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City of Oakland v. BP P.L.C.

United States District Court for the Northern District of California

June 25, 2018, Decided; June 25, 2018, Filed

No. C 17-06011 WHA; No. C 17-06012 WH

Opinion

 [*1018]  ORDER GRANTING MOTION TO DISMISS AMENDED COMPLAINTS [**5] 

 [*1019]  INTRODUCTION

In these "global warming" actions asserting claims for public nuisance, defendants move to dismiss for failure to state a claim. For the following reasons, the motion is GRANTED.

STATEMENT

These actions arise out of a vital function of our atmosphere — its thermostat function — that is, keeping the temperature of our planet within a habitable range. The atmosphere hosts water vapor and certain trace gases without which heat at Earth's surface would excessively radiate into space, leaving our planet too cold for life. One of those trace gases is carbon dioxide, a gas produced by, among other things, animal and human respiration, volcanoes and, more significantly here, combustion of fossil fuels like oil and natural gas. As heat radiates skyward, some of it passes close enough to molecules of carbon dioxide to be absorbed. These molecules then re-radiate the energy in all directions, including back toward Earth's surface. The more carbon dioxide in the air, the more this absorption and re-radiation process warms the surface. It turns out that even trace amounts of carbon dioxide in the air suffice to warm the atmosphere.1

The science dates back 120 years. In 1896, building on [**6]  the findings by Irish scientist (and mountaineer) John Tyndall that carbon dioxide absorbed heat (whereas oxygen and nitrogen did not), Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius published calculations that connected increases in the air's carbon dioxide with increased global temperatures. Arrhenius, however, had no concern over global warming. Rather, his focus remained solving the mystery of the ice ages and their causes (Amd. Compls. ¶ 76; Svante Arrhenius, On the Influence of Carbonic Acid in the Air Upon the Temperature of the Ground, 41 Phil. Mag. & J. Sci. 237 (1896)).2

In 1938, scientist Guy Stewart Callendar published graphs plotting the warming of Earth using temperature records from around the world. One graph showed a 0.07 Centigrade rise in the mean temperatures of the planet from 1910 to 1930, while another showed a six to eight-percent rise in carbon dioxide in the air over the same period. Given Tyndall's earlier finding, Callendar concluded that one rise had caused the other, namely that more carbon dioxide had trapped more heat and caused the temperature [**7]  to rise. Callendar, like Arrhenius, was not alarmed over the possibility of global warming. Guy S. Callendar, The Artificial Production of Carbon Dioxide and Its Influence on Temperature, 64 Q. J. Royal Meteorological Soc'y 223 (1938).

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325 F. Supp. 3d 1017 *; 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 106895 **; 48 ELR 20105; 86 ERC (BNA) 1983; 2018 WL 3109726

CITY OF OAKLAND, a Municipal Corporation, and THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA, acting by and through Oakland City Attorney BARBARA J. PARKER, Plaintiffs, v. BP P.L.C., a public limited company of England and Wales, CHEVRON CORPORATION, a Delaware corporation, CONOCOPHILLIPS, a Delaware corporation, EXXON MOBIL CORPORATION, a New Jersey corporation, ROYAL DUTCH SHELL PLC, a public limited company of England and Wales, and DOES 1 through 10, Defendants. AND RELATED CASE.

Subsequent History: Related proceeding at King Cty. v. BP P.L.C., 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 178873 (W.D. Wash., Oct. 17, 2018)

Prior History: County of San Mateo v. Chevron Corp., 294 F. Supp. 3d 934, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 49197 (N.D. Cal., Mar. 16, 2018)California v. BP P.L.C., 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 32990 (N.D. Cal., Feb. 27, 2018)

CORE TERMS

fuels, fossil, warming, global, nuisance, carbon, dioxide, emissions, climate, atmosphere, temperature, worldwide, Air, greenhouse, weigh, oil, sea, scientist, caution, energy, gases, displacement, combustion, domestic, planet, navigable, ocean