As New York Takes Exxon to Court, Big Oil’s Strategy Against Climate Lawsuits Is Slowly Unveiled

By Dan Zegart, a freelance investigative journalist who writes frequently on legal subjects for Climate Investigations Center. Originally published at DeSmogBlog.

Last week, in a historic first, the former CEO of a major oil company took the witness stand in a New York City courtroom and spent four hours defending his company against charges that it misled investors about the potential impact of global warming on its viability as a business.

Rex Tillerson, who led ExxonMobil from 2006 until the end of 2016 when he became U.S. secretary of state, was grilled by an attorney for the New York State attorney general for allegedly participating in a “longstanding fraudulent scheme” by Exxon to fool investors. More specifically, the company is charged with exaggerating the stringency of its financial safeguards in pricing risks from regulations restricting greenhouse gas emissions, according to the complaint filed last year in New York state court.

But Tillerson’s appearance was just one of several recent watershed moments for efforts to hold the fossil fuel industry accountable for its dominant role in causing climate change.

These included a former Exxon scientist giving first-ever oil industry whistleblower testimony before Congress, a Senate hearing on how dark money blocks climate change action, the Supreme Court allowing three major climate liability suits to proceed, Maui and Honolulu announcing they will sue the fossil fuel industry, and, perhaps most significant, the Massachusetts attorney general filing suit against Exxon.

The Beginning of Big Oil’s Big Tobacco Moment?

This anti-fossil fuel fusillade prompts some veterans of tobacco and health litigation to compare current events to the period in 1994 and 1995 when litigation, legislative hearings, and other spearheads were launched that ultimately led to massive damage settlements with Big Tobacco, changes in industry practices, and regulation of tobacco products by the Food and Drug Administration.

“That was a time when tobacco was the Big One. Now this is the Big One. The question is, how far will it go?” said Richard Daynard, a law professor at Northeastern University Law School in Boston whose Tobacco Products Liability Project was a key player in what became known as the “cigarette wars.”

But, Daynard noted, it was only due to the persistence and sheer scale of the lawsuits, specifically those by attorneys general — all 50 ultimately sued — plus a massive racketeering action against the entire tobacco industry by the U.S. Department of Justice, that Big Tobacco was forced to reverse a 50-year-long denial campaign, admitting on corporate websites that its product was addictive and caused cancer and other diseases.

Certainly, former Exxon CEO Tillerson made no such concessions about petroleum and climate change. And while the nitty-gritty of the New York attorney general’s case concerns Exxon’s accounting practices about climate risk, not global warming directly, Tillerson nevertheless made significant statements about climate science and how the company views the threat and urgency of a warming earth. Such statements may be clues as to how the industry will handle other climate lawsuits.

Under cross-examination by Exxon lawyer Ted Wells, a tall attorney with a commanding voice who led the tobacco industry defense team in the Justice Department racketeering lawsuit, Tillerson refused to put climate change into a special category of risk as an urgent, existential threat to the planet. That refusal is central to Exxon’s longtime public position and a rhetorical signature of climate denial.

Wells questioned Tillerson multiple times about how highly he ranked global warming, seemingly probing for a less equivocal reply. Finally he asked, “Was it one of the most important issues you faced during your tenure?”

But Tillerson couldn’t agree with that statement either.

“It was one of many risks that we had to manage,” he said. “And that’s really what the nature of my job was — risk management. But we had a lot of other risks we were managing. Technical risks, geopolitical risks in the countries we operated in, investment risks. There were a lot of risks we were managing. So this was just among the basket of risks that we had to keep in front of us.”

That was similar to Tillerson’s comment in a 2012 speech to the Council on Foreign Relations that “there are much more pressing priorities” than climate change.

Echoes of Denial

Tillerson also echoed other previous statements on climate science and change. Just as he did at Exxon’s 2015 annual shareholders’ meeting, where he said climate “models are simply not that good,” he told the court in New York that such models “really should improve” and that “the science around global warming is continuing to evolve.”

