Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Suncor, Should they Pay for Climate Change? (2020)

Oil Companies, should they Pay?

        Oil, we use it in our every day lives. Whether it is to get to work, go on a vacation or to fix a squeaky door hinge, it us a very prevalent in our modern era. The question though that many people ask now days is, what are the effects that these companies are having our cities, countries or even the world. It has been made very clear over the last few years that climate change is becoming a stronger concern for individuals all across the plant and what should be done to prevent further damage or at least keep the damage to a minimal amount. Well a recent group in Colorado state have tried to take those action into there own hands. They are suing the Canadian company Suncor for climate impacts they feel the company is having on them. Is this the right thing to do or is this another cancel culture of present day not looking into the future impacts that it could have?

            Before we can dive into the debate of the lawsuit, we must first understand what Global warming is and how it affects us. Global warming is the long-term warming of the planet’s temperature. Though this has been happening for a long time the reason it is becoming a concern is that in the past 100 years the pace of the increase is drastically increasing. The increase is due to the increase of human population which then leads to the increase in demand for fossil fuels which when burned cause a greenhouse effect on the planet’s atmosphere. The greenhouse effect is when the Sun’s rays penetrate the atmosphere, but when that heat is reflected off the surface cannot escape back into space. Gases produced by the burning of fossil fuels prevent the heat from leaving the atmosphere. 

            Now that we understand the affects of global warming, we can get down to climate change and what that truly is. Though you may think that these are the same thing, they are not in fact. Climate change refers to changes in weather patterns and growing seasons around the world. It also refers to sea level rise caused by the expansion of warmer seas and melting ice sheets and glaciers. Global warming causes climate change, which poses a serious threat to life on earth in the forms of widespread flooding and extreme weather. This can include droughts or even massive snowfalls. The changes can be so drastic that one season could be a all time high for snow and the next season be an all time low for rain.

        Climate change is the main reason that Boulder Country, San Miguel Country, and the City of Boulder have all filed a lawsuit against Suncor. They say that the amount of gases that are produced by this company needs to look after. They say that Suncor should pay for the environmental impact that they have had on there comminutes. They estimate that “it will take 100 million dollars over the next three decades to deal with the climate change”. To this point most of the lawsuits that have been filed against corporations like Suncor are coastal areas due to the rising of sea levels. However, these Colorado cities say they are feeling the negative effects of climate change, too, namely when it comes to snow loss. The lawsuit claims, “that fossil fuel combustion was causing a dramatic rise in the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere," which causes "significant temperature changes" and "dramatic climatic changes." Because of the increase in temperature, there is dwindling snowpack in the state, which is vital for Colorado's agriculture, water supply and $5 billion ski industry.

                  The lawsuit comes after several U.S municipal governments, names near costal areas, pursue action against oil companies for allegedly contributing to climate change. The lawsuit is not aimed to stop or regulate production of fossil fuels in Colorado. They are asking companies instead to help with cost to the environment for there, “reckless and negligent conduct”. These costs would include cost related to damages from wildfires, flood control efforts, healthcare expenses and loss of land value. The Three areas also claim that Suncor knew bout the environmental effect it would have with its crude oil 50 years ago. Suncor isn’t he only company that is being targeted Exxon Mobile is as well. When asked about the lawsuit Suncor did not respond, but Exxon’s spokesman Scott Silvestri simply stated, “"Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is a global issue and requires global participation and actions, lawsuits like this — filed by trial attorneys against an industry that provides products we all rely upon to power the economy and enable our domestic life — simply do not do that."

Suncor's Building in Calgary Alberta

            Who is Suncor though? Suncor is a Canadian Company based out of Calgary Alberta with there U.S head quarters in Denver Colorado. The company is an energy company that specializes in the production of synthetic crude from oil sands. They provide the USA with 35% of there gasoline and diesel demands. They currently have been one of 65 refineries that produce over 100,000 barrels of crude oil. The chances you have ever used a Suncor product are extremely high. The currently employ 12,480 individuals at there companies. They where even before the lawsuit trying to find ways to reduce their environmental footprint on green house gases one of a very few who where.

