“We came here to let our voices be heard,” said one demonstrator in Washington, D.C. “Every human is entitled to basic human rights, not killing kids, not torturing people.”
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Huge crowds of protesters filled the streets of Washington, D.C. and other U.S. cities on Saturday to demand a cease-fire in Israel’s war on Hamas, which has killed and wounded thousands of Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip over the past month.
“We came here to let our voices be heard and our hearts and hoping we’ll change the way people see this conflict,” 70-year-old Manar Ghanayem toldThe Washington Post in the nation’s capitol, where demonstrators gathered in and around Freedom Plaza.
“Every human is entitled to basic human rights, not killing kids, not torturing people,” added Ghanayem, who traveled from North Carolina to march in D.C. with more than a dozen friends and family members, including young grandchildren.
Ghanayem also said that she voted for U.S. President Joe Biden in 2020 but was outraged by his response to the war. As she put it, “I can’t believe Biden is turning a blind eye to this and gave Israel the green light.”
Rather than advocating for a cease-fire, the Biden administration has pushed for “humanitarian pauses” in what critics are calling Israel’s “genocidal” air and ground assault of Gaza—launched after a Hamas-led surprise attack on Israel on October 7.
After speaking with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the beginning of the war, Biden said that “my administration’s support for Israel’s security is rock solid and unwavering.” He quickly asked Congress for $14.3 billion for the Israeli war effort, on top of the typical $3.8 billion in annual U.S. military aid.
“Americans do not support the genocide in Palestine, we do not support the occupation, yet we are being robbed of our own resources in order to fund this oppression,” said CodePink organizer Nour Jaghama earlier this week. Her anti-war group is a part of a broad coalition that supported Saturday’s demonstrations in the United States.
“We need to show our government that we are outraged at them for forcing us to participate in such a disgusting and devastating attack on humanity,” Jaghama continued. “As Americans, we have a responsibility to our brothers and sisters in Palestine to fight for them however we can.”
Jaghama also delivered a speech on Saturday. According to CodePink:
“One of the most prominent questions we need to ask ourselves is: Why we can hear these words and firsthand accounts from Gaza yet the genocide still continues? Why do only 18 representatives and ONLY ONE senator support a cease-fire? And why does President Biden insist on funding Netanyahu’s genocide?” she asked the crowd…
She then aimed her questions directly at President Biden: “Is this how you want to be remembered? A genocidal, destructive, warmonger? Shame! Look at this crowd, clearly the American people do not agree with your genocidal plans. You must call for a cease-fire now or solidify your position as one of the most inhumane presidents in American history. The American people demand a cease-fire, an end to the occupation, and the full liberation of Palestine.”
Demonstrators in D.C. carried signs with messages like “Stop U.S.-funded genocide,” “Cease-Fire Now,” and “Let Gaza Live!”
Sharing a photo from the D.C. gathering on social media, Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) said: “Solidarity with the hundreds of thousands of people nationwide who marched in support of a #CeasefireNOW. Our pro-peace, pro-humanity movement is strong and it is growing daily.”
The Saturday actions followed weeks of protests at places including congressional offices and major transit stations. Jewish Voice for Peace noted Monday that “Jewish people all throughout the United States are protesting in unprecedented numbers against Israel’s destruction of Gaza and the United States’ unwavering support.”
Protesters, supporters, and journalists shared updates on social media.
Officials in Israel say Palestinian militants are holding around 240 hostages and more than 1,500 Israelis have been killed over the past four weeks. According to the Gaza Health Ministry, Israel’s war on the besieged enclave has killed over 9,400 Palestinians. Amid a surge in settler violence, 133 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank.
Israel has faced global criticism for cutting off the people of Gaza from food, water, fuel, and medicine as well as bombing homes, schools, medical facilities, religious buildings, and a refugee camp. Some citizens of Israel have joined in worldwide demands for International Criminal Court action on “escalating Israeli war crimes and genocide.”
Pro-Palestinian protests were also held around the world on Saturday, including in Berlin, Germany; Dhaka, Bangladesh; London, England; Paris, France; Milan, Italy; Santiago, Chile; and Tokyo, Japan. Scientist and organizer Lucky Tran said on social media that “we are witnessing the biggest global anti-war protests since the Iraq War in 2003.”
In the United Kingdom, tens of thousands of people blocked London’s Oxford Circus and Piccadilly Circus, then marched to Trafalgar Square. Al Jazeera reported that “protesters held ‘Freedom for Palestine’ placards and chanted ‘cease-fire now’ and ‘in our thousands, in our millions, we are all Palestinians.'”
