Before climate change companies initiated their arguments, the Hawaii Supreme Court asked for a moment of silence to honor wildfire victims.
As unprecedented wildfires continue to burn across Hawaii, the state’s Supreme Court has heard fossil fuel companies’ arguments to dismiss a climate change accountability lawsuit.
According to The Guardian, the justices acknowledged the ongoing crisis before opening the hearing.
“This is the first time the court has been in session since the fires in Maui last week,” the court’s chief justice said, calling for a moment of silence for those who lives have been lost in the blazes.
The Guardian reports that Honolulu city and county officials first filed their claim against fossil fuel companies in 2020.
“The average air temperature in the city is currently warming at a rate that is approximately four times faster than the warming rate 50 years ago,” the lawsuit alleges. “Warming air temperatures have led to heatwaves, expanded pathogen and invasive species ranges, thermal stress for native flora and fauna, increased electricity demand, increased occurrence and intensity of wildfire, threats to human health such as from heat stroke and dehydration, and decreased water supply due to increased evaporation and demand.”
In their complaint, Honolulu attorneys claimed that the eight defendant companies knew that the burning of coal-, oil-, and gas-based products was more likely than not harmful to the environment. Nevertheless, these companies hid their findings before initiating a far-ranging campaign of disinformation.
This misinformation campaign, lawyers say, is the reason that Honolulu has been on the frontlines of the fight against global warming.
“You can think of how Hawaii would have been different if they had stood up 50 years ago and said, ‘If you use our products unabated, your islands are going to be destroyed,’” attorney Vic Sher said in the Thursday hearing. “They have deprived these public entities of the opportunity to make choices and control their future.”
Denise Antolini, a former University of Hawaii law professor, told The Guardian that the wildfires “underscore the importance” of holding large corporations accountable for willful misconduct.
“If the truth had been known about climate change, if the truth had been allowed to be known by big oil, Hawaii might have had a different future,” Antolini said, adding that, while climate change may not be the only cause of the wildfires, it “set the table” by engendering unseasonal conditions.
“The hearing […] is an incredibly important milestone in the case because it determines whether or not the case will proceed to discovery, to further motions and to trial,” she said. “So it’s a go or no-go point.”