Perhaps most importantly, in response to a question from Wells about the “complexity” of the global warming problem, Tillerson minimized its urgency with the familiar argument that fossil fuels will have to persist well into the future.

“The whole global economy is dependent on energy. The largest component of the energy supply is fossil-fuel based. So if the economies are going to continue to not just perform but grow, if people are going to continue to want to improve their quality of life and sustain their quality of life, they’re going to take a lot of it and demand for it is going to keep growing,” Tillerson testified.

“And so we began early on trying help people understand that is the tension you’re dealing with and what are the prospects?” he said.

Meanwhile, Tillerson said, Exxon’s role in helping solve the crisis is to find technical solutions — another favorite oil and gas talking point — such as lower emission fuels. And he framed this search largely as a matter of consumer demand — not a response to a global emergency.

“They can contribute to a solution to the problem because that’s what people are going to want. And that’s good for our business,” he told the court.

Industry Talking Points Before Congress

Exactly a week before Tillerson took the stand in New York, another witness was giving strikingly similar testimony in Washington, D.C.

The witness was Mandy Gunasekara, who was defending the fossil fuel industry before a subcommittee of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. She was trying to rebut attacks by two former Exxon scientists and others in the first-ever congressional hearing on the oil industry’s denial and deception campaign.

Gunasekara, a former Trump appointee to the Environmental Protection Agency, runs an organization called the Energy 45 Fund that according to its webpage is “dedicated to informing the public about the environmental and economic gains made under the Trump Administration.” Energy 45 is part of the CO2 Coalition, a hard-core climate change denial organization funded by the Kochs and the Mercer Family Foundation, among others. The Coalition is staffed by a number of notorious climate science deniers, including William Happer, Patrick Moore, and Craig Idso, and is the successor organization to the denier group the George C. Marshall Institute, which received at least $865,000 in funding from ExxonMobil.

But Gunasekara is perhaps best known for handing a snowball to then-Republican Congressman James Inhofe in 2015, who offered it to the House of Representatives as proof that global warming was a myth.

Like Tillerson, Gunasekara told the subcommittee that the absence of fossil fuels would be “hugely detrimental to the standard of living of everyone.”

“Fossil-based energy enables the modern economy. And with the modern economy you have access to life-saving healthcare, refrigeration for food, and all sorts of technologies that are built on fossil-based energy systems,” she said.

Like Tillerson, Gunasekara saw the wisdom in “balancing the goals of economic growth alongside reducing pollution.” She called lawsuits against oil companies “frivolous.” And as Tillerson suggested, she saw these corporations instead as “drivers of innovation and where the solutions to any current and future changes will come.”

Also like Tillerson, she was at pains to point out how “complex” an issue climate change is, but she went considerably further, praising the work of the coterie of deniers at the CO2 Coalition for asking “tough questions” as part of a “climate science discussion that is ongoing in a number of different applications, including the relative sensitivity of the planet to a mild and manageably warming climate that we have seen and that many have been talking about openly.”

Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez pounced on the CO2 Coalition’s funding, asking a series of questions suggesting that Gunasekara was a proxy for the oil companies and other powerful interests, like the Mercers and the Kochs, that have spent millions to block climate progress.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez questions Mandy Gunasekara during the congressional hearing titled, “The Oil Industry’s Efforts to Suppress the Truth about Climate Change.”

Asked whether she was aware that the coalition was funded by those two families, Gunasekara at first pleaded ignorance, saying, “I just recently came on board as an advisor.”

When Ocasio-Cortez suggested Gunasekara was an “unwitting” helper of the Kochs’ and Mercers’ interests, Gunasekara shot back that her “engagement with them is not unwitting,” but is “active, inspired, and educated.”

“Understood,” Ocasio-Cortez replied. “Thank you for your testimony that you are not unwittingly working for the Koch brothers.”

At that, the capacity crowd in the hearing room burst into laughter.

