GLOBAL WARMING AND LEGAL LIABILITY January 4, 2012Posted by wmmbb in and global temperature., carbon emissions.
Misrepresenting the agreed facts may be one thing in order to preserve profits, but corporations are legal persons and so in theory they can be legally liable.
The problem may be that while true, the public relations industry that acts behind the curtain may be protected by apparent immunity of the paid mass media and more individual social media that provides climate deniers a platform. The management of public opinion has not been seen, and properly, as the business of science which is concerned with undertaking research, publishing results and doing more research to generate more provisional knowledge.
The Berkeley Earth Project, a study into climate change, although not peer reviewed, yet conducted on the basis of scepticism of the scientific consensus, concluded that the anthropogenic global warming was real.
Christine Shearer, at AlterNet gives a brief history of the nonscience of climate change denialism:
In 1990, IPCC scientists completed their first assessment report for policymakers, stating they were certain human activities were increasing greenhouse gas emissions and warming, with the second report, in 1995, concluding there was a discernible human influence on climate.
The stage seemed set for an international treaty to limit greenhouse gas emissions.
That’s when fossil fuel companies and their supporters sprang in to fund their own research. In 1988 the coal industry founded the Western Fuels Association (WFA), headed by Fred Palmer, who later became vice president of Peabody Energy, the largest private coal company in the world. As outlined in Ross Gelbspan’s The Heat Is On (1998), the WFA actively sought to refute the growing consensus on climate change, stating in its report that “when [the climate change] controversy first erupted at the peak of summer in 1988, Western Fuels Association decided it was important to take a stand.… [S]cientists were found who are skeptical about the potential for climate change.”
A 1998 memo leaked from the National Environmental Trust to the New York Times detailed that a dozen people working for big oil companies, trade associations, and conservative think tanks had been meeting at the American Petroleum Institute’s Washington headquarters to propose a $5 million campaign to convince people that global warming science was riddled with controversy and uncertainty.
Industries like oil and large manufacturers created the lobbying group Global Climate Coalition (GCC) in 1989, with the stated purpose of “cast[ing] doubt on the theory of global warming.” A Freedom of Information Act request unearthed 2001 U.S. State Department documents to the GCC suggesting former President George W. Bush’s decision to pull out of UN international negotiations on climate change had been shaped in part by GCC and Exxon.
The George W. Bush Administration not only resisted GHG regulations, but actively edited government reports to question the science of climate change, one time drawing upon research funded in part by ExxonMobil. As documented by Greenpeace and others, ExxonMobil and Koch Industries went on to become major donors of such research, finding a platform in conservative think tanks and media.
The result? The U.S. perception of scientific consensus about climate change went down in line with the growth of corporate-funded research, particularly among Republicans, even as the science became more clear and the effects more apparent. While the awareness of a consensus is inching back up (although there is still much more confusion than there arguably should be over whether humans are a factor), the U.S. has yet to regulate greenhouse gases, even as the International Energy Agency warns that we may be five years away from being deadlocked into runaway warming.
Social scientists have noted internal barriers to action on climate change – that even people who acknowledge the science may not necessarily alter how they live to match that knowledge. In other words, accepting the consensus on climate change science might not have been enough for swift, immediate action.
Yet the evidence also seems clear that comprehensive understanding of the issue for the nation was muddled, and deliberately so: in 2009, an internal Global Climate Coalition document was leaked to the New York Times – a primer written in 1995 for coalition members admitting that the “scientific basis for the greenhouse effect and the potential impact of human emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide on climate is well established and cannot be denied.”
Legal suits have been made, but so far unsuccessfully in the US. For example, Wikipedia reported:
The city of Kivalina and a federally recognized tribe, the Alaska Native Village of Kivalina, sued Exxon Mobil Corporation, eight other oil companies, 14 power companies and one coal company in a lawsuit filed in federal court in San Francisco on February 26, 2008, claiming that the large amounts of greenhouse gases they emit contribute to global warming that threatens the community’s existence. The lawsuit estimates the cost of relocation at $400 million.
Kivalina has also sued Canadian mining company Teck Cominco for polluting its water source.
Christine Shearer concludes her article by observing:
Defendant companies argue that climate change is not a matter for the courts – the problem is too big, and we are all responsible. Yet we have not all embarked on multi-million dollar campaigns to fund our own research and prevent change. It is these secondary claims that could be the crux of establishing whether fossil fuel companies will eventually bear liability for harm from greenhouse gas emissions. As prior cases involving lead, asbestos, and tobacco lawsuits show, people seem to think it is one thing to do your own research, but it is another to deliberately deceive people, contributing to widespread harm primarily to retain profits.
One year ago, the Australian legal site, Freehills in January 2011 suggested:
Climate change litigation is at a fledgling stage in Australia.
There have been no Australian tort actions related to climate change to date, and such actions face significant hurdles, namely standing, causation and the utility of granting the relief sought.
However, the recent US developments mentioned above indicate that some of these hurdles at least may be able to be overcome.
The issue of standing appears able to be addressed by framing an action in public nuisance. An action in public nuisance may be framed where the defendant’s conduct unreasonably endangers the health, property or comfort of the public generally or obstructs the public in the exercise of its rights. Importantly, such an action does not require a plaintiff to establish that the plaintiff’s private right to the use and enjoyment of land has been specially affected by the defendant’s conduct. The recent decisions in US courts mentioned above indicate that at least some US courts will entertain such an action and award remedies.13
It seems reasonable to expect that Australian litigants (including environmental groups) will follow the American example. Their path to the courts is likely to be smoother because of the lack in Australia of some of the constitutional doctrines that impede such actions in the United States.
The outcome of the appeal in the US Supreme Court in American Electric Power Co. v Connecticut will be of most interest for Australian litigants because it is likely to raise squarely the difficult issue of causation—in particular, the fact that many factors other than the defendant’s actions are contributory to global warming—and the related issue of the utility of any remedy.
Ultimately, these cases question the role of courts versus parliament on important public issues such as climate change. If climate change litigation gathers momentum then that may increase political pressure for responsive legislation.
The likely outcome may be to expect the corporations to take pre-emptive action and endeavour to have the relevant legislation changed.
At Larvatus Prodeo, Brian continues his reports on the state of the climate, quoting the Climate Commission’s report, The Critical Decade:
This decade is critical. Unless effective action is taken, the global climate may be so irreversibly altered we will struggle to maintain our present way of life.” “Without strong and rapid action there is a significant risk that climate change will undermine our society’s prosperity, health, stability and way of life.”
Oblivious to odd opposing comments, Rafe continues his climate denialism at Catallaxy. He recently wrote:
Huge claims have been made about the scientific rigor of processes in the IPCC, especially by the longserving chairman Rajendra Pachauri. These have been repeated by gullible and scientifically illiterate journalists and by politicians who want us to believe that ”the science is settled”. The credibility of science and scientists has taken a huge hit because so many people who should have known better have been prepared to endorse the scam, including the Chief Scientist of Australia.
And so it goes. In that case the best reference might well be Alice in Wonderland.
“If you go chasing rabbits” . . . Jefferson Airplane:
CODA: 11 January 2011
Juan Cole makes a comprehensive case concerning Iran’s uranium enrichment for medical purposes, while giving the relevant historical background. He identifies the sanctions, as others must, as war crimes, that would be compounded by any attack on Iran, which has neither attacked or occupied the territory of any other country.