Sue Big Oil project illustrates how disconnected Canada’s West Coast climate industry is from the real world

Vancouver. Parts of the planet remain oblivious to global events. Like the lower mainland of B.C., says David Yager. Photo licensed to Brian Zinchuk via Storyblocks

 

Due to a series of unfortunate events including the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, there is a world shortage of affordable food and energy. How and when this will end is unknown. Everyone is affected.

Those who suffer the most historically live in developing countries. But today it is affecting nations previously thought to be advanced and self-sufficient. Energy rationing is already underway across Europe. This winter could be a disaster.

In response, years of anti-fossil fuel policies, initiatives and crusades are being reversed at an amazing pace. Coal, natural gas and nuclear power are making big comebacks at a scale unimaginable a year ago.

But parts of the planet remain oblivious to global events. Like the lower mainland of B.C. That’s where the Sue Big Oil initiative was invented, modestly described by proponents as “The birth of a new movement.”

“We are going to sue Big Oil,” noted journalist Avi Lewis told us at the opening of the June 15 launch on Zoom. “This is a historic moment, and you are going to be able to tell everyone you were here when it began.”

Lewis is the son of famous New Democrat Stephen Lewis and husband of Naomi Klein, author of multiple hard-left books like “This Changes Everything – Capitalism Versus the Climate.”

First, the genius idea.

The website reads, “How do we sue big oil? Suing the world’s largest oil companies will ensure that B.C. communities and local governments have the resources needed for skyrocketing climate costs, while making sure the fossil fuel industry curtails its climate-destroying practices.”

Take it to the bank B.C. You’ve already won.

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To collect the loot just sign the petition, convince local governments to fund and launch a class-action lawsuit, then sue the oil companies “for a fair share of climate costs.”

Which oil companies? Only those with a “real and substantial connection” to B.C. The Sue Big Oil campaign will target “the world’s largest multinational fossil fuel companies” like Chevron, Shell, and Exxon, “as they are responsible for the most greenhouse gas emissions.”

A key player is West Coast Environmental Law, which exists to use the courts to seek justice for environmental crimes.

On July 20, Vancouver city council voted to contribute $660,000 tax dollars in funding.

With a civic election coming this fall, spending everybody else’s money on climate virtue signalling is obviously a sound idea.

In 2018, while still an NDP MP, mayor Kennedy Stewart was arrested and convicted of violating a court injunction at the Trans Mountain pipeline terminal in Burnaby.

Judging by Kennedy’s continued political success, attacking oil is a proven vote-getter around there.

But the Sue Big Oil project is flawed on multiple fronts, and illustrates how disconnected Canada’s West Coast climate industry is from the real world.

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First, suing oil companies is hardly “the birth of a new movement.” U.S. municipalities have been using taxpayer funds to unsuccessfully sue oil companies for alleged climate damage for years.

In California, San Mateo, San Francisco and Imperial Beach started in 2017. A year later New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio sued several multinational oil producers, claiming they helped cause Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

The only cash that has changed hands goes from taxpayers and oil companies to lawyers. When NYC lost its case for climate damages, it sued again for misleading consumers. In California, the main activity has been switching between state and federal courts.

Sue Big Oil cites the 2021 court judgement against Royal Dutch Shell in the Netherlands as proof this type of litigation works. But that ruling only ordered Shell to reduce global emissions more quickly.

Shell paid no damages, is appealing, and with the blessing of shareholders subsequently moved its head office to London.

At the time Bloomberg News reported, “There are currently 1,800 lawsuits related to climate change being fought in courtrooms around the world, according to the climatecasechart.com database.”

Sue Big Oil has somewhat overstated the novelty of its initiative.

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The second disingenuous claim is that if municipalities join the crusade, the outcome will be that “local governments have the resources needed for skyrocketing climate costs.”

But for the next few years, all they will really do is clog the courts with taxpayer-funded lawyers.

The most outrageous statement is that western multinationals such as Chevron, Shell and Exxon Mobil “are responsible for the most greenhouse gas emissions.”

These three companies collectively produce about 5 million barrels of oil per day, or five per cent of world output. Canada uses 1.5 million barrels a day. Based on population, B.C.’s share is about 200,000 or 0.2 per cent of global consumption.

Eight of the world’s top ten oil producing countries couldn’t find B.C. on a map. They are Saudi Arabia, China, Russia, Iraq, UAE, Brazil, Iran and Kuwait. None of their producers will be subpoenaed.

The biggest mistake these companies have made is selling transportation fuel in B.C.

And the communities they have reliably served for decades are being urged to use their citizens’ tax dollars to bring them to their knees.

While overlooking the fact that without car, truck, boat, rail and airplane fuel, many of these municipalities wouldn’t exist.

As billions struggle with the new realties of rising costs and shortages of everything, Sue Big Oil is just another taxpayer-funded make-work project for West Coast professional climate crusaders.

 

David Yager is an oilfield service executive, oil and gas writer, and energy policy analyst. He is author of  From Miracle to Menace – Alberta, A Carbon Story.

 

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