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Getting Away With Murder — Arnold Schwarzenegger Sues Big Oil for Killing People

Earlier this week, in his typically bombastic and bold style, Arnold Schwarzenegger announced that he’ll be suing the oil giants. The reason? According to Arnold:

They are knowingly killing people all over the world. The oil companies knew from 1959 on, they did their own study that there would be global warming happening because of fossil fuels, and on top of it that it would be risky for people’s lives, that it would kill (emphasis added).”

Like tobacco, fossil fuel burning is certainly harmful to people’s health. According to the Lancet, 9 million premature deaths each year are attributed to air pollution. Oil, coal, and gas burning are the primary causes of this pollution and, in turn, of these mass deaths. A far, far greater impact on the rate of human loss of life than warfare. And a primary contributor to heart disease, lung disease, cancer, and strokes.

Fueling Climate Disruption and Lethality

However, with instances of extreme weather, sea level rise, impacts to crops, rising heat waves, and worsening fires due to global warming also on the rise, burning oil is now producing a growing tally of external disasters that surpass the scope of most toxins. Global warming by fossil fuel burning increases the scale and scope of hazards produced by the physical world encompassed by our globe. It is thus more likely now that an individual human being will lose their livelihood or even their life due to factors related to human-caused climate change.

(Increasing numbers of deadly heatwaves is just one of many life-threatening hazards produced by burning fossil fuels. Image source: The University of Hawaii.)

According to the World Health Organization, approximately 150,000 people die each year due to direct effects related to changes in climate. However, the number of deaths resulting from indirect effects such as displacement, loss of food and water security, or loss of government and social services like healthcare, and the heat-amplification of harmful related pollutants like ozone is probably much higher. For example, in Puerto Rico following the devastating strike of Hurricane Maria and related loss of infrastructure, the overall incident rate of death significantly increased. Without reliable access to electricity, shelter, clean water, food and health services, due to a climate change related disruption, Puerto Rico became a more unpleasant, deadlier place in which to live. And, as a result, hundreds of thousands of people have fled the island.

These climate change spurred increases to human mortality don’t occur in a vacuum. They are caused by rising levels of greenhouse gasses. These gasses are emitted by the products produced by the fossil fuel companies of the world. And they are wrecking cities, states, homes. They are taking lives.

Sued for Murder, Climate Change Denial, Public Nuisance

There are three parts to any given murder. One part is that murder is an action that kills a human being. Another is that this killing is unlawful. And the third part is that the killing is premeditated. As Arnold says:

“If you walk into a room and you know you’re going to kill someone, it’s first degree murder; I think it’s the same thing with the oil companies.”

The implication from Arnold’s civil suit being that the deaths caused by big oil due to climate change were both premeditated and unlawful. This is a higher charge than earlier claims against oil majors that they willfully misinformed the public about climate change or that their activities constitute a public nuisance.

(Arnold, like many moral leaders today is a promoter of the green energy revolution. But, increasingly, he and others are directly confronting the fossil fuel industry for the various and wide-ranging harms its products have caused. Image source: Twitter.)

Arnold’s push, however, is aimed at informing the public about the risks of fossil fuel use. He’s suing to have warning labels slapped on gas pumps and ICE cars that give people a clear understanding of the direct harm that comes from burning these substances:

“Because to me it’s absolutely irresponsible to know that your product is killing people and not have a warning label on it, like tobacco. Every gas station [should have a warning label], every car should have a warning label on it, every product that has fossil fuels should have a warning label on it.”

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38 Comments

  1. Arnold is the only GOP ex-gov that sees the criminal intent.

    But others see it.

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  2. The price of genocide is the printing cost of a few million stickers. Thanks, Arnold.

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    • There’s certainly a valid case to be made that warning labels are not enough. However, they have been effective in reducing tobacco consumption. Out-right bans are probably a more appropriate response. Of course, the scale of harm due to fossil fuel burning is far greater than that produced by the tobacco industry.

      In the larger context, though, Arnold’s action adds to a growing chorus of suits against the oil industry. They’ve caused a systemic nightmare and they’re getting a systemic mass response.

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  3. 12volt dan

     /  March 14, 2018

    THE “Decarbonator”?

    Sorry couldn’t help it :^)

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  4. Xbutter

     /  March 14, 2018

    “Come with me if you want to live”: T2

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  5. Vaughn An

     /  March 14, 2018

    Here is an interactive map showing the likelihood of dead heatwaves based on the one you show in your post. Even one deadly heatwave that lasts for a week or so in one year can be and will likely be devastating. Look at how many people died in Paris a few years ago during and after the heatwave they had there.

    Looking at the forecasts on this map indicate to me that the Paris heatwave was relatively minor compared to what is likely coming:

    https://maps.esri.com/globalriskofdeadlyheat/#

    Liked by 1 person

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    • bostonblorp

       /  March 14, 2018

      The 2003 European heat wave is estimated to have killed around 70,000 people. Air conditioning is surely more widespread now than then but the conditions for a an even hotter event can only have increased in the 15 years since.

      How long until the US experiences a heatwave with a death toll in the thousands? Will the next El Nino bring it? What would happen if there’s a power grid failure during such an event?

