Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria was one of Donald Trump’s biggest early boneheadisms. That’s where he tossed the paper towels. That’s where he came head to head with Carmen Yulín Cruz, the mayor of San Juan, and lost.
That’s also where the bigot Trump mocked Mayor Cruz’ correct Latina pronunciation of “Puerto Rico,” as if it was somehow “funny” for people to talk that way. That’s where he shamefully did the bare minimum to help with the disaster because he didn’t like the mayor’s politics and because the people of Puerto Rico showed substandard zeal for his “greatness” and didn’t fall down and worship him sufficiently. That’s where he didn’t even realise that Puerto Rico was part of the United States.
Well, Puerto Rico is as mad as hell and they aren’t going to take this any more. Sixteen municipalities in Puerto Rico have now filed a lawsuit claiming that several of the major oil companies, including Chevron, ExxonMobil, and Shell, are financially responsible for the damage caused by hurricanes Irma and Maria.
The class action lawsuit notes that, according to overwhelming scientific consensus, fossil fuel emissions are to blame for the climate crisis. Climate change creates conditions favourable to hurricanes, making them more common, more powerful and more destructive.
“Puerto Rico was hit by the perfect storm and is the ultimate victim of global warming,” said Marc Grossman, an attorney representing the plaintiffs. “This is an opportunity to finally get justice for all that Puerto Rico sacrificed in 2017.”
What makes the case unusual is it is the first to include claims under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) and, as such, it is being brought in federal court instead of a state court.
It is noted that the actions of Big Oil also have parallels to the past actions of Big Tobacco. In both cases, these callous corporations lied about the dangers of the products they were promoting even though internal memos proved they knew they were dangerous. Big Oil and Big Tobacco both put profits ahead of the human misery they caused. “But instead of transparency, the defendants engaged in a pseudo-scientific campaign to sow doubt about climate change and protect their monopoly over fossil fuel production,” the plaintiffs’ legal team said.
Past successes in lawsuits against Big Tobacco give the Puerto Rico litigators hope. Even so, it won’t be easy. The suit could take many years to litigate. In the meantime, Mother Nature herself may be called as a witness, as worldwide conditions worsen year upon year as a direct result of climate change.
Whatever the outcome, it’s yet another example of how Republican callousness and indifference to human suffering can come back later and hurt one of their major allies. Big Oil is a big contributor to many of the campaigns of Republicans in Congress.
Had Donald Trump treated Puerto Rico in the aftermath of hurricane Maria the way President Biden treated Puerto Rico in the aftermath of hurricane Fiona, there might not have been any reason to bring the class action suit. So Republican indifference to climate change could continue to hurt them in unexpected ways, and that’s a good thing. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.