The following post was written by Emma Lange, one of our UNAC-Vancouver website writers.
In addition to the Climate summit last month, Paris was host to a highly poignant “mock trial” of the multinational petroleum company Exxon. Led by Canadian journalist Naomi Klein and founder of 350.org, Ben McKibben, the trial charged Exxon for crimes against the climate and “the people”, based on the testimonies of indigenous people from around the world.
The mock trial followed the incriminating information recently revealed by The LA Times and InsideClimateNews.org. Investigation into internal Exxon documents showed the company’s scientists discovered the link between CO2 emissions and global warming as early as 1977, and chose to conceal the information from the public.
The Prosecutors’ allegations against the major petrol company included:
“crimes that extend beyond the pollution they are putting in our atmosphere, crimes against indigenous people, crimes against people of color, and crimes against people who are already feeling impacts of climate change.”
Klein and McKibben drew upon experts and witnesses from around the globe to provide testimonies for these charges, including powerful first person accounts of lives affected by climate change. Unlike the Paris Climate Conference, which largely neglected to address the plight of indigenous peoples, the trial recognized that these communities, being in more remote areas of the world, are often the ones most strongly affected by global warming.
A poet from the Marshall Islands explained how the rising sea level is submerging islands that have been inhabited for over 2000 years, forcing its citizens to face issues of migration and identification. Another young woman from a Sami family of reindeer herders explained how the warm winter temperatures have left the surface of many Arctic lakes and rivers either unfrozen or too thin to travel on, preventing the migration of the animals and endangering the livelihood of those that depend upon them.
In addition to the detrimental effects of global warming, the company was condoned for the environmental degradation that has resulted from its oil producing practices. Ken Henshaw, a Nigerian activist spoke about the increased number of deaths by cancer in his community due to the presence of oil related facilities, which have contaminated the water with the known carcinogen Benzine. An inhabitant of the Mississippi Wetlands described how salt water enters the marshes through the paths cut by oil companies, which destroys the roots of trees, resulting in a loss of land and loss of protection against hurricanes and storms.
Testimonies were also provided by biology and ecology experts who accused Exxon of jeopardizing the integrity of scientific research for profit. Internal research documents from 1982 found a causal relationship between the use of fossil fuels and global warming, however the company’s lobbyists covered it up and expressed doubt in the findings by actively pouring millions into campaigns that increased the uncertainty of climate change. This lobbying played a significant role in the US’ decision not to ratify the Kyoto Protocol to cut carbon emissions in the late 1990s. By failing to reveal important facts and propagating uncertainty about the realness of climate change, Exxon circumvented actions towards controlling CO2 emissions, leading to devastating effects worldwide.
The climate change crisis grew steadily over the last 25 years and over that time Exxon maintained denial and deception over the matter. Due to this, the prosecutors asked for a ruling against Exxon and in favour for the planet. Although it was indeed a mock trial, Naomi Klein stressed the seriousness of the case and insisted it be viewed as a preview for a trial that will take place in legitimate courts very soon.
While proving that the company played a significant role in delaying climate action may not be enough to convict a multinational corporation,, some are pushing the U.S. Justice department to examine the case as a matter federal racketeering. If the investigation shows that Exxon produced misleading statements about climate change, that its own in-house research knew were not scientifically credible, they could face various fraudulent charges.
Even if charged, however, there is no monetary sum that could requite all the damages done by their deceptive actions. But this recompense falls short of need, as addressed by Klein’s concluding statement of the trial: “It is Exxon’s crime that it believes money trumps life … there is no price that can be placed on the Marshall Islands, on Arctic cultures, and lives of our loved ones, and what we are able to pass onto our children.”
Footage from the trail can be found on DemocracyNow:
Banerjee, Neela, Lisa Song, and David Hasemyer. “Exxon’s Own Research Confirmed Fossil Fuels’ Role in
Global Warming Decades Ago.” Inside Climate News, September 16, 2015. Accessed January 09,
“Exxon Mobil Faces Legal Inquiry on Climate Misinformation.” Climate Home, November 06, 2015.
Accessed January 08, 2016. http://www.climatechangenews.com/2015/11/06/exxon-mobil-faces-legal-inquiry-on-climate-misinformation/
Gauthier-Downes, Catherine. “Activists Hold Mock Trial of Exxon.” Santa Barbara Independent, December 11, 2015. Accessed January 9, 2016. http://www.independent.com/news/2015/dec/11/activists-hold-mock-trial-exxon/.