metric tons of greenhouse gases every year. These greenhouse gases are warming the planet and, as a result, the village has seen its shoreline erode as sea ice fails to form. In fact, the residents will likely have to relocate soon and they'd like these companies to pick up the tab. The lawsuit represents the latest legal salvo in the growing tide of global warming-related court action. The problem facing many of these plaintiffs is showing the specific harm caused by global warming--a barrier Kivalina should have no trouble surmounting given reports on its deteriorating situation as a result of climate change from the Army Corps of Engineers and the Government Accountability Office [pdf]. But the lawyers will have to struggle with proving that these particular companies are to blame; globe-warming emissions emanate from nearly all walks of life, though electric utilities and cars lead the charge in the U.S. So the Inupiat villagers are charging these companies--particularly Exxon Mobil--with engaging in a willful conspiracy to create a false scientific debate--a tactic reputedly learned at the knee of the tobacco industry. Whether the villagers can collect the same kinds of damages that U.S. states enjoyed from the tobacco litigation remains to be seen--global warming lawsuits brought by some of these same states have recently been dismissed for being more political than legal. But an alleged climate change conspiracy may soon have its day in court.
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