Last month, one of the environment's greatest advocates died in a tragic car accident while traveling in Uganda. His wife survived the accident and reported that a large truck swerved into the oncoming lane, hitting their car head-on.
Cole was widely held as the nation's leading environmental justice lawyer and was the E.D. of the Center of Race, Poverty and the Environment
. He has led numerous David & Goliath battles, helping impoverished communities win the right to protect their local environments against polluting corporations.
His most recent work took him to Kivalina, Alaska, where he helped an Inuit tribe win against a zinc manufacturer that was polluting the local water system.
In February of 2008, Cole filed what is perhaps the most audacious environmental lawsuit of all time -- a civil lawsuit (PDF
) on behalf of the village of Kivalina against a cadre of fossil fuel companies including ExxonMobile, Chevron, ConocoPhilips, Royal Dutch Shell, Dynergy, Peabody, Duke Energy and many more.
The lawsuit attempts to recover damages associated with the relocation of the village due to global warming. Here is an excerpt:
Defendants contribute to global warming through their emissions of large quantities of greenhouse gases. Defendants in this action include many of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases in the United States. All defendants directly emit large quantities of greenhouse gases and have done so for many years. Defendants are thus responsible for a substantial portion of the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere that have caused global warming and Kivalina's special injuries.
It's important to note that at the time greenhouse gases were not even considered to be a pollutant by the United States government, so numerous motions to dismiss were filed by the defendants.
But with the EPA's historic endangerment finding in April of this year, greenhouse gases are now in fact considered a pollutant, giving a boost to the Kivalina v. ExxonMobile et al. case which is now moving ahead in the courts.
Though it faces a near impossible road ahead, the case is fascinating in that it will force the oil and coal companies to prove that they are NOT responsible for global warming. So the man-made versus natural debate is now destined to eventually come to a head, and the tiny town of Kivalina will be smack in the middle of that debate.
It is too bad that Luke Cole's brilliant mind and sharp tongue will not be there to lead the questioning.