Climate Change – Time for a Lawsuit?

Most of us remember the long, drawn out battle in the courts to get tobacco companies to assume some of the liabilities for the destruction of life and related health care costs that went with smoking. The companies argued that the product had been in use for perhaps thousands of years, and they were simply providing the product that the public demanded. If that was all there was to the case, big tobacco would have gotten off scott free.

What carried the day for the attorney’s general of a number of states was that big tobacco had known about the harmful effects of smoking, and set about a purposeful campaign to misinform the public about these problems. No one any longer denies the ill effects. Big tobacco paid a steep price, and tobacco users now pay a pretty hefty tax. Some of those state revenues go toward preventing and treating the effects of tobacco use.

Coal and oil companies aren’t causing climate change. It is we, the consumer who burn the stuff, directly or indirectly. They make it available … we use it. So who’s to blame here? I don’t exactly blame either as we all have lived through a period of some level of ignorance. In recent years though, the data is becoming substantially clearer. The climate is changing. Only the most profound fools can’t see that. NOAA, NASA, the National Weather Service and countless international agencies are all saying the same thing – the climate is changing.

The only thing left to dispute is as to what/who is causing the change. Conservatives want to say that the evidence isn’t strong enough. They claim that there are too many disputing theories. But it is like finding those that still argue that the earth is flat. There to, you can find disputing claim, but most have reached an agreement … the earth is in fact round.

My son has taken an interesting approach to addressing these theories. It would be a painful, endless task to argue against each of these ‘denial’ theories one by one. Many have an air of plausibility about then. Instead, he takes the approach of asking who did the research … who wrote the study or article and who provided the funding? To do this kind of digging, you need to be ready to do your homework. Many of the writers have a bunch of degrees behind their name and are funded by serious sounding organizations. But keep digging.

Each time Ethan does the detective work, he has always come up with the same thing – grants from the American Petroleum Institute … funding from the Western Fuels Association (a trade group representing coal mining companies). Every once in a while, I call him with a new group, web site or book to find out what’s behind the latest smoke screen. The paths always lead back to the same doors – coal and oil. They know full well that there may be hundreds of billions of dollars worth of business lost if people catch on to the problem sooner rather than later.

Perhaps the answer is to have a big whopping lawsuit to go after the champions of misinformation. Like big tobacco, there are likely any number of internal documents, acknowledging how much they know about the severity of the problem. Again, the lawsuit would not go after them for creating climate change. It would go after them for promoting a stream of propaganda which is designed to take us away from some important choices our nation needs to make.

$200 billion is a nice, round number, but it only represents less than 5 years worth of profits from coal and oil. But it might just be enough to get their attention.

Just a thought … DonC


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