Recently, I met Jeni Krencicki Bareclos and Jennifer Marlow, co-founders of Three Degrees Warmer, a University of Washington-based project that provides legal protections for the victims of climate change. One of their inspirations is a legal case that the Native Alaskan Village of Kivalina brought against some of the nation’s largest producers of oil, gas, and electric power. Kivalina’s 400 members and 107 buildings have to be moved because the permafrost on which the community is built is melting. The plaintiff’s case argues that the damage, estimated at $95-400 million in relocation costs, should be paid by the oil and gas companies who are responsible.
Kivalina is basing its case on the same argument that was used successfully against the tobacco companies, where big tobacco was convicted of conspiring to suppress information about the health hazards from cigarette smoking. In this case, one argument is that the oil and gas companies conspired to create false “scientific” information that created questions about what would have otherwise been accepted as incontrovertable, that human action is responsible for global warming. The argument follows that these companies created enough doubt to delay serious efforts to limit or reverse climate change, thereby exacerbating the climate change that destroyed the Kivalina’s community habitat.
The case was dismissed in U.S. District Court and is currently on appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court. But whether or not Kivalina is successful, the fact that the argument has been heard in at least one court is validation that the key issues in corporate social responsibility are inextricably linked. This case proves the case for environmental justice, linking climate change to a devastating social injustice. If the case is truly the result of conspiracy and fraud as the plaintiffs claim — and they say that records exist that will prove their argument in discovery — then good governance is a part of this as well.
All of which argues that you can’t have one CSR factor — or measurement — without factoring in the others as well.
Carol Pierson Holding is a writer and an environmentalist; her articles on CSR can be found on her website, www.holding.com.