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Native Village of Kivalina v. ExxonMobil Corp.

ELR Citation: 39 ELR 20236
Nos. No. 08-1138, (N.D. Cal., 09/30/2009)

A district court dismissed an Eskimo village's nuisance claim against 24 oil, energy, and utility companies for their alleged contribution to climate change. The village claimed that the companies are responsible for a substantial portion of the greenhouse gas emissions that are contributing to climate change. As a result, the Arctic sea ice that protects the village's coast from winter storms has diminished, and the resulting erosion and destruction will require the village's residents to relocate. The court, however, lacks jurisdiction under the political question doctrine. The indisputably international dimension of climate change does not render the instant controversy a nonjusticiable one. However, resolving the claim will require the court to make policy determinations relating to the use of fossil fuels and other energy sources and to consider their value in relation to the environmental, economic, and social consequences of such use. It would require the court to make a policy judgment of a legislative nature rather than resolving the dispute through legal and factual analysis. Resolution of the nuisance claim requires balancing the social utility of the companies' conduct with the harm it inflicts, which, by definition, entails a determination of what would have been an acceptable limit on the level of greenhouse gases emitted by the companies. The case would also require the court to make a policy decision about who should bear the cost of global warming, as virtually everyone on Earth is responsible on some level for contributing to such emissions. The court also lacks guidance on how to resolve the case in any "reasoned" manner. In addition, the village lacks standing. It is unable to trace its alleged injuries to any particular company, and its claim for damages is dependent on a series of events far removed both in space and time from the companies' alleged discharge of greenhouse gases.