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Holding corporations to account for climate change fatalities

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Protest against the presidency of Donald Trump in London, July 2018. Photo by Alisdare Hickson/ Wikimedia Commons.

At the time of the Industrial Revolution, Friedrich Engels used the term "social murder" to describe the deaths of people who passed away prematurely because of their living and working conditions.

Now, as the planet warms dangerously above pre-Industrial Revolution levels, social murder may be an appropriate term to describe the deaths of those who die prematurely due to climate change.

study by DARA International, a non-profit aid organization, has calculated that 400,000 deaths worldwide each year can be linked to climate change.

While some may see climate change as something that happens in the future, this number tells us it's something that's already here -- and that it's deadly.

This brings to mind the quote by U.S. labour organizer and songwriter Utah Phillips: "The Earth is not dying, it is being killed, and those who are killing it have names and addresses."

So who is killing the Earth and so many people along with it?

The Carbon Majors Report published by environmental non-profit CDP found that 100 companies have been the source of more than 70 per cent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions since 1988. More than half of global industrial emissions are produced by just 25 corporate and state-owned entities, according to the report.

The Guardian published the list of top 100 producers and their cumulative greenhouse gas emissions from 1988-2015.

Topping the list is China, with coal, at 14.32 per cent. ExxonMobil Corp. is also there at 1.98 per cent, as is BP PLC at 1.53 per cent, Suncor Energy Inc.  at 0.22 per cent, Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. at 0.17 per cent, and Teck Resources Ltd. with 0.09 per cent.

If one equates the 400,000 climate-change fatalities each year to the 100th entity on that list, Southwestern Energy Co. at 0.04 per cent, that's 160 people whose social murder could be arguably attributed to those emissions.

Campaigns are already calling on the world's largest oil companies to pay their share of billions of dollars in climate change-related costs.

"It estimated that cumulative costs from 2010 to 2080 could range from $25 billion under a low-climate change and slow-growth scenario to $176 billion under a high-climate change, rapid-growth scenario," the Vancouver Sun reports.

This leaves the question: if corporations can be held financially responsible for climate change-related costs, shouldn't we also be able to hold them criminally responsible for social murder?

Brent Patterson is a political activist and writer.

Photo: Alisdare Hickson/ Wikimedia Commons

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