Thursday, January 28, 2010

Rural Alaskan community a headliner in climate change litigation

Read the story here from yesterday's New York Times. The dateline is Kivalina, Alaska, population 377, which is north of the Arctic Circle. Kivalina filed a suit in 2008 accusing more than 20 fuel and utility concern of causing climate change that is causing the village's barrier island perch to erode. Here's an excerpt:
Blocks of sea ice used to protect the town’s fragile coast from October on, but “we don’t have buildup right now, and it is January,” said Janet Mitchell, Kivalina’s administrator. “We live in anxiety during high-winds seasons.”

The village wants the companies, including ExxonMobil, Shell Oil, and many others, to pay the costs of relocating to the mainland, which could amount to as much as $400 million.
The Kivalina lawsuit was dismissed by a federal judge in Oakland, California, in October, but Kivalina is appealing.

One question that occurs to me is how Kivalina found lawyers to represent it--or perhaps more likely, lawyers hoping to set a precedent for environmentalists, found Kivalina. If this all sounds far fetched from a law perspective, I found interesting the comment of a law professor who likened cases like Kivalina's to early suits against tobacco companies. They looked shaky early on, but ultimately succeeded as lawyers experimented with different legal theories.

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