      There are billions (with a “b”) living in the worst of zones shown in that map. What are those people going to do? Where are they going to go?

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        • The estimates that I’ve seen for Puerto Rico alone are 200K to 400K following Maria. Globally, extreme weather and natural disasters now result in more people displaced than warfare during most recent years.

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      • According to some reports (AWI), under the present pathway, we’re looking at very difficult circumstances in Africa, the Middle East, parts of the Med region and South Asia before 2050. Heat stress is becoming a factor in taking down rainforests like the Amazon now, after which the incident rate of deadly heatwaves in S. America spikes as well. GoM region in the U.S. is a relatively immediate concern as well.

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  6. Vaughn An

     /  March 14, 2018

    One way to help prevent a power grid failure is for many people to install solar panels to produce their own power. Also a power grid failure is much more likely to happen during a heatwave as heat-sensitive equipment fails or circuit breakers trip due to getting too hot.

    I envision a potential scenario where there is a major power grid failure due to heat. Water delivery fails due to the heat. Fires break out…..

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    • Solar panels peak production at about the same time that peak demand occurs during heat waves. There are numerous other resiliency features that renewables enable — not the least of which is lower water consumption by the power industry.

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  7. OT but more information on how an ice sheet can suddenly collapse.
    Chain reaction of fast-draining lakes poses new risk for Greenland ice sheet. U.of Cambridge
    https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/03/180314092305.htm

    . . . Lakes form on the surface of the Greenland ice sheet each summer as the weather warms. Many exist for weeks or months, but drain in just a few hours through more than a kilometre of ice, transferring huge quantities of water and heat to the base of the ice sheet. The affected areas include sensitive regions of the ice sheet interior where the impact on ice flow is potentially large.

    Previously, it had been thought that these ‘drainage events’ were isolated incidents, but the new research, led by the University of Cambridge, shows that the lakes form a massive network and become increasingly interconnected as the weather warms. When one lake drains, the water quickly spreads under the ice sheet, which responds by flowing faster. The faster flow opens new fractures on the surface and these fractures act as conduits for the drainage of other lakes. This starts a chain reaction that can drain many other lakes, some as far as 80 kilometres away.

    These cascading events — including one case where 124 lakes drained in just five days — can temporarily accelerate ice flow by as much as 400%, which makes the ice sheet less stable, and increases the rate of associated sea level rise. The results are reported in the journal Nature Communications.

    The study demonstrates how forces within the ice sheet can change abruptly from one day to the next, causing solid ice to fracture suddenly. The model developed by the international team shows that lakes forming in stable areas of the ice sheet drain when fractures open in response to a high tensile shock force acting along drainage paths of water flowing beneath the ice sheet when other lakes drain far away.

    “This growing network of melt lakes, which currently extends more than 100 kilometres inland and reaches elevations as high a 2,000 metres above sea level, poses a threat for the long-term stability of the Greenland ice sheet,” said lead author Dr Poul Christoffersen, from Cambridge’s Scott Polar Research Institute. “This ice sheet, which covers 1.7 million square kilometres, was relatively stable 25 years ago, but now loses one billion tonnes of ice every day. This causes one millimetre of global sea level rise per year, a rate which is much faster than what was predicted only a few years ago.”

    The study departs from the current consensus that lakes forming at high elevations on the Greenland ice sheet have only a limited potential to influence the flow of ice sheet as climate warms. Whereas the latest report by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that surface meltwater, although abundant, does not impact the flow of the ice sheet, the study suggests that meltwater delivered to the base of the ice sheet through draining lakes in fact drives episodes of sustained acceleration extending much farther onto the interior of the ice sheet than previously thought.

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  8. Greg

     /  March 14, 2018

    A note that California’s NRG has announced the closure this year of 3 gas power plants. These were the replacement plants for Coal and now they are being replaced by renewables. Gas curve now trends down there.

    Article follows:
    https://cleantechnica.com/2018/03/14/nrg-energy-announces-2018-retirement-of-3-southern-california-natural-gas-power-plants/#gallery_1

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    • Robert McLachlan

       /  March 15, 2018

      Just wanted to note that that chart is for the whole US. California was 4% coal, 9% nuclear, 36% renewable, 36% gas, 14% “unspecified” (?) in 2016.

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      • Greg

         /  March 15, 2018

        Thanks Robert.

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      • So breaking this down, California is 40 percent fossil fuels, 45 percent renewable + nuclear, 14 percent other (?). That’s pretty good and shows that transitioning fully away from fossil fuels is now within reach.

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    • I like the looks of these curves. This model is for the U.S. and it shows a rather positive trend overall. More work to be done. But it’s clear that we can keep walking down the path of fossil fuel replacement by renewables. In fact, the economics are now helping to drive it.