Political leaders owe their citizens the truth about the costs and the challenges of the energy transition on a warming planet. Last week, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak failed – and California Governor Gavin Newsom passed – that test.
If Sunak had mustered the courage to tell Brits the truth, rather than throwing up flack about excessive costs and burdens, he could have taken a cue from Newsom and said this instead: “The cost-of-living crisis is a fossil fuel crisis. Inflation persists. It’s not complicated. It’s not complicated. It’s the burning of oil. It’s the burning of gas. It’s the burning of coal – and we need to call that out.”
The sweeping complaint details the fossil fuel industry’s coordinated campaign to deceive the public about the dangers of fossil fuels.
“This is a historic moment,” Rob Bonta, California’s attorney general, told reporters on Sunday, as he stood alongside Gov. Gavin Newsom on the opening day of Climate Week NYC. The pair of California leaders were there to discuss the lawsuit the state had recently filed against Big Oil on behalf of the people of California to hold fossil fuel companies accountable for the effects of climate change.
While it is not the first to seek accountability from the fossil fuel industry for its role in fueling the climate crisis, California’s lawsuit stands out in several ways: The state has a reputation for leading on climate policy; it is on the frontlines of climate change; it is a producer of oil and gas; and it is, to date, the most politically and economically powerful state to sue Big Oil.
More than three dozen states and cities are suing oil, gas, and coal companies over their role in causing climate change. But California is the first fossil-fuel-producing state to do so. That sends a clear political message that the industry “is less powerful and trusted than before,” Nick Caleb, a climate and energy attorney with Breach Collective, told DeSmog. It may signal that fossil fuel companies do not have much of a future powering the state’s economy, Caleb said.
California is facing major economic and humanitarian costs from the climate emergency. The state, with a population of nearly 40 million people, has racked up several billions of dollars in climate-related damages on top of the tragic costs to human lives. Some insurance companies are backing away from the state due to the outsized risks.
“It’s incalculable in terms of the dollars, the lives lost, the funerals, and dead bodies in Paradise, California,” Newsom said on Sunday. In 2018, the Camp Fire decimated the northern California community and killed at least 85 people.
“We all know how California has suffered from climate impacts,” Christiana Figueres, one of the key architects of the Paris Agreement, told journalists at a Covering Climate Now conference at Columbia Journalism School in New York City on Thursday. She called California’s lawsuit “a major, major upgrade … in the liabilities and in the reach that climate litigation can have.”
The lawsuit names five companies — ExxonMobil, Shell, Chevron, BP, ConocoPhillips — and one lobby group, the American Petroleum Institute. It asserts that the companies knew about the climate risks associated with burning fossil fuels and greenhouse gas emissions, yet underplayed them to the public, and it argues that the climate disasters and devastation California is experiencing could have been largely avoided or mitigated were it not for the lies and deceit of the fossil fuel industry. “California is in the throes of a climate crisis,” the case contends.
The 135-page complaint, filed Friday in superior court in San Francisco, lays out the evidence of the alleged deception in great detail. Bonta called it the “most sweeping complaint thus far.”
“You cannot read it without crawling out of your skin,” Newsom added at Sunday’s press briefing.
Many of the details and revelations are known, but are worth recapping as they explain why major oil companies are facing similar lawsuits from so many states and municipalities.
A Public Campaign of Deception
First, as the complaint notes, “Defendants have known about the potential warming effects of GHG emissions since as early as the 1950s.” Nuclear physicist Edward Teller warned the oil industry at an API event in 1959 that global warming might melt the polar ice caps and submerge coastal cities.
In the late 1960s, as the complaint details, the Stanford Research Institute issued reports that accurately predicted the atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration in 2000. The reports, commissioned by API, further warned of the Antarctic ice cap melt, and explicitly connected CO2 rise to fossil fuel combustion.
More warnings came from industry scientists in the 1970s, but these were not disseminated publicly. Instead, Exxon realized that legislation affecting its business could take shape and decided to closely monitor the science but not publicly acknowledge or act on it. “In 1979, API and its members, including the Fossil Fuel Defendants, convened a Task Force to monitor and share cutting-edge climate research among members of the oil industry,” the complaint explains. This close assessment of potential climate impacts and climate modeling continued into the 1980s.
In 1988, an internal Shell report titled “The Greenhouse Effect” further pointed to fossil fuels as the cause of rising CO2 concentrations and warned of the devastating impacts on society.
