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Study Quantifies Link Between Climate Change, Fossil Fuel Firms

(CBS SF) -- A climate study published recently shows just how much fossil fuel producers have contributed to the increase in global surface temperatures and sea level rise, which San Mateo County officials say has caused more than $40 million in damage in their county.

The study published last Thursday in the journal "Climatic Change" shows that emissions from top fossil fuel producers such as San Ramon-based Chevron are responsible for as much as half of the rise in global temperatures and about 30 percent of the rise in sea levels.

Both San Mateo and Marin counties filed a lawsuit in July alleging 37 fossil fuel producers are responsible for rising seas and associated costs to their counties. The suit also includes the city of Imperial Beach in San Diego County.

In Marin County, 12,000 homes could be at risk from tides and flooding by the end of the century because of climate change, with the vulnerable properties assessed at nearly $16 billion, according to the lawsuit.

Consulting scientist Kristi Dahl for the Union of Concerned Scientists said Tuesday that nuisance flooding will be more frequent and worsen if climate change continues.

Dahl, a San Francisco resident, said the East Bay section of the Bay Bridge is highly vulnerable to sea level rise.

She holds a doctorate degree in paleoclimate from the MIT/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute Joint Program.

Peter Frumhoff, a co-author of the study, said the fossil fuel producers knew for decades that their actions could have an impact on the world's climate and chose to do nothing about it.

Frumhoff, who holds a doctorate degree in ecology from the University of California at Davis, said company officials chose to hide that fact by alleging the science behind climate change was uncertain.

"They knew the risks were severe," Frumhoff said. "They had options."

Frumhoff said the damage could have been avoided and the study is meant to inform the public dialogue about the issue.

According to the study, emissions linked to the 90 largest carbon producers have contributed about 57 percent of the observed rise in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, as much as 50 percent of the rise in global average temperature and about 30 percent of the rise in seas between 1880 and 2010.

Frumhoff said the public dialogue surrounding the issue is partly about who is responsible for climate change.

"Tobacco companies were held responsible," Frumhoff said in reference to the misinformation by tobacco executives over the addictiveness of nicotine.

Data collected by Richard Heede and published in a landmark study in 2014 was used by Frumhoff and the others to arrive at their conclusions.

Heede's study determined the amount of carbon dioxide and methane emissions that were caused by the burning of products sold by the 90 largest state- and investor-owned fossil fuel companies and cement manufacturers.

Frumhoff and others took that data and used a climate model to show how much those emissions contributed to sea level rise and global warming.

The authors said, "This study lays the groundwork for tracing emissions sourced from industrial carbon producers to specific climate impacts and furthers scientific and policy consideration of their historical responsibilities for climate change."

"Why should taxpayers in San Mateo pay those costs? Frumhoff said. "Why shouldn't companies pay their fair share?"

Officials from Chevron and Shell did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

© Copyright 2017 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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