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  9. Greg

     /  March 14, 2018

    From the last post on the training Noreaster’s. Climate Researchers Say March May Be The New January, Thanks To Soaring Arctic Temperatures. “Because we could perform analysis on over 6,000 data points in comparison to less than 30 data points in previous studies, we could show a much more robust (and statistically significant) relationship between a warm Arctic and increased severe winter weather in the mid-latitudes,” Judah Cohen, director of seasonal forecasting at AER and lead author of the study..Our statistical analysis shows that one is more likely to be struck by lightning, attacked by a shark, and win the Powerball all at the same time than the possibility of severe winter weather in the northeastern US not being related to Arctic temperatures,” Cohen says. “As far as I know, for the first time we show that a warmer Arctic is also more favorable for heavy snowfall” Co-author Jennifer Frances, a professor at Rutgers.

    See cleantechnica’s take on this:
    https://cleantechnica.com/2018/03/14/climate-researchers-say-march-may-new-january-thanks-soaring-arctic-temperatures/

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    • Thanks for this, Greg. Worth noting that the graph above is a depiction of atmospheric height over the pole relative to temperature anomalies at each zonal elevation.

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  10. Lee Grove

     /  March 15, 2018

    Arnold’s argument as to culpability of oil execs seems reasonable. I wonder, however, where does the proposed labeling stop: This Twinkie was created with fossil fuels…

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    • I think another way of looking at this is determining why we have culpability in the first place.

      1. The fossil fuel companies have known about harmful impacts related to global warming since the middle of the 20th Century.
      2. Rather than trying to correct the problem by investing in new energy sources, they instead have tried to cover the problem up.

      This defines the difference between intentionally and unintentionally inflicting harm especially when:

      1. The economies and various technological systems of the world are dependent upon energy to function.
      2. If fossil fuels dominate markets you end up with consumers captive to fossil fuel use through no direct fault of their own.

      As a result, if you are looking at the source of the crime, it’s from the industry that covered up the problem in the first place. In other words, it became a crime once knowledge of the harm was scientifically apparent and the agencies involved decided to do nothing about it and, worse, to delay any action to address the harm in the first place.

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  11. Dan Combs

     /  March 15, 2018

    Deadly heat map is puzzling wrt the US – deadly heat in eastern half, but not in the desert southwest?

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  12. paul

     /  March 15, 2018

    This is a tricky one. Unlike tobacco, which is a luxury, oil is the very foundation of our entire civilisation. We were sold the idea that oil would bring us wealth and we were more than happy with that. Enough of us knew, and early enough, to post a warning but it went unheeded for decades. The pros, to all levels of society, were immediate and the cons were for someone else, some other time.
    Yes, the reality of our pact with the devil was downplayed but society would have taken it’s chances even if it had been fully understood from the start. The benefits were just too enticing.
    We were all complicit and to try and prosecute a tiny few, at this particular point in time, smacks of profiteering and political opportunism. Which is what this game is all about.

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    • Reposting this from above:

      I think another way of looking at this is determining why we have culpability in the first place.

      1. The fossil fuel companies have known about harmful impacts related to global warming since the middle of the 20th Century.
      2. Rather than trying to correct the problem by investing in new energy sources, they instead have tried to cover the problem up.

      This defines the difference between intentionally and unintentionally inflicting harm especially when:

      1. The economies and various technological systems of the world are dependent upon energy to function.
      2. If fossil fuels dominate markets you end up with consumers captive to fossil fuel use through no direct fault of their own.

      As a result, if you are looking at the source of the crime, it’s from the industry that covered up the problem in the first place. In other words, it became a crime once knowledge of the harm was scientifically apparent and the agencies involved decided to do nothing about it and, worse, to delay any action to address the harm in the first place.

      In addition–

      To be crystal clear:

      1. The oil companies realize their products are dangerous and deadly.
      2. Yet they try to force people to keep using them anyway.
      3. This role is similar to that of the heroine dealer who knows that the product will ultimately kill the client but is willing to make money on it anyway.
      4. This is why the tobacco analogy applies here. Especially considering the fact that:
      5. Alternative useful and far less damaging energy resources are readily available.
      6. The argument of mutual culpability, therefore, is a flawed false equivalency.
      7. In other words, the usefulness of fossil fuels as an energy source is moot when continuing to use those fuels promotes civilization collapse, mass wreckage, mass casualties, and mass harm.

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      • Exxon earns enough money every three seconds to pay for all the warning stickers Arnold could hope for. You yourself just listed the enormity of Exxon et al’s crime and those three seconds are not the calculus of justice. I daresay the Koch brothers and Rex Tillerson are laughing so hard over this they are spilling their cognac all over their polo pony saddles.

        Is it even possible to imagine a more ironically or cruelly disappointing goal for such a lawsuit? Perhaps Arnold should insist that Exxon publish an heartfelt apology in an unread journal, or perhaps sponsor a commemorative doily? You don’t even need a lawsuit to legislate warning stickers on gasoline pumps for heaven’s sake.

        He could be suing for the thousands of trillions of dollars it will take the world to adapt to AGW by year 2100 alone [https://thinkprogress.org/flashback-scientists-find-1240-trillion-in-climate-impacts-on-current-co2-path-so-we-must-mitigate-608973f0cc6a/]. He could be spearheading the prosecution of the denierati cabal by the International Criminal Court on charges of Crimes Against Humanity. But, alas, he is suing for three seconds worth of earnings.

        I, for one, can