“If you are in denial about climate change, come to California,” Governor Gavin Newsom said in August. The record-setting wildfires that have devastated the American West this year have forced thousands of people from their homes and caused toxic chemicals to leach into drinking water. In the middle of a pandemic, the air quality and excessive heat have left many to balance the relative risks of breathing inside or outside. Anticipating more fires, insurance companies have canceled homeowner policies and the state’s main utility preemptively shut off power to tens of thousands of people. In the South, record-setting hurricanes have pummeled the coast. Both wildfires and hurricanes are getting worse, year after year, in large part because of human-caused climate change.
None of this is a surprise. For over 50 years, the fossil fuel industry has known that its practices were contributing to the irrevocable warming of the planet, and corporate executives knew that this warming would have devastating economic and health consequences for life on Earth. But instead of changing their practices in response to this alarming information, they set about hiding it. Since the 1990s, these corporations have conducted a misinformation campaign to create public skepticism about the accuracy of climate science and of the conclusions their own researchers made, all while they continued to accrue tremendous wealth. The six largest oil and gas companies reported an excess of $55 billion in combined profits in 2019 alone. Since 1990, these six companies have generated $2.4 trillion in profits.
Cities and states across the country are now faced with the accelerating economic and health costs of climate change, which have disproportionately hurt nonwhite communities. Various state and local leaders are suing the fossil fuel industry for damages to cover these costs. Prompted by the failure of state and local governments to regulate the industry, groups of people, often young people and others whose futures are made especially uncertain by climate change, have started suing their elected officials and administrative agencies in an effort to stop them from permitting further destruction.