Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

The proceedings stem from a lawsuit brought by San Francisco and Oakland against oil and gas giants BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, and Shell.  (Photo: Peg Hunter/flickr/cc)

'Climate Tutorials' Pit Planet Wreckers Against Major Cities in Historic Court Hearing

"There's really no way for oil companies to come out of this thing looking good."

Andrea Germanos

An usual hearing took place Wednesday before a federal judge in San Francisco, where both sides presented court-ordered "tutorials" on climate science.

"This will be the closest that we have seen to a trial on climate science in the United States, to date," Michael Burger, a lawyer who heads the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University, told McClatchy earlier this month.

The proceedings stem from a lawsuit brought by San Francisco and Oakland against oil and gas giants BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, and Shell. The California cities say the fossil fuel companies knew they were driving the climate crisis, intentionally misled the public à la Big Tobacco, and should shell out funds to pay for both past and future damage caused by climate change.

In the estimation of Richard Wiles, executive director of the Center for Climate Integrity, the proceedings mean "The industry is now facing the reckoning its internal documents suggest it knew was coming decades ago."

As Common Dreams reported U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup ordered the cities and companies "to conduct a two-part tutorial on the subject of global warming and climate change."

Among the eight questions Alsup asked (pdf) the sides to answer in their tutorials are: "What are the main sources of CO2 that account for the incremental buildup of CO2 in the atmosphere?" and "What are the main sources of heat that account for the incremental rise in temperature on Earth?"

As such, Grist reported, the proceedings "will give Americans the opportunity to follow along as big polluters finally go on record about climate science and climate denialism."

Writing earlier this month at NRDC's onEarth, Jeff Turrentine argued:

There's really no way for oil companies to come out of this thing looking good. If they acknowledge that the science is real, they lend support to the plaintiffs' argument that oil companies have known all along that their activity contributes to climate change but have continued to engage in it anyway. On the other hand, if their spokespeople try to cast doubt on the science in any way, they risk looking like fools, or knaves, or both.

Theodore Boutrous, a lawyer representing Chevron, did not fully dispute the science. Rather, according to Jessica Wentz, who is among those inside the courtroom, "it appears that Chevron's strategy is to portray climate science as a field that is characterized by significant uncertainty and conflicting scientific theories." 

Amy Westervelt‏, also in the courtroom, added: "Fairly amusing to have the Chevron lawyer's IPCC presentation followed by an IPCC contributor pointing out how much science has moved on since last assessment."

Lawyers for the other firms did not speak over objections to the court's jurisdiction.

Wiles said "The decision by ExxonMobil and others to sit out the tutorial is yet another indicator that they are not comfortable being as forthcoming in public as they are in private."

According to Alyssa Johl, Alsup gave the other companies a two-week deadline to agree or disagree with each of Chevron's statements.

This post has been updated from its original version to include comments from Wiles.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Evidence Grows of Left-Wing Twitter Purge Directed by Musk

"Elon Musk appears to have outsourced decisions about who to ban from Twitter to the platform's right-wing extremists," said The Intercept's Micah Lee.

Brett Wilkins ·


Rights Groups Rip NYC Mayor Over Forced Hospitalizations for Mental Illness

"Forcing people into treatment is a failed strategy," said the head of the NYCLU. "With no real plan for housing, services, or supports, the administration is choosing handcuffs and coercion."

Jessica Corbett ·


'Finally, Some Justice': Fracking Company to Pay Millions for Poisoning Town's Water

"This case proves once and for all that drilling and fracking contaminated our drinking water," said one Dimock, Pennsylvania resident.

Kenny Stancil ·


Lame-Duck Dems Must Lift Debt Limit, Advocates Say as GOP Doubles Down on Social Security Threats

"Democrats must do whatever it takes to defeat Republican attacks on our earned Social Security benefits," said one advocate. "That means raising the debt ceiling this year, before Republicans take control of the House."

Julia Conley ·


'Put Up or Shut Up,' Says Sanders as Progressives Move to Add 7 Sick Days to Railway Deal

"If you can't vote for this," said the independent Vermont senator, "don't tell anybody that you stand with working families."

Jon Queally ·

Common Dreams Logo