The very real prospect of legislation and international action to combat climate change in the late 1980s and early 1990s, prompted a U-turn within the industry. The industry shifted tactics “from general research and internal discussion on climate change to a public campaign aimed at deceiving consumers and the public, including the inhabitants of California,” the complaint states. In publications and advertorials, the industry directly contradicted what it had known for decades about the role of fossil fuels in increasing CO2 emissions and temperature rise. During this time the Global Climate Coalition actively worked to undermine the public’s understanding of climate science and even to manipulate the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the UN’s climate science body.
The California lawsuit does not bring racketeering charges as some recent climate accountability lawsuits have. It does, however, refer to a conspiracy. According to the complaint, the defendants, through their trade associations and front groups like the Global Climate Coalition, “conspired to conceal and misrepresent the known dangers of burning fossil fuels.” While conspiracy is not charged, the lawsuit references it “for the purposes of establishing that California state court is the correct jurisdiction and venue for this case,” Caleb explained.
“Although the Fossil Fuel Defendants were competitors in the marketplace, they combined and collaborated with each other and with API on this public campaign to misdirect and stifle public knowledge in order to increase sales and protect profits,” the complaint argues.
The industry’s alleged deception delayed a transition to alternative and cleaner forms of energy and enabled a much greater buildup of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than otherwise would have occurred, the lawsuit argues, adding: “Defendants could have chosen a different path.”
Ben Franta, head of the Climate Litigation Lab at Oxford University and one of the key researchers to uncover evidence of the industry’s early climate change awareness and subsequent efforts to deceive, told DeSmog: “The bottom line is that major fossil fuel companies knew decades ago that their own products, unless replaced with safe energy sources, would cause catastrophic damage in the 21st century. They concealed their knowledge and misled the public about the reality, seriousness, cause, and solutions to the problem in order to keep selling fossil fuels and increase industry profits.”
API was instrumental to the execution of this plan. The trade association “played a key role in creating climate denialist organizations such as the Global Climate Coalition,” Franta said.
In response, API called California’s lawsuit part of an “ongoing, coordinated campaign to wage meritless, politicized lawsuits” against the oil and gas industry.
The Western States Petroleum Association, the main industry lobby for the western region including California, is not a named defendant in the complaint. Franta said API and WSPA have “both played key roles in deceiving the public about climate change and worsening climate damages,” but that “much more research to date has been conducted on API.”
Nevertheless, “their contributions to climate change are significant and actionable under California law,” Caleb told DeSmog, adding that WSPA “deserves to be held accountable” for greenwashing and deceptive conduct. WSPA has been named as a defendant in a climate lawsuit filed in June by Multnomah County, Oregon, the first such case to do so.
Industry’s Misleading Behavior Has “Not Stopped”
The complaint says the companies’ “efforts to mislead the public about climate change have not stopped.” In recent years, the oil and gas industry has shifted to prolific greenwashing. It portrays its products as “cleaner” or “low carbon,” and claims the industry is driving climate solutions.
“Just as tobacco companies promoted ‘low-tar’ and ‘light’ cigarettes … so too do Defendants peddle ‘low-carbon’ and ‘emissions-reducing’ fossil fuel products,” the complaint notes.
Yet Big Oil is now retreating on its meager climate commitments and doubling down on oil and gas production, even after raking in record profits in 2022. For instance, in June, Shell announced it would not follow through on its earlier promise to gradually decrease oil production through 2030.
“The fact that they’re still at it, rolling back ambition in real time … is shameful,” Newsom said on Sunday.
“They need to be held accountable. They need to pay for the damage that they’ve caused. They knew, they knew for years,” Bonta added.
In an emailed statement, a Shell spokesperson said the company’s “position on climate change has been a matter of public record for decades”, adding: “We do not believe the courtroom is the right venue to address climate change.”
ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP, and ConocoPhillips did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Lawsuit Opens the “Floodgates”
Newsom and Bonta made clear on Sunday that they’re hoping the state’s decision to sue Big Oil could therefore encourage other jurisdictions to do the same. California’s actions on climate have often broken new ground and inspired other states to follow suit — a phenomenon is called the “California effect.” For example, the state has set increasingly stringent vehicle tailpipe emissions standards, implemented the country’s first economy-wide cap-and-trade program, and has recently passed a first-in-the-nation law requiring large companies to publicly disclose their greenhouse gas emissions,
Climate lawyers and activists called California’s move to sue Big Oil “historic” and “decisive.”
