Sandbags hold back the sea in Kivalina, Alaska.
A tiny Alaskan village is suing 24 major energy companies for damages due to global warming. The 390 residents of Kivalina, an Inupiat Eskimo village built on a barrier reef in the Arctic Ocean, have found themselves of the front lines of climate change over the past few years, as melting sea ice has exposed the village to storms and erosion. The cost of eventually relocating the entire village has been estimated at $400 million.According to the villagers' lawyer, damage caused to the village by global warming has been documented by no less than the Army Corp of Engineers and the General Accounting Office. The villagers' lawsuit is based on the federal common law of public nuisance, as well as a charge of conspiracy on behalf of some of the defendants to mislead the public about the facts of global warming.
The list of defendants reads like a who's who of fossil fuel industry fat cats, including: Exxon Mobil, BP, Chevron, Royal Dutch Shell PLC, ConocoPhillips and a host of power companies. The residents allege that the carbon emissions of these companies are the major factor that led to Kivalina's current predicament.
Whether the suit, filed last week in a California court, will manage to hold the energy sector responsible for one village's struggle with climate change remains to be seen, but it certainly is an important precedent, and perhaps even a hint of things to come.