Climate Cast: California Cities v. Big Oil

The latest salvos in climate wars are in the courts.

San Francisco and Oakland, California are suing five major oil companies saying they are accountable for the effects of climate change. The cities are suing Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell, and BP.

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

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On this week's MPR Climate Cast I talk with two attorneys who are following the suit.

Mehmet Konar-Steenberg teaches Energy and Environmental Law with Mitchell Hamline School of Law in the Twin Cities. I started by asking Columbia Law School’s Michael Berger, if what we’re seeing the is just the tip of a ‘climate change legal iceberg,’ lurking below the waterline?

Bloomberg reported this week that climate-enhanced weather disasters could cost almost $1 billion a day in the U.S. within a decade.

That’s based on a study from the Universal Ecological Fund that finds total costs to address the impacts of rising temperatures could increase 50 percent by 2027, to about $360 billion a year.

NOAA keeps track of billion-dollar weather disasters in the U.S. In the past 10 years, Texas alone has had 40 separate billion-dollar weather disasters.

TC: And we’re still watching a very difficult situation in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria?

PH: Tom to me this looks like another climate change-enhanced extreme weather shock wave.

The best climate science says Hurricane Maria was likely made stronger by warmer ocean water, and more water vapor in the atmosphere. Both are metrics of a warming climate.

Let's be clear to separate out the likely climate change-effect here. Any hurricane hitting Puerto Rico would have caused damage. But a stronger, climate change-enhanced storm like Maria likely increased that damage significantly.

Latest climate change driven migration?

Bloomberg also quoted Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello this week warning that without "unprecedented relief" from the U.S. government, "thousands if not millions" of residents could leave the island for the mainland. That would strain housing, job markets, and government services in cities that receive those fleeing the island.

We already know after Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy, thousands of people migrated away and never returned.

So if tens of thousands leave Puerto Rico as expected, we are may be witnessing the latest episode of climate-fueled migration in America.

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