“The California lawsuit is the most significant litigation against the industry that’s happened yet,” said Steven Donziger, an environmental and human rights attorney who successfully sued Chevron and faced retaliation for it. “All of these lawsuits together collectively can really force the phaseout of the industry. They’re important.”
“California’s lawsuit provides major momentum in the race to protect a livable planet,” Kassie Siegel, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute, said in an emailed statement. “This case opens a new avenue for California to lead the nation in ending deadly fossil fuels.”
Geoffrey Supran, associate professor of environmental science and policy and director of the Climate Accountability Lab at University of Miami, noted that California “is a bellwether for U.S. environmental action,” and that momentum to hold Big Oil accountable through litigation has been mounting for several years.
“Now that the fifth largest economy in the world has waded in, the floodgates are truly open,” he said.
As a state that still produces oil and gas, however, some say California is still not moving quickly enough to sever ties with the industry it is now suing. Mark Jacobson, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University, said that California “can do a lot more, faster,” noting the state continues to permit fossil gas usage in buildings, has not banned oil and gas drilling, and plans to phase out new gasoline-powered vehicles only by 2035, which is “five years after we need to transition 80 percent of the world away from fossil fuels.”
Campaign Demands “Polluters Pay”
A new activist campaign called “Make Polluters Pay,” which launched Monday in New York City, with a Times Square billboard and a six-figure digital ad buy and online petition, is supporting California’s call for more climate accountability lawsuits.
“Make Polluters Pay will be the first big public-facing campaign to build support for these climate lawsuits and the broader effort to hold the fossil fuel industry accountable for the damage they are doing to our health, climate and communities,” Jamie Henn, founder of Fossil Free Media, told DeSmog.
“I think California’s lawsuit is going to turn these climate liability cases into a serious movement that not only excites environmental lawyers, but the public writ large,” he added. “A few hundred million Americans experienced the brutal heat waves and other climate disasters this summer and they’re looking for someone to hold responsible. And when it comes to climate destruction, the answer is clear: it’s Big Oil.”
This post should be regarded as a draft subject to change or elaboration. dizzy deep
Politicians given a climate brief often come to appreciate and understand how desperate and important the current climate situation is. I have reached the same conclusion from my experience of addressing the climate. By contrast people who attack activists and protesters are totally ignorant and have no idea.
Zac Goldsmith resigned from Rishi Sunak’s government on 30th June 2023 claiming that Prime Minister Sunak was “simply uninterested” in the environment.
In his letter stepping down from the Foreign Office, where his portfolio was overseas territories, Commonwealth, environment, energy and climate, Goldsmith said it had been a privilege to work as an environment minister, particularly under Johnson.
He said he had been horrified by the Sunak government’s “abandonment” of policies around animal welfare, and that its efforts on environmental issues at home had “simply ground to a standstill”.
Addressing Sunak directly, the Tory peer said: “Prime minister, having been able to get so much done previously, I have struggled even to hold the line in recent months. The problem is not that the government is hostile to the environment, it is that you, our prime minister, are simply uninterested. That signal, or lack of it, has trickled down through Whitehall and caused a kind of paralysis.”
Sunak’s disinterest should not come as any surprise: Sunak became UK Prime Minister on 25 October 2022; during his first week in office he announced that he intended to not attend the COP27 climate conference at Sharm-el-Sheik. That decision was reversed and he did attend, partly to avoid getting embarrassed by previous Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s intended attendance. Sunak routinely uses private jets and helicopters to travel regardless of the damage he causes to the climate.
“We hope this move locks in real action on ending the era of fossil fuels in California, and spurs other regions, states, and countries to join forces in tackling the root cause of the climate crisis,” said one activist.
Climate campaigners in California and beyond celebrated on Friday after the state Legislature affirmed its support for a resolution that urges the U.S. government to join a worldwide effort to develop “a fossil fuel nonproliferation treaty as an international mechanism to manage a global transition away from coal, oil, and gas.”
Senate Joint Resolution 2 also endorses what advocates call a “just transition,” stating that “California affirms the need for a plan to phase out existing fossil fuel production that prioritizes the most impacted workers and local government services with short- and long-term investments that include enforceable labor standards, such as prevailing wages, apprenticeship opportunities, and project labor agreements, to protect workers and communities.”
