Pay up, Exxon

Feature story - 30 January, 2004
When the Exxon Valdez ran aground in 1989, it was said that lawyers not yet born would argue the case. Those lawyers are 15-year-olds today. We'll make another prediction: lawyers not yet born will be taking Exxon to court again in the future. The charge will be negligent asphyxiation of our planet.

Exxon: Guilty of negligent asphyxiation of the planet.

This week a US federal judge ordered Exxon to pay $4.5 billion in punitive damages to fisherman and others impacted by the spill of more than a 53 million gallons of oil in Alaska. With interest, the penalty could reach nearly 7 billion dollars.

But Exxon is appealing the decision, and has managed to keep the case in court almost continuously since its oil tanker ran aground in March of 1989. In the same way, while scientists raise ever-increasing alarms about the impacts of global warming, the world's #1 environmental criminal has paid for and promoted foot-dragging and ducked responsibility for the environmental consequences of its products.

Exxon Valdez impacts? Exxon claims that all impacted species in the area of the spill are on the road to recovery, if not fully recovered. According to US fish and wildlife officials quoted in the New Scientist, however, "most seabird populations hit by the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska have still to show signs of recovery over a decade after the disaster."

Global warming? A new ad from Exxon claims the jury is still out on whether human behaviour is responsible, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

If Exxon were pulled into court someday in the future for the damage which oil is doing to our world, what would the bill look like?

The cost of delay

Let's start with the price tag for the million species of plants and animals now forecast to be extinct in the next 50 years under the UN intergovernmental panel on climate change's midrange scenarios for global warming.

Add to that the costs of widespread destruction from floods, storms, and the extreme weather which will increase in frequency as our world continues to heat up.

Then there's the cost of sea-level rise, potentially up to six metres, and the costs of evacuating low lying areas of the world such as the Netherlands and Bangladesh.

Throw in widespread outbreaks of diseases like Malaria, Dengue Fever, and Encephalitis in places such as North America where they've never been common before, as Mosquito habitats shift north with temperature rise.

After you tally all that up, think about what some yet-unborn US District Court judge might think when confronted with evidence that Exxon not only knew of the environmental consequences of continued fossil fuel use and ignored them, but actively worked to contradict the evidence and lobby against the Kyoto Protocol and other actions against climate change.

What will the exemplary damages look like when that judge decides that Exxon's standard operating procedure has been to delay, stall, and hinder advancement of action against the environmental problems linked with oil -- from the Exxon Valdez on up to their contribution to the slow cooking of our planet.

It's time for Exxon to pay for the Exxon Valdez oil spill. It's time for Exxon to face the music and begin helping to build a fossil-fuel free future. It's time to end the deadly delay.

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