Massachusetts Takes Aim at Exxon

On the same day as the House Oversight subcommittee hearing, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey filed suit against Exxon, launching a much broader attack on its alleged climate-related wrongdoing than the New York action, which was brought under the state’s potent Martin Act and focuses on fraud against investors.

During the congressional hearing, the subcommittee chairman Democratic Congressman Jamie Raskin noted that the industry’s tactics have changed over a period of decades. Many climate science deniers no longer claim global warming isn’t happening, but question the human contribution, or point to the failure of giant emitters like China and India to curb their emissions, claiming that any progress in the U.S. is futile.

Although Massachusetts is taking aim at ExxonMobil for spending millions through at least 2009 to directly fund “fringe groups” challenging the scientific consensus on climate, Attorney General Healey’s lawsuit is the first to dedicate a separate section to these new, more indirect tactics, noting that the fossil fuel industry now goes to great lengths to avoid the appearance of funding denial or obstructing progress.

“Through the 2000s and 2010s, ExxonMobil used proxies, employed other indirect means, and itself continued to make statements that cast doubt on the role of fossil fuels in causing
climate change,” the Massachusetts complaint states.

Rather than taking the stage itself, the company increasingly benefits from proxy advocates — like Gunasekara — who continue to muddy the public discourse about climate change.

Exxon is in the midst of an advertising campaign claiming that it has potential technical fixes to the damage its products continue to cause — without ever mentioning the words “climate change.” This includes everything from algae-based bio-fuels that could cut “emissions in half” to carbon capture and sequestration projects. All of which fit the narratives spun by Tillerson and Gunasekara of the industry as a workshop for solving climate change.

New York’s Uphill Battle

Meanwhile, back at the New York trial, which concluded November 7, the attorney general’s case faces stiff headwinds.

Its small legal team has sometimes struggled against a highly skilled and experienced defense team from powerhouse corporate law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, a leading financial law firm with over a thousand lawyers worldwide.

But criticism of the state’s trial team needs to take into account the role of Barry Ostrager, the judge in the case.

To begin with, Judge Ostrager had to divest himself of $250,000 in Exxon stock in order to try it and scolded the attorney general’s team for trying to have him removed from the case for that reason. Like most judges in the New York Supreme Court’s Commercial Division, he is a former corporate lawyer. Aside from a clerk’s position in federal court, Ostrager has held only one other job his entire career — at the white shoe law firm Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, where he specialized in representing insurers, appearing as lead trial counsel in more than a dozen major insurance coverage cases.

He has often shown an apparent bias for Exxon during the trial, frequently interrupting the attorney general’s team in the middle of questioning, expressing impatience with their handling of witnesses, and threatening to close out the state’s case early when they weren’t ready with a witness.

Perhaps most significantly, Ostrager refused to allow the state to pursue the so-called “Wayne Tracker” emails. Wayne Tracker was an alias used by Tillerson for a private email account that was sometimes used to discuss climate-related subjects.

Exxon admitted it destroyed all Tracker emails prior to August 18, 2015, but claimed the deletions were unintentional, even though when deleted they were under subpoena, potentially making Exxon subject to various sanctions for spoliation of evidence. The state claimed the emails would have backed up charges that the company’s top management and Tillerson himself planned the financial fraud alleged in the state’s case.

Ostrager waved these concerns aside at a pre-trial hearing in October, and said he believed the deletions were accidental. “No harm, no foul,” he said at the time.

As the New York case ended on November 7, Ostrager promised a decision within a month. For reasons having little to do with the case’s merits, his ruling may mean less for the future of climate litigation than the clues Exxon has left as to how the industry may defend itself in the future — both in the courtroom and outside it.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.

34 comments

  1. notabanker

    Climate change lawsuits. Lawyers get paid, we’ll get free coupons for energy saving light bulbs that will be valued at $15 billion.

