Monday, May 27, 2024
May 27, 2024

Viewpoint: Polluters should pay costs


Exxon knew. It was a headline in the New York Times, on the BBC and the CBC, and almost every major news outlet at the beginning of this year.

In the late 1970s, Exxon built its own research group, hiring leading scientists of the day to get a sense of how big the climate problem might be. At that time, Exxon’s own research did more than confirm burning fossil fuels was covering our planet in a blanket of pollution that would overheat the planet. They also were able to predict with accuracy rivalling today’s climate models the temperature rise we’ve experienced over the past 40 years.

So what did Exxon do once they had made their findings by the 1980s? With a coalition of other oil, gas and coal companies, they spent the intervening years deceiving the public, denying the science and now delaying action.

How do we know this? Over the past decade lawsuits against these companies have forced oil companies to hand over internal documents, everything from research reports to private messages.

Big oil’s sophisticated sabotage of our collective ability to respond to this crisis is why, over the past five years, the global number of climate litigation cases has almost tripled, now well into the thousands. 

And now right here on Salt Spring, we are bearing the costs. Some of these costs we bear alone or as families — not being able to access insurance due to increased fire risk, having our driveways washed out in floods and having wells running dry at the end of summer.

Many of these costs will be shouldered by our local government. Here on Salt Spring, we will need to do more work each passing year to keep our community safe from catastrophic fire. The potability of water in Maxwell Lake is particularly at risk from fire and erosion with extreme weather. This is a lake that provides thousands of islanders with drinking water.

Elsewhere in British Columbia, our provincial government estimates that the Lower Mainland will have to spend $9.5 billion to protect that area from sea level rise. This is just one example of the overwhelming cost that profiting polluters need to pay, not us.

Sue Big Oil is a class-action lawsuit of local governments in B.C. joining together to stick it to these fossil fuel companies and make them pay for these costs. You can sign the declaration of support at, and write to our local Islands Trust trustees and/or our Capital Regional District electoral area director to encourage them to join.

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