            Suncor has in the past though been under scrutiny for being a little lack with there air pollutants. Before the lawsuit came into play Suncor had broke a 12.8-ton limit for an invisible gas called hydrogen-cyanide. They had produced 14.1 tons that year and it went almost unnoticed. Hydrogen cyanide is a by product of processing crude oil and is a deadly gas. Exposure at high levels leads to rapid breathing followed by convulsions loss of consciousness and death. Lower level exposure causes trouble breathing, chest pain, vomiting, headaches, and an enlarged thyroid gland. These levels though are far higher than what Suncor is producing. There has been no study on how exposure to the chemical can affect individuals over time. The residents of the area know of the chemicals and the effects that they can have if in high quantities and still chose to live in these locations. The main reason that Suncor exceeded the limit is because it can not tell how much it will truly produce of the by product until it is produced. For the chemical to truly be harmful it has to be in .7 parts per billion but around Suncor it is only .03 parts per billion.

            With the lawsuit still in the air it is hard to determine which way it will proceed. Should oil companies pay for there role in climate change? At the same time individuals don’t have to use their products and increase the gases themselves. Should companies instead keep all their money and be forced to reduce their greenhouse gasses by investing in technologies instead? There are just too many variables currently to truly make a just claim for either side. With how impactful global warning and climate change are becoming there will likely be more trials of this sort that don’t have definitive answers and will come down how much compromise each side is willing to make to help each other out.

One of Suncor's Stacks

Ethical Theories



Individualism in this case is quite a different then most. In most cases the companies have in one way or another disrupted a law or broken a law. In this case study though there is not much to what can be said about it. They currently have not broken any laws to directly influence change in the company on the aspect they are being sued upon. How ever they have in the past breached code on how much pollutants can be produced out of the stacks at the refineries. For the individualism portion of case they are staying within the law and maximizing production to there best possible outcome.

In the past with them breaking their restrictions on toxic fumes being produced it could be a breach of law, but the chemical that breached protocol is known to be toxic in high quantities. The amount they went over by is far less then lethal or even harmful. The only problem facing the accusation is there has not been a study to indicate if exposure of the chemical is harmful over a long period of time. If there was a study to indicate if the chemical was harmful over a long amount of time, then I could see a lawsuit against them for harm to people’s health. 

The other aspect of individualism is that the company that makes the product isn’t forcing individuals to use their product. There are more green house gases that are produced by the consumers using their product then there are making their product. The company is legally selling a product you could choose not to use if you please, but instead most if not all individuals who complain of global climate change are using the product that they want to sue for there health. There is no legal obligation for you to use their product or for them to sell the product, but as an individual the consumer can either buy and use the product or not use the product.

There are two ways happiness on an individual level can be measured. The first being short term and the second being long term. The short-term happiness return for the company is there are making profit from either work or selling of product to the consumer through legal means. The long-term happiness would be the increase in profit over time for both the individual employee who is working and the higher up individuals in the company for making profit off of production. The consumer on the other hand for the short term is happy because of the use of the product usually gasoline to get from point A to point B. This changes though in the long term because of the chemicals polluting the sky and providing climate change. In the long term there is a negative to happiness because of these effects. The question is, is the continued short-term happiness day after day greater than the long term sadness of the individual?



            Utilitarianism theory is the happiness of the whole is greater than that of the minority. This is a tricky concept when put into a case study about gas and the effects that it can have on minorities and a nation. Suncor produces 35% of the gas consumed in America. This means that the population of America (328.24 million as of 2019) that roughly about 114.884 million Americans use the product. Is this a greater number then people who are affected by climate change?

            If we are talking about the case study, then Utilitarianism would say that because it is only three area that are suing because of the climate change then the company is maximizing their happiness for a far greater gain. This would be the 35% of Americans vs the small number of people in the Colorado areas that are unhappy about the climate change. There might even be individuals in those three areas who actual have no complaints on what the company is doing which could dwindle their small number even more. So, for the case the happiness is maximized.