    Reply
  2. Joe Well

    For all of our dissing of “blue states” and the hollowness of centrist Democrats, Mass. AG Maura Healey (a Clinton surrogate in 2016 and active part of the state machine) seems to be doing something important here. Or is it more smoke and mirrors?

    Reply
    1. notabanker

      Context: Exxon 2018
      $69B income
      $31B pre-tax
      $9.5B in taxes, $9B of which is foreign, they paid $563M in domestic taxes
      $21B post tax profits

      Anything short of $70B is an inconvenience. And of course it will be settled out of court with no one admitting wrong doing. Cash will go into local gov’t coffers to be divvied up amongst the campaign funders. CRE, healthcare, insurance companies, tech ‘entrepreneurs’ who have been ‘wronged’ by global warming. All of which will be labeled some kind of public fund to seed new wonder technologies or clean up messes made at astronomical prices. But just think of all the $15 an hour jobs created! Problem solved.

      Reply
  3. jefemt

    Long article– the slow unveiling was a Judge with incredible bias and blatant conflict of interest.

    How is ‘the kids’ lawsuit proceeding?

    Reply
    1. Jeremy Grimm

      What is troubling about the lawsuits against Exxon and the others is that lawsuits seem to be the only tool left in the toolbox. The courts were used to deal with abortion. We are still waiting for laws. Now the courts are the best tool for dealing with Climate Chaos and Big Oil? The courts have been loaded with judges who too well fit your comment: judges who “judge with incredible bias and blatant conflict of interest.” Where is our government and who are they working for? The Congress, the president, our state governors, state legislatures, and our courts and police — who are they working for? not us.

      Reply
  4. Susan the Other

    Wayne Tracker’s emails are a problem for Exxon. They must have been a little too confessional. The courts seem uninterested in demanding anybody’s emails. So this trial will favor Exxon and Tillerson because the complaint is almost as annoying as the defense. I don’t think it is a good comparison to Big Tobacco. The plaintiff in Big Tobacco claimed the hidden medical facts were gaslighted (they were) and as a result many more people were injured and killed. The plaintiff in Exxon is a bunch of big investors who are now losing money because Exxon’s profits will be cut back by fossil fuel regulations. I’d like to think that the Judge could read this as greed v. greed. If Exxon and Tillerson are to be found guilty of withholding evidence, then it’s a time bomb for nearly all corporations who knowingly mislead the public about the actual consequences of their externalized costs. Maybe that day will come. But probably not like this. And the primary reason for Exxon getting off the hook will undoubtedly be that they are telling the truth when they claim that the world needs oil and cannot get along without it. At some level of consumption Exxon is strategically important and will remain that way. All else is equivocal.

    Reply
    1. steven

      “At some level of consumption Exxon is strategically important and will remain that way.”

      Probably correct but did you see this? The world would be richer and healthier if the full costs of fossil fuels were paid, according to a new report from the International Monetary Fund
      (https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-news/fossil-fuel-subsidies-pentagon-spending-imf-report-833035/)

      Just making Exxon and the fossil fuels industry pay those costs might be enough to cut Exxon and companies down to size. Who knows? “Some level of consumption” might even include the sacred hamburger and air travel if people were willing to give up being stuck in traffic jams or the ability to have all the electricity at their disposal they want any time day or night.

      Reply
    2. TimH

      it’s a time bomb for nearly all corporations who knowingly mislead the public about the actual consequences of their externalized costs.

      Uber/Lyft have similar situation except the ‘public’ in this case are the drivers that Uber/Lyft insist aren’t employees, who can’t calculate their net earnings.

      Reply
  5. xkeyscored

    “The whole global economy is dependent on energy. The largest component of the energy supply is fossil-fuel based. So if the economies are going to continue to not just perform but grow, if people are going to continue to want to improve their quality of life and sustain their quality of life, they’re going to take a lot of it and demand for it is going to keep growing,” Tillerson testified.

    I don’t know about the US courts, but I think this point will resonate with most people. And it’s probably the hardest to counter, because it’s basically true. Those with western lifestyles and expectations generally don’t want to give them up, and those without don’t see why they shouldn’t have them too.

