Tobacco Litigation Strategy for Climate Change?

In The Weather Makers, there is a chapter called “The Last Act of God”. The premise is that storms and the like were all considered acts of god from a legal standpoint. This meant that no one could be held responsible. However, in light of anthropogenic climate change, these things are now foreseeable consequences of actions of corporations, nations, and even to a very small extent individuals.

This means that these entities may now be open to litigation in international court for damages that result from climate change as a foreseeable outcome of the actions of these entities.

I found this to be an interesting concept when I read about it. Given my bent, I would actually be hopeful about such actions if I felt that they were in any practical way a real possibility. However, I did not think so at all. I could not imagine an international court taking the side of the Inuit, for example, over The United States or ExxonMobil.

However, it now appears that a group of lawyers are looking to take a slightly different tack on this. They are following in the path of the litigation against tobacco companies. Rather than trying to prove a specific portion of the damages attributable to the particular entities in the suit, they are alleging a conspiracy to sow doubt among voters and policy makers, thus preventing any real action on climate change.

This appeals to me because it actually is representative of the facts in the real world.

Corporations, most notably ExxonMobil have indeed paid scientists for years to attempt to undermine the science of climate change. This was done deliberately. This was a concerted effort. This was done with malicious intent for short term profit. I have no idea whether they will be successful at proving this beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

I hope they are.

I have personally had enough debates about global warming to know that in a tremendous majority of cases when someone disputes anthropogenic climate change and cites a source, it is most often either a website funded directly or indirectly by ExxonMobil or a scientist with known ties to such organizations. The other significant category of sources is scientists in fields unrelated to climate change, most often meteorology, which sounds like a related field, but actually has nothing at all to do with climatology.

Anyway, I hope you will read the Atlantic article in the following link. It explains the grounds on which the litigation is based far more accurately than I can.

Conspiracy Theory

3 Responses to Tobacco Litigation Strategy for Climate Change?

  1. Kris says:

    In possibly related news is this: Exxon to cut funding to climate change denial groups

    Excerpt: “In its corporate citizenship report, released last week, ExxonMobil says it intends to cut funds to several groups that ‘divert attention’ from the need to find new sources of clean energy.”

    But later: “Greenpeace says ExxonMobil continues to fund over ‘two dozen other organisations who question the science of global warming or attack policies to solve the crisis.'”

  2. Thanks Kris! That certainly sounds at least somewhat related to me. How tightly or loosely is really the question. I’ll also take somewhat of a wait-and-see attitude to this one. They may be starting a trend of reduced funding of this sort or may simply be jettisoning some of the ones that have become the most well-known for being ExxonMobil press releases and thus are no longer effective.

    With them continuing to fund so many organizations, this seems more like dropping the ones that have become ineffective than like a real reduction in the practice to me. But, I’m a cynic … and I don’t trust ExxonMobil to do the right thing or even fulfill their legal obligations when or if they lose in court.

    Personally, as soon as I hear that an organization or scientist is funded by ExxonMobil, I just write off anything that comes from them as if it were just a press release, rather than science. Of course, that’s only because it really is just a press release at that point rather than science.

    Science looks at data and forms conclusions. ExxonMobil pays former scientists, usually not really even in the field of climatology, though sometimes they do manage to hire a real climate scientist, to start with a conclusion and then pick out any available data. If there is no data, they write their paper anyway. The vast majority of such papers won’t make it through peer-review, but they only have to sow doubt among the masses, not actually convince scientists.

  3. Kris,

    So much for any hope that ExxonMobil might be gaining a corporate conscience.

    Exxon Mobil CEO takes aim at environmentalists

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