Can You Truly Litigate Climate Change?

With the recent global climate change summit, the subject of the planet’s health has been top of mind. And you’d think with so much at stake the courts would be involved in some way, right? Well, for two decades, climate scientists have been developing tools to pin the blame for hurricanes, floods, and heatwaves on fossil fuel companies. But judges say climate change is just too big for court.

A recent New York Review article says “When Myles Allen first proposed suing fossil fuel companies in 2003, the outlook for climate action in the political sphere was bleak. The United States, responsible for a quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, still had no major carbon regulations in place. Two years into the Bush administration and its oil-industry cronyism, any meaningful policy shifts in the near future seemed unlikely. Although in 2001 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had issued its clearest statement yet that global warming was caused by human activities, Bush declined to join the Kyoto Protocol and abandoned his campaign pledge to cap carbon emissions, instead issuing a record number of oil drilling permits on public and tribal lands.”

The article goes on to say that taking Big Oil to court for climate-related damages was only a thought experiment at that point. But Allen, a climate scientist at Oxford University, believed a suit would be relatively straightforward. As he wrote in a 2003 Nature commentary, it was simply a matter of reconstructing a chain of events that began with the carbon emissions produced by a given fossil fuel company and ended with the role of those emissions in climate-related harms.

The field of research that emerged in service of these aims, known as climate change attribution science, quantifies the influence of anthropogenic greenhouse gases in observed changes in natural systems, like rising sea levels, and extreme weather events, like heat waves and hurricanes. Rather than draw causal connections between emissions and events, attribution science deals in risks and probabilities: scientists have recently found, for example, that climate change increased the risk of the severe flooding in Western Europe this past summer by at least 20 percent. The hope is that such data will provide lawyers with the hard evidence to hold fossil fuel companies accountable for climate change. It is a technical solution to the problem of apportioning blame.

It’s also an attractive one for anybody who has ever felt enraged that they’re forced to live in a world run on fossil fuels, having to foot the bill for damages that oil companies knew for decades their products would cause. Yet, to date, NO case against the fossil fuel industry has made it to trial. Instead, while climate scientists now have persuasive methods for holding the industry to account, lawyers have come up against the limits of US tort law, as time and again the courts have ruled that climate change is too politicized, too international, too entangled in policy to effectively litigate.

With the recent global climate change summit, the subject of the planet’s health has been top of mind. And you’d think with so much at stake the courts would be involved in some way, right? Well, for two decades, climate scientists have been developing tools to pin the blame for hurricanes, floods, and heatwaves on fossil fuel companies. But judges say climate change is just too big for court.

A recent New York Review article says “When Myles Allen first proposed suing fossil fuel companies in 2003, the outlook for climate action in the political sphere was bleak. The United States, responsible for a quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, still had no major carbon regulations in place. Two years into the Bush administration and its oil-industry cronyism, any meaningful policy shifts in the near future seemed unlikely. Although in 2001 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had issued its clearest statement yet that global warming was caused by human activities, Bush declined to join the Kyoto Protocol and abandoned his campaign pledge to cap carbon emissions, instead issuing a record number of oil drilling permits on public and tribal lands.”

The article goes on to say that taking Big Oil to court for climate-related damages was only a thought experiment at that point. But Allen, a climate scientist at Oxford University, believed a suit would be relatively straightforward. As he wrote in a 2003 Nature commentary, it was simply a matter of reconstructing a chain of events that began with the carbon emissions produced by a given fossil fuel company and ended with the role of those emissions in climate-related harms.

The field of research that emerged in service of these aims, known as climate change attribution science, quantifies the influence of anthropogenic greenhouse gases in observed changes in natural systems, like rising sea levels, and extreme weather events, like heat waves and hurricanes. Rather than draw causal connections between emissions and events, attribution science deals in risks and probabilities: scientists have recently found, for example, that climate change increased the risk of severe flooding in Western Europe this past summer by at least 20 percent. The hope is that such data will provide lawyers with the hard evidence to hold fossil fuel companies accountable for climate change. It is a technical solution to the problem of apportioning blame.

It’s also an attractive one for anybody who has ever felt enraged that they’re forced to live in a world run on fossil fuels, having to foot the bill for damages that oil companies knew for decades their products would cause. Yet, to date, NO case against the fossil fuel industry has made it to trial. Instead, while climate scientists now have persuasive methods for holding the industry to account, lawyers have come up against the limits of US tort law, as time and again the courts have ruled that climate change is too politicized, too international, too entangled in policy to effectively litigate.

While there isn’t a track record of climate change litigation, you can find plenty of disputes just about anywhere else on the planet. They are EVERYWHERE! And when those things negatively impact you and/or your business including bankruptcies, landlord/tenant matters including unlawful detainers, contract issues, nuisance ADA claims and even collections, call in your good guy business litigator, Dean Sperling to resolve YOUR matter with YOUR best interests in mind!

More on the case:
https://www.nybooks.com/daily/2021/11/03/the-limits-of-climate-change-litigation/