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Alaska town sues oil & energy companies for destruction caused by global warming

Case seeks relocation of Native Alaskan village to protect it against total destruction.

I found the following press release in an e-mail from Matt Pawa, the main attorney for the case, when I got to work this morning:

“KIVALINA, Alaska — Kivalina, a tiny and impoverished Alaskan village of Inupiat Eskimos located in the Arctic Circle, has today filed a lawsuit against industrial corporations that emit large quantities of greenhouse gases.

“Kivalina faces imminent destruction from global warming due to the melting of sea ice that formerly protected the village from coastal storms during the fall and winter. The diminished sea ice due to global warming has caused a massive erosion problem that threatens the village’s existence and urgently requires the village be relocated.

“The native Village of Kivalina, which is a federally recognized Indian Tribe, and the City of Kivalina, which is an Alaskan municipality, filed the lawsuit today in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, located in San Francisco. They filed the case on their own behalf and on behalf of all tribal members, against defendants ExxonMobil Corp., Peabody Energy Corp., Southern Company, American Electric Power Co., Duke Energy Co., Chevron Corp., and Shell Oil Co., among others.

“In total there are nine oil company defendants, 14 electric power company defendants and one coal company defendant. The suit claims damages due to the defendant companies’ contributions to global warming and invokes the federal common law of public nuisance. The suit also alleges a conspiracy by some defendants to mislead the public regarding the causes and consequences of global warming. The residents of Kivalina are among the nation’s poorest people.

“Colleen Swan, Tribal Administrator of the Native Village of Kivalina, said ‘The campaign of deception and denial about global warming must stop.’ She added, ‘Global warming and its effects are a reality we have to deal with. Peoples’ lives are in danger because of it.’ Swan noted that “official reports from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Government Accountability Office have found that Kivalina is directly harmed by global warming and must relocate at an expense that could cost $400 million or more.’

“‘We need to relocate now before we lose lives,’ echoed Janet Mitchell, City Administrator for the City of Kivalina. ‘We are seeing accelerated erosion because of the loss of sea ice. We normally have ice starting in October, but now we have open water even into December so our island is not protected from the storms.’

“The village is represented in the case by two non-profit legal organizations and six law firms.”

When my wife Lois and I were in Alaska last year, we visited Prudhoe Bay, which is the start of the big oil pipeline about 300 miles above the Arctic Circle. While there, a young Eskimo woman who worked there told us her village was being washed away because the ice pack around it was melting. I wonder if Kivalina was the village she was talking about? Interesting.

Are we entering the next phase of global warming — i.e. lawsuits? What do you think? Things definitely appear to be heating up. /Gary

Posted on Wednesday, February 27th, 2008
Under: Alaska, Eskimo, Global warming | No Comments »