San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera and Oakland City Attorney Barbara J. Parker
San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera and Oakland City Attorney Barbara J. Parker

After the latest Hurricane to hit the Carribean, millions of people on the island of Puerto Rico face the prospect of four to six months without power.

Some 3.4 million people are without electricity after Hurricane Maria left a trail of devastation and dumped over a foot of water on the island in 24 hours. Ricardo Ramos, the CEO of Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, said: “The system has been basically destroyed.”

The Hurricane is now heading for the tiny islands of the Turks and Caicos as well as the Bahamas, although they may both be spared a direct hit.

US President, Donald Trump, said he had spoken with the Governor of Puerto Rico, promising to visit the island. “Puerto Rico was absolutely obliterated,” Trump said. “We’ll work with the governor and the people of Puerto Rico.”

One way Trump could work with the people of the Caribbean is to recognise climate change and how our changing climate is partly to blame for the intensity of the current hurricane season.

During a special sitting of the Parliament of Barbuda to discuss the hurricane, former Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister, Lester Bird, said it’s time Trump and the other “naysayers of climate change” woke up and faced reality.

Bird said: “Our governments must redouble their determination to confront the naysayers of climate change, however big and powerful they may be, even when we have a President of the United States, who should really be chastised for withdrawing the United States from [the Paris Climate Agreement].”

There is welcome news for people of the Caribbean from elsewhere though. If Trump won’t take action on climate change, others will.

The two Californian cities of San Francisco and Oakland have announced they are suing five major oil companies, blaming them for climate change, which poses a “catastrophic risk”. They allege the companies have misled the public on the issue, whilst they made enormous profits.

This week, the two cities, which sit on either side of San Francisco Bay, announced they would be filing lawsuits in their respective county courts against Big Oil, namely Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell and BP.

“These fossil fuel companies profited handsomely for decades while knowing they were putting the fate of our cities at risk,” San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera said. “Instead of owning up to it, they copied a page from the Big Tobacco playbook.”

He continued: “They launched a multi-million dollar disinformation campaign to deny and discredit what was clear even to their own scientists: global warming is real, and their product is a huge part of the problem. Now, the bill has come due. It’s time for these companies to take responsibility for the harms they have caused and are continuing to cause.”

Barbara Parker (D), Oakland’s city attorney added: “These companies knew fossil fuel-driven climate change was real, they knew it was caused by their products and they lied to cover up that knowledge to protect their astronomical profits. The harm to our cities has commenced and will only get worse”.

The two cities follow Marin and San Mateo counties in Northern California which sued seven major oil companies recently.

The suits claim the companies knowingly produced oil and gas, despite knowing the risks of climate change, and trying to persuade the public that there was nothing to worry about, drawing on evidence that has emerged as part of the #ExxonKnew scandal.

They are seeking billions in compensation to “hold these companies responsible for the costs of sea walls and other infrastructure necessary to protect San Francisco and Oakland from ongoing and future consequences of climate change and sea level rise caused by the companies’ production of massive amounts of fossil fuels.

Just ask the people of the Caribbean too. They also know what it is to be a victim of climate change.

So #Exxonknew. #BigOil knew. And now it is time they should pay for the harm they caused.

The cases are: People of the State of California v. BP P.L.C. et al., San Francisco Superior Court Case No. CGC 17-561370, filed Sept. 19, 2017.  People of the State of California v. BP P.L.C. et al., Alameda County Superior Court Case No. RG17875889, filed Sept. 19, 2017.