    Reply
    1. Grumpy Engineer

      Yep. Regardless of how the lawsuit against Exxon turns out, people will still need to pump gasoline into their cars to get them to go. They’ll still need to have natural gas or fuel oil fed into their furnaces to heat their homes during cold winter nights. And even if Exxon is completely shut down as a result of the lawsuit, people will still buy these fuels. If it isn’t from Exxon, then who? Well, it’ll be a major fossil fuel provider with excess capacity. Like the Canadians with their tar sands. Or the Saudis with their ever-growing war machine. People should be careful what they wish for.

      And why is nobody suing the automakers or furnace manufacturers or other companies that make equipment that requires fossil fuels to operate? After all, the ubiquitous presence of this stuff in our lives is why we continue to buy fuel from Exxon.

      Reply
  6. Carolinian

    The comparison with tobacco is not very persuasive. The tobacco companies were/are selling a drug whose cancer causing side effects had been known for some time. The outcome from AGW is based on models and still far from certain as to how bad it will be. The science is less clear. If the country’s lawmakers can’t even agree on global warming then it’s hard to see how court’s will hold Exxon accountable even if they contributed misinformation. Have we had inaction on AGW because of that misinformation or because politicians, Dem and Repub, were never going to do much about it anyway?

    Reply
    1. xkeyscored

      Fossil fuels’ side effects have been know for some time.
      The outcome from anthropogenic global warming (AGW) is becoming a daily, in your face, reality, not just a prediction based on models. And while we don’t know exactly how bad it’ll get, it’s going to be bad for most people, that’s for sure. The science is clear.
      As for lawmakers, courts and corporations, I fully expect nonsense from them.

      Reply
      1. Carolinian

        “If we don’t know how bad” then the science isn’t clear or at least not as clear as the tobacco/cancer link.

        Plus Exxon is being shelled for actions that took place when the science was far less clear.

        If AGW opponents want to outlaw petroleum or highly tax or restrict its use then the venue should be the Congress where public acceptance will be assured. IMO they aren’t going to succeed by trying to “lawfare” the problem.

        Reply
        1. Jeremy Grimm

          “If we don’t know how bad” then the science isn’t clear or at least not as clear as the tobacco/cancer link.”
          Based on your criterion for scientific clarity then the science is not clear — but based on that criterion how clear is the science for the tobacco/cancer link? How do which particular compounds among the thousands of compounds in tobacco alter the chemistry of which paths in lung cells to cause cancer? If Science answers that — just refine your questions and ask again but require that science explain ‘the how’ as a criterion for clarity … and the science remains not clear. Is this sliding criterion different than the criteria Big Tobacco or Big Oil use to discredit Science? I believe it is one among of their many techniques of agnotology.

          But examine your criterion my closely. Though how bad and how fast and where and when are indeed unknowns to climate science. Climate is the big brother to weather and weather is where the first chaotic systems were modeled. Predicting chaotic systems is — ‘difficult’. BUT — I believe there is no disagreement among climate scientists — emphasize SCIENTISTS — that the climate changes, the climate chaos in our future are ‘bad’. You ask: “How bad?” and I infer you believe we must wait for scientific clarity — whatever that means at any given moment — before taking any actions to deal with Climate Chaos. Now … suppose you are sitting in the passenger seat of a car racing toward the wall of a concrete overpass. You know it will be ‘bad’ when you hit the wall. Would you wait until you knew “how bad” before straining toward the brake and trying to turn the wheel away from the concrete wall?

          I do agree with your judgment “they aren’t going to succeed by trying to “lawfare” the problem.” But IMO failure in the Congress — the venue you and I believe should be addressing this problem — is assured in the highly unlikely event any attempts to deal with Climate Chaos are “seriously considered” — my own criterion for serious — by the Congress.