            The next way we could look at maximized happiness from the case is through America itself and the individuals who are affected by the climate change. If we actively look, we could say that because of the higher number of individuals who do not use the gas there would be a negative happiness from the nation. The other possibility though is that there are individuals who are do not care about either global climate change or the fuel because they do not consume it. This would level the playing field and could go either way for maximum happiness either for or against the company and what they provide. The last look of company verse nation for maximum happiness is that there could be a large amount of people who use the product but are unhappy about the climate change changing the number for happiness back to the group who is unhappy about climate change and the effects it is having on them.

            The last Utilitarianism theory we can look at from this case is Suncor versus the global population. If we take the global population vs the consumers of this company then happiness is not met at all. The global population does not benefit from the consumption of fossil fuels of a small quantity of individuals. This is the case for global warming and climate change that is brought up most frequently about fossil fuels. 


            In the world of business ethics Kantianism is quite a hot topic. The main moral behind it to think of people as an end’s and not as a mere means. This means that you should not look to gain more from a person but see to It that they are the ends to a means. In this case study there are a few things we can look at and ask if it is taking people rationality out of the equation or if it was morally just for the company to do.

            The first main topic is if the company was morally just so far to the people treating them as an end and not as means. I would say that they have not been 100% honest with the people in the area. There have been statements made that these global gas companies knew of the effects that their product could have on the environment. This study was done 50 years ago, and the information was never given to the public. This is taking these peoples rationality out of it and using them as a means not as an end. Indicating that Kant would be against this part of the argument.

            The next would be the amount of pollutants that are in the air. They have restrictions that are normally met, but they do occasionally go over these limits. The residents of the area know of the toxins that these facilities produce and the harm they can cause in high concentrations. This would be approved by Kant, but when Suncor goes over its limit it does not inform the local public of its accidental increase in pollutants. If the company would notify the local areas when these gases came in extra, then they would be following the formula of humanity therefore when they with hold this information they are going against Kantianism.

            The second last topic of Kantianism is the population of people using the gas. These individuals know through many sources the effects fossil fuels can have on our environment. When the company offers their service, they have the choice to use it leaving it up to them to buy it giving them the choice if they want to increase green house gasses. This indicates that the consumer has their rationality and are treated as an end not as a means giving them the option to make. They can either buy the product and service provided or not use it.

            Finally, the last topic is the company producing the fossil fuels and the gases they produce. I feel because the company is within there legal limitations and try to stay within them, they are not miss informing the public. The company has notified the public of the chemicals that are produced at the company and there for have not taken there rationality out of it. The public can choose to live in the location they are at or move if they feel the chemicals are harming them in some way. There is no information on if long exposure of the chemicals can cause long term harm so that is treated as an end and not as a means.

Virtue theory

            Virtue theory has four main cardinal virtues. These four virtues are prudence, justice, temperance, and courage. You can not have one virtue without the others. In business ethics they play and interesting theory of how a business should be and how they are managed.

            Justice is if they are being true to who they are as a company to the population. They technically are not disobeying any laws so they are there for just with there actions. They have in the pass broken laws but, have been clear for the last year for keeping their gases to the limits specified to them.

            Prudence is making the right decisions for the perspective future. There is not much they claim to be wanting to do in the future to expand or to help the environment. If they want to advance in the future with how everyone is pressuring companies about global warming they may want to invest in cleaner filters for the gases.

            Temperance is the ability to refrain from doing negative. This is the case if the company is to refrain from negatively impacting the climate change and the negative impact they may have on there local populations. If they where to pay for the damages they have caused it would be a positive outcome for the locals but a negative for the company.  

            Courage is the ability to persevere through tough times. The locals are going through a tough time with the climate change and therefore have courage. With the droughts and less snowpack there skiing, and winter sports are taking dramatic hits to there funds.