California Senate Majority Whip Lena Gonzalez (D-33), who spearheaded SJR 2, declared Friday that “it is essential that we commit once and for all to ending our reliance on fossil fuels. People around the world, especially low-income people of color, are suffering the adverse health impacts of fossil fuel pollution, from asthma to cancer. The recent devastating fires and hurricanes emphasize the urgency of taking action, to prevent further extreme weather changes.”
“The science has been clear for decades—fossil fuels are responsible for the climate crisis,” she added. “We can prevent further harm to our communities, and that is why I am proud that California has now been added to the growing list of governments endorsing the fossil fuel nonproliferation treaty. It is time for our nation to be a part of the solution, to forge strong unity and commitment to phasing out the use of fossil fuels.”
According to its text, SJR 2 will be sent to Democratic U.S. President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris—who are seeking reelection next year—as well as the top Democrats and Republicans in Congress, California’s congressional delegation, Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, every mayor in the state, the United Nations secretary-general, and the U.N. high commissioner for human rights.
The resolution was sponsored by the Stand.earth initiative Stand Against Fossil Fuel Expansion (SAFE) Cities and the Indigenous Environmental Network, whose executive director, Tom Goldtooth, said in a statement Friday that “this decision of the state of California is a commitment to take down the single biggest contributor to the climate crisis: the fossil fuel industry.”
“California joins the millions of voices across Turtle Island and Mother Earth calling on Biden to follow in the footsteps of our Pacific Island brothers and sisters from the small island states and negotiate a mandate for a fossil fuel nonproliferation treaty,” he noted. “As the state with the highest population of Indigenous peoples in the country, it is important to pass legislation that would put a halt to the devastation and destruction of the compounding effects of climate change caused by fossil fuels.”
“This decision of the state of California is a commitment to take down the single biggest contributor to the climate crisis: the fossil fuel industry.”
Along with other local, regional, and national governments, the demand for such a treaty is backed by the European Union, the World Health Organization, faith and civil society groups, and individuals across the globe, including Nobel laureates, scientists, and youth leaders.
If California were a country, it would be the fifth-largest economy in the world in terms of gross domestic product, after the full United States, China, Japan, and Germany. The U.S. state is the largest economy to embrace the treaty call so far, according to Alex Rafalowicz, executive director of the Fossil Fuel Nonproliferation Treaty Initiative.
Rafalowicz said in a statement Friday that by supporting the treaty proposal, “California sets a powerful example to the international community, underscoring the urgency of fast-tracking an equitable transition away from oil, gas, and coal. This move will catalyze a ripple effect that reaches far beyond state borders.”
“By aligning its immense economic and cultural influence with the fossil fuel treaty proposal, California can accelerate its own energy transition, inspiring global cooperation to safeguard our planet and communities,” the campaigner continued. “We hope this move locks in real action on ending the era of fossil fuels in California, and spurs other regions, states, and countries to join forces in tackling the root cause of the climate crisis: the production of coal, oil, and gas.”
Last December, California regulators approved a blueprint to cut planet-heating emissions by 85% and get the state to carbon neutrality by 2045. Newsom said at the time that “California is leading the world’s most significant economic transformation since the Industrial Revolution—we’re cutting pollution, turning the page on fossil fuels, and creating millions of new jobs.” However, activists have called on him and other state leaders to go further.
Nathan Taft, a California resident and senior digital campaigner for SAFE Cities, said Friday that “Los Angeles was one of the first cities in the world to endorse the fossil fuel treaty, and it’s great to see California following its lead by becoming one of the first subnational governments joining this movement to address the climate crisis with the scale and urgency required.”
“At the same time, California must follow this historic resolution with concrete policies that protect its residents and the climate from fossil fuels,” Taft asserted. “At a bare minimum, California should stop issuing new fossil fuel permits, divest its massive pensions from fossil fuels, and implement all-electric building codes.”
Central California Environmental Justice Network oil and gas director Cesar Aguirre similarly argued that the state’s support for the treaty “only holds weight if we see meaningful protections come from it” and “no new neighborhood drilling should be the first priority.”
The vote in California comes as much of the Northern Hemisphere has endured a summer of extreme heat connected to human-caused global warming and as parties to the 2015 Paris agreement prepare for COP28, a U.N. climate summit hosted by the United Arab Emirates in November.
As Common Dreams reported last November, during COP27 in Egypt, Kausea Natano, prime minister of the Pacific nation Tuvalu, proposed a fossil fuel nonproliferation treaty, telling those gathered that “we all know that the leading cause of climate crisis is fossil fuels.”