          Reply
        2. xkeyscored

          We already know how bad it is, and that’s alarming.
          And even the most benign forecasts tell us clearly it’s only going to get worse. Very probably a lot worse, possibly catastrophic.
          The only uncertainty is just how bad and how quickly.

          Reply
          1. Jeremy Grimm

            I would add to your comment that climate models are based on the climate relationships we know about. There are many ‘interesting’ climate effects evident in the paleoclimate — although the data lacks sufficient density and resolution to confidently model these effects. One thing that recently impressed me was the potential for a chaotic response to the step-input we made to CO2 levels over the last 50 or so years. Humankind put a very large “butterfly’ into the Earth’s chaotic climate systems. How “bad” could things get? Things could get downright ‘exciting’ — even by movie standards.

            Reply
        3. Jabbawocky

          Brutally speaking, you are just plain wrong. The science on AGW is at least as clear as the tobacco cancer link. In fact I would argue it is clearer as the mechanism of warming is easy to pin on a single compound, or at most two compounds. We do know how bad it is going to be, given different emissions scenarios. What we don’t know is which scenario will best match reality. And that is not a scientific question, but a question of policy.

          Reply
        4. drumlin woodchuckles

          The lawsuits seek to prove that the science was just as clear to Exxon’s own in-house scientists back then as it is clear to scientists in various places today. As part of proving that Exxon decided to spend several decades paying for Information Operations designed to delay counter-fossil action and delay consideration of global warming-ology for several decades to sell more oil in.

          Lets see if the plaintiffs can prove it in court.

          Reply
    2. Jeremy Grimm

      I agree that the comparison with tobacco is not apt. Big Tobacco is only killing individuals — large numbers — but … Big Oil is working toward death on a much much larger range and scale. Worse still — Big Oil is working to use up a vital irreplaceable resource as quickly as profitably possible. The extent of Big Oil’s manipulations of what passes for our government, Big Oil’s impacts on foreign policy, and past and present wars dwarfs anything Big Tobacco is able to accomplish. So the comparison with tobacco is indeed inadequate.

      Reply
      1. Carolinian

        Big Oil is working toward death

        Assuming you have a car, when you start it up in the morning are you “working toward death?” Was Exxon working toward death or just telling people what they wanted to hear?

        Of course the tobacco companies were telling smokers what they wanted to hear and tobacco products are still legal. It was really the secondary smoke concerns and public health concerns in general that led to restrictions and a decline in smoking. That said, as a movie fan I rarely catch a film where somebody doesn’t light one up.

        Reply
        1. Jeremy Grimm

          Of course Exxon neither was nor is working toward death per se. Death is just an incidental by-product of their working toward profits — collateral damage. Of course Exxon was telling us what we wanted to hear, and they were telling us what we should want to hear, and telling us whatever they thought would assure their ‘status quo’. When I start my car in the morning I am indeed working toward large scale death — doing my small part — as a by-product of my intent to go to the store for groceries. Are we all culpable to some degree for Climate Chaos? Of course we are. However, I believe there is a qualitative difference between the culpability of the populace and the culpability of Big Oil. There is also a tremendous difference between the power and control Big Oil wields and that of individuals in the populace — like me.

          Reply
        2. xkeyscored

          Of course when we start up a car we’re working toward death. That’s exactly the message 11,000 scientists have just tried to get us to comprehend. The way we live is killing us. The sooner we realise it and do something about it, the better.

          Reply
        3. drumlin woodchuckles

          People were ready to hear the facts-as-known and the implications of those facts right up to the earliest 80s, I believe. The oil industry players ( and other rich Merchants of Fossil) then spent several decades spending money on nationwide Information Operations designed to get a critical mass of the public not-ready-to-hear-it any more.

          “It’s the consumers’s faults” is the next step in the action-prevention Information Operations that Exxon and others will wage.

          The Merchants of Fossil will move from Global Warming Denial to Global Warming Dismissal and then to Global Warming Resignation and Acceptance. And they will spend money and effort to move the public with them.