Justification Ethical Evaluation

            The case of Suncor vs local Areas near them is an extraordinarily complex topic. I feel companies should have to pay a tax for polluting the air that we breath, but not an astronomical tax. The tax would go into helping the local populations to fix what ever damages they do. The real tax should come in the form of gas. The increase in gas prices would fund the clean up and climate changes that are occurring. With the increase in gas prices there would be a small hit to happiness, but overall happiness through the world would increase. The locals should also be informed if gas is gone over legal limits and should be harshly taxed so that people rationality is kept and informed not keep a secret from them. There is a different ethical value that I feel are more just then others about this case. If happiness is maximized through what ever ethical value, then it would be the best for the company to follow so that they do not get shut down. Its hard to justify a company paying for damages that there is no for sure correlation between them and the damages that are done to Colorado.


Company Action Plan

The delicate subject of how to deal with climate change is a changing topic. There is more and more debate if it should be a top concern of America or more of a future problem and they should be more pressed about unemployment. The Company Suncor though with the legal action taken against him must act now to make a change that satisfies the local population and the Nation. There are a few steps they can take to maintain and even increase profit while keeping gas levels and climate change to a minimal. These steps may hinder them at first,  but will increase profit in the future of the company without having to pay the lawsuit against them.

            The first step the company should do is to invest in research about them chemicals and the long-term effects they may have. They should focus though mainly at the start on gases that have been known to cause environmental and physical harm to people. With the research that they find they could put forward a chart to find out which gases are of concern. This could change with time and is expected to change with time. Action would be needed quickly though to satisfy officials enough so that the lawsuit would come into effect costing them millions over time. The direct hit they would take doing the research would reduce retained earning for that year, but the knowledge they gained would lead into step two.

            The second phase would be to indicate which gases where of most harm. When it was clear which where causing more issues then others than you put research into a filter for the stack to eliminate even more of the pollutant then what is already present. If reduction of the gas is reduced even lower, then what it is presently. Then the company patents the idea of there new stack filter. This would cause other companies who would soon be pressured to reduce their levels to come to the company paying for the new filter. The effect this would entail is the profit made back from the research that went into it and being a new household name for cleaner fossil fuel giving the company better publicity and promoting them in the future. Suncor then could dig into there research to see what chemical is the next one to tackle. They could continue to repeat this process and be a leading force into which chemicals cause global climate change and profit off selling the new filters to companies that are trying to keep cleaner fossil fuels. It would cost the company less then what is expected of them to pay for the lawsuit.

            With Suncor taking over in a research like roll it would increase gas prices though. It would not be a drastic increase compared to if they where taxed for every chemical that they produced for the harm that there company did to the environment. It is a quick but effective method in increasing profit and minimizing their global footprint. In the short run it is a win/lose. The win is for the locals knowing that their environment will be looked after but a lose to the company for the increase in having to pay for research. The long run would hold a win/win ration because the environment would feel less impact from the fossil fuels and the company would profit from building and selling the industrial stack filters.











Work Cited

Finley, Bruce. “Suncor's Hydrogen-Cyanide Emissions Exceeded Permit Last Year; Colorado Now Weighing Refinery's Request to Increase Limit.” The Denver Post, The Denver Post, 28 May 2019, www.denverpost.com/2019/05/26/suncor-refinery-emissions-colorado/.

Grandoni, Dino. “Analysis | The Energy 202: The Supreme Court Will Hear a Climate Change Case next Year.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 5 Oct. 2020, www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2020/10/05/energy-202-supreme-court-will-hear-climate-change-case-next-year/.

N, A /. “Colorado Communities Launch Lawsuit against Suncor, Exxon Claiming Climate Change Damages | CBC News.” CBCnews, CBC/Radio Canada, 18 Apr. 2018, www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/colorado-suncor-exxon-lawsuit-climate-change-1.4624827.

N, A /. “Colorado Counties Sue Exxon, Suncor Over Climate Change.” U.S. News & World Report, U.S. News & World Report, 2019, www.usnews.com/news/national-news/articles/2018-04-18/colorado-counties-sue-exxon-suncor-over-climate-change.

National Geographic Society, . “Global Warming.” National Geographic Society, 27 Mar. 2019, www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/global-warming/.

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