In 2019, 80% percent of U.S. CO2 emissions were from the burning of fossil fuels. The use of fossil fuels hasn’t been the only devastating impact our planet has suffered either. Oil spills, new pipelines, and oil drills have further added to the climate crisis. Even with scientists and conservationists speaking out about needing to move away from fossil fuels and prevent further climate change, these companies haven’t been held accountable for the part they have played. Well, this is about to change.
The high court of Massachusetts just ruled that Exxon will face trial over accusations of lying about climate change and deliberately covering up the fossil fuel industry’s impact on climate change. The lawsuit specifically brings up the oil giant’s failure to uphold the consumer protection laws of Massachusetts. By covering up the environmental effects caused by the burning of fossil fuels, Exxon deliberately endangered the lives of the residents of the state by polluting the air and waterways. The lawsuit also accuses Exxon of misleading its investors for decades regarding the degree of impact the company has on climate change.
Exxon has spoken out against the case brought forward by Massachusetts attorney general Maura Healey as politically motivated. Healey is currently running for governor, and Exxon, the U.S.’s largest oil company, has claimed that this case violates the company’s right to free speech through the ‘Slapps,’ which is when wealthy individuals or corporations use their power to silence critics. The Massachusetts supreme judicial court unanimously voted out this counterclaim.
The Exxon lawsuit is being compared to the decades of lies and coverups fabricated by the tobacco industry to convince consumers that smoking was not bad for them and even had benefits in some instances. The State of Massachusetts is accusing Exxon of knowing for decades the risks and impact the burning of fossil fuels has on the environment, downplaying the severity, and even pointedly covering up the impact. Depending on the course of this trial, Exxon may be forced to release shameful documents and reports that will prove the extent of their knowledge. Healey sees the case as “a resounding victory in our work to stop Exxon from lying to investors and consumers in our state.”
The case against Exxon is not the first and hopefully not the last case against the oil industry. Another lawsuit in Rhode Island, this time against 21 major oil companies, including Exxon, Shell, and BP, has also moved forward into the state’s court. Similar lawsuits have moved forward in Maryland, Colorado, and California just this year. Since 2016, over 700 suits have been filed speaking out against the oil industry, whether targeting the oil companies directly or even the local governments for failing to protect its citizens. The people are tired; enough is enough.
If this case is going to be anything like the lawsuits that started targeting the tobacco industry in the late 90s, I will be paying close attention. Although we are seeing legislation and technology improvements that are moving toward renewables, the fossil fuel industry is still responsible for a gross majority of energy in the world. These slow shifts are tremendous but are not happening quickly enough if we truly want to stop aggravating the climate crisis and start working on solutions to heal our environment from the damage that has already been done. This is an amazing step forward, and I am eager to see how the state of Massachusetts will step forward to protect its people and the precedent this case will set for other lawsuits.
Get more like this—Sign up for our daily inspirational newsletter for exclusive content!
Photo: Brent Pace on Unsplash