          Reply
    3. steven

      IMHO

      The comparison with tobacco is very persuasive. The same people are using the same argument strategy, to the effect that because science can’t predict with absolute certainty if and when a smoker will get lung cancer or a planet will pass a tipping point rendering it uninhabitable we should not interfere with business as usual. “The outcome from AGW is based on more than models.” Throw in ice core and sediment samples of what the world was like when the planet loaded its atmosphere with CO2 without our species help. Take a look at this web site: Skeptical Science , particularly the “History of Climate Science” link. The side-effects of burning fossil fuels have been known for much longer than the medical effects of smoking.

      What HAS changed is the pace and scale at which we have been burning fossil fuels – long after ‘leaders’ like Rex Tillerson knew better:

      Fully 90 percent of all fossil fuels have been consumed since 1937. Half have been consumed since 1985.

      The Energy Reader (p. 156). Watershed Media. Kindle Edition.

      Reply
  7. JeffK

    Pointless? If the purpose of suing the petroleum energy companies is to gain some kind of monetary reparations for what will be unprecedented monumental damages, then lower your expectations, unless you desire some sick pleasure from their bankruptcy and the ensuing social/economic chaos. If the purpose of holding the petroleum energy companies accountable for the growing climate crisis is to raise public awareness of the problem and to pin the blame on someone, then look in the mirror.

    Maybe the energy company response to the questioning in this suit should be: “When did the consumers become aware that continuous combustion of fossil fuel would eventually pollute the atmosphere, raise air temperatures and sea levels, acidify oceans, cause respiratory disease; and why did they continue to consume it – because there were no other available or convenient alternatives?” Who is to blame?

    Sure, the energy companies lobbied politicians with their unmatched wealth so they could monopolize the energy markets, and maybe the effect was to suppress alternative energy technologies. That was bad, but the fact is, we have a hundred plus years of building our energy and transportation infrastructure (and innumerable other products) around petroleum, there is a good chance that we are not going to stop and change our petroleum consumption habits in twelve years. Fossil fuel drives our economy.

    Assuming alternative energy sources were rapidly scalable, and assuming it was possible for the federal courts to order all existing and future petroleum industry profits be spent on implementing alternative energy and CO2 sequestration programs while holding them faultless for, say, relocating coastal cities to higher ground, I don’t think they have enough money, but it would be a start in the right direction. A desired future condition to strive for. But the energy companies need to be solvent, and there needs to be a defined stepwise plan that phases out petroleum used for fuel (mostly) while transitioning to alternatives.

    Right…I hear the hoofs of my unicorns being drowned out by the Wall Street bell starting trading for the Aramco IPO.

    A possible cultural zeitgeist response to a highly publicized but pointless suit is perhaps more worrisome; where we continue to accept the inability of government to protect citizens from corporate profiteering, all for the lofty stated purpose of keeping the economy stable and growing, (e.g. We get to continue to consume chlorpyrifos-poisoned food, endangering the lives of our children, for a court-ordered period of time that allows the agri-chemical companies produce something they promise will be more safe). The moral hazard is that we move up the flanks of Vesuvius accepting the inevitable catastrophe, reveling in a bacchanal of constant entertainment streaming on our electronic devises, having given up on policy makers and tomorrow.

    Reply
    1. xkeyscored

      assuming it was possible for the federal courts to order all existing and future petroleum industry profits be spent on …
      What jurisdiction do the US courts have over Saudi Arabia, Russia, Australia or Iran?

      Reply
  8. rjs

    are any of these climate change lawsuits going to have any impact on this year’s emissions from gasoline and home heating?

    Reply
  9. Titus

    ‘Pointless? If the purpose of suing the petroleum energy companies is to gain some kind of monetary reparations for what will be unprecedented monumental damages, then lower your expectations, unless you desire some sick pleasure from their bankruptcy and the ensuing social/economic chaos.’→ very strong words.

