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Nonprofit Pushes for Murder Charges Against Big Oil Following Deadly 2023 Arizona Heat Wave - Memo

© Sputnik / Maksim Bogodvid / Go to the mediabankAn oil pump jack operated by the Yamashneft Oil and Gas Production Division of Tatneft, are seen in Almetyevsk District of Russia's Republic of Tatarstan.
An oil pump jack operated by the Yamashneft Oil and Gas Production Division of Tatneft, are seen in Almetyevsk District of Russia's Republic of Tatarstan. - Sputnik International, 1920, 27.06.2024
Over 400 people died during a horrendous heat wave in the US state of Arizona last summer. Now, some advocates believe those deaths should be ruled as homicides.
Prosecutors in the US state of Arizona may press homicide charges against big oil companies for the deaths that occurred during last summer’s heat wave. Over 400 people died in metro Phoenix from blistering heat which saw temperatures of 110 F (43.3 C) or higher that did not ease for over 30 days.
A memo, published by the consumer advocacy non-profit Public Citizen on Wednesday, says that the state could pursue reckless manslaughter or second-degree murder claims for the heat wave. Reckless manslaughter differs from second-degree murder when one recklessly causes “the death of another person,” meaning a defendant was “aware of a substantial and unjustifiable risk that his conduct w[ould] cause another’s death and consciously disregard[ed] the risk.”

"In July 2023 a lethal heat wave, which would have been 'virtually impossible' but for human-caused climate change, broke temperature records across the American Southwest,” the memo says. “[T]he case for prosecuting fossil fuel companies for climate-related deaths is strong enough to merit the initiation of investigations by state and local prosecutors.”

The memo notes that those who died in last year’s heat wave were “diverse” and included persons who were unhoused; such as a man who died after attempting to jump a fence to find shade and who broke both his legs, and a woman who died in her $1 million home in Scottsdale. Some of those who died were older people with pre-existing health conditions, while others were young and healthy.
The memo lists the defendants as including some of the world’s “largest investor-owned fossil fuel companies and a national oil and gas association”, including: ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, BP, ConocoPhillips, Occidental, BHP, Peabody, and the American Petroleum Institute (“API”).
“These defendants have generated a substantial proportion of all global greenhouse gas emissions: the emissions they have directly generated since 1965 (when the fossil fuel industry became unquestionably aware that its products were causing climate change) amount to 15.37% of all the fossil fuel emissions that humanity has generated since the start of the industrial revolution,” the memo writes.
“These companies have also engaged in joint ventures with additional carbon majors whose post-1965 emissions represent 44.17% of all global emissions,” it adds. “Each of these entities were also active members of the Global Climate Coalition (“GCC”), an organization that played a key role in devising, funding, and executing the fossil fuel industry’s campaign of climate deception.”
Aaron Regunberg, a senior policy counsel with Public Citizen’s climate program and a co-author of the report, accused fossil fuel companies of “knowingly” causing these disastrous heatwaves and choosing to “inflict this suffering to maintain their profits”.
While the memo focuses on the incident which occurred in Arizona, the nonprofit believes their model prosecution memo could serve as a starting point for any prosecutor seeking justice for victims of climate change.
The total number of climate cases such as these has more than doubled in the last five years and is expected to continue to surge, says a UN Environment Programme and Columbia University's Sabin Center for Climate Change Law report from last year.
Just last week, the state of Hawaii and a group of 13 young Hawaiians came to an historic settlement two years after the young Hawaiians sued the state Department of Transportation for failing to protect their “constitutional right to a clean and healthful environment.” The settlement requires the department to phase out greenhouse gas emissions from all transportation sectors by 2045, and included other agreements to address climate change.
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