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Elphinstone Chronicles: Finding hope in Sue Big Oil

Elphinstone Community Association (ECA) meetings are back and I had the chance to attend last week’s lively meeting. Donna McMahon, our area director, filled us in on Area E’s action-packed October happenings and took questions from us.
sue-big-oil-elphinstone-chronicles
Sue Big Oil advocates attended the October ECA meeting.

Elphinstone Community Association (ECA) meetings are back and I had the chance to attend last week’s lively meeting. Donna McMahon, our area director, filled us in on Area E’s action-packed October happenings and took questions from us. There is something special about being able to wander into your neighbourhood meeting and grill your elected politician face to face on any of your local concerns. Donna’s newsletter is available online if you want to get caught up.

As always, the ECA picked incredible guest speakers. This time we were introduced to Dawn and Anthony Allen, lead organizers from the Sunshine Coast chapter of Sue Big Oil. Spearheaded by West Coast Environmental Law, Sue Big Oil is rallying local municipalities, like our very own SCRD, to file a class action lawsuit against fossil fuel companies to recover costs from the damages to our property, businesses and infrastructure. “This is an issue of economic justice,” said Anthony Allen, and they’ve been garnering a lot of buzz, with Gibsons town council voting unanimously to work with other local governments on this project.

You needn’t look far to see climate change affecting the area of Elphinstone directly: drought, water sources, wildfire, king tides, road washouts, and fish habitats are all articles I’ve written about in the Elphinstone Chronicles. Has Chaster House floated away yet into the Georgia Strait? Not quite, but it’s on its way faster than a left foot to get washed up on the Island somewhere. The Sue Big Oil website speaks directly to large rural areas without a dense tax-base, like the SCRD: “Far from being beyond a regional district’s authority, participation in the class action lawsuit against fossil fuel companies may be one of the few options open to regional districts to get much needed resources to protect the residents served by their services and infrastructure,” says the document on regional districts. “It would be fiscally irresponsible of the Directors to simply allocate taxpayer dollars to these increased costs of services without attempting to recover them from Big Oil”.

Dawn Allen explained that the legal focus of the case is on compensating the regional district for costs that they are incurring, or will incur, within the services that they offer. “We are already paying out-of-pocket at this very moment, without recourse,” she explained. “If we don’t turn that around, the impact on the climate will be so much more expensive on our taxes, and cause them in future to jump much higher.”

At the ECA meeting their presentation struck me as the first tangible idea I have seen to make a move to fix our hopeless environmental situation. Sue Big Oil uses the same strategy (and some of the same people) as was used against the tobacco industry. These days you commonly have legislative interventions, such as graphic health warnings, false advertising cases, and smoke-free laws, so people are aware of the damage cigarettes cause. The tobacco industry in America pays out billions of dollars each year to reimburse American states for healthcare expenditure caused by tobacco. Oil companies are simply being asked to pay their fair share too. Litigation will force oil companies to sit at the bargaining table with environmental law advocates to produce settlements. Climate litigation isn’t sexy, but sure should be. This is important.

The first step is to get a sufficient number of municipalities on board so West Coast Environmental Law can actually launch a case. How? So easy. Sign the petition to let the SCRD know you are on board. That’s the biggest thing, and the easiest thing. Tell your friends, do some reading, heck, write a short n’ sweet letter to the SCRD or talk to our director, Donna, about this issue. The lawyers do the difficult part, all we need to do is show them we want this.

The next ECA meeting will be Nov. 15 at Frank West Hall if you want to learn about local happenings, vent about potholes or just enjoy some tea and cookies with your neighbours and Area E Director.

Email me with feedback or topic suggestions at hello.elphinstone@gmail.com.