    You care about something. But, ascribing ‘sick pleasure’, takes things way too far. Further, no one is going bankrupt → Not. Going. To. Happen. Do you admit that science which deals in facts, has factually determined, that CO2 is/will has/ is gonna cause changes in the climate. These changes are going to ‘bad’ as the word is normally defined. Further, there is no looking in the ‘mirror’, the changes occurring are beyond the scope of any human, company or single government to deal with.

    Do oil companies and bankers know all about this and accept the science → yes, in my direct experience. I’m both. A scientist too. Aside from Neoliberalism’s influence on everything, are there bad people involved? I suppose, mostly at the government level. Are some companies encouraging fear, uncertainty, & doubt yes. Why? To make money. To get it all out of ground before it’s worthless. If ‘fake news’, advertising, & marketing didn’t work we would not use them. Though given 83% of people in America only sort of think that someday something is going to go wrong, I wonder if any of it’s necessary. The car, planes, the suburban living arrangement, all could be changed and soon, but that would take a lot of hard work and a different arrangement with reality then what we have now. So I guess we’re headed for the Jackpot.

    Reply
    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      Trying to just now make these different arrangement over the next few years would be so socially wrenching that a large part of society would rather die than undergo the wrenching. And that too is a result of the delay that the Merchants of Fossil worked to create, precisely in order to run the clock so nearly out that the changes starting now would be so wrenching that a very large block of people and States would prefer a Civil War to the Death to even beginning that wrenching change.

      So I will only blame the consumptioners very secondarily or even tertiarily. I would blame first and foremost the Merchants of Fossil Conspirators who created the Forced Consumption grid force-field in which we are all forced to survive and consumptionize in.

      It wasn’t the ordinary citizen-consumers who formed the National City Lines conspiracy to tear up and destroy trolley and streetcar lines all over America.

      Reply
      1. xkeyscored

        Most of us are indeed only secondarily or tertiarily responsible for the way our societies and economies are organised.
        However, we are where we are, and we face the choice of drastically changing the way we live, or continuing with business as usual, condemning future generations to a bleak and brutal existence.

        Reply
        1. drumlin woodchuckles

          Ah HAH!

          Egg-Zackly!

          You are corrECT, Sir.

          ” Most of us are indeed only secondarily or tertiarily responsible for the way our societies and economies are organised.”

          andddd . . . “However, we are where we are, and we face the choice of drastically changing the way we live, or continuing with business as usual, condemning future generations to a bleak and brutal existence.”

          These are the two horns of the dilemma upon which we find ourselves impaled. We didn’t do it or choose it, but we are where we are and we have to change it. We clearly have to take the bull by the horns of the dilemma and change the situation. But HOW . . . ?

          We will have to change the inter-class power relations in this society so radically that we in the lower 90 per cent can conquer the power to drastically change the way we live, because our Class Enemies currently have that power now, and will keep that power until we can beat it out of them by Whatever Tire Irons Necessary.

          Lets say that 100 million Americans are wannabe global de-warmers. How do we develop the stage-one level of Power necessary to conquer the stage-two level of Power to make that change . . . away from the Upper Class and the Overclass who currently monopolize that power now?

          Well . . . a hundred million Americans is a lot of Americans. That’s enough to have ten different Theory Action Groups of ten million Americans apiece each pursuing one of their ten separate Theories Of Change. And meeting up ( or having representatives meet up) every so often to compare notes as to what seems to be working to create the Power to CONQUer POWer to MAKE those changes. And a part of advancing the work of such Theory Action Groups would be to bring guiding and clarifying perspectives . . . and actionable weaponisable disseminable information . . . to heavily visited blogsites like this one.

          How can we do that without interfering with the goals and purposes of our hosting bloggers and threatening to clog up their blog? Perhaps by placing such comments only in a few categories of posts which are clearly relevant to this particular endeavor and to which such comments would be inherently relevant? If so, what might be the few agreeable-upon categories to which we could bring thread-placeable information on how to do this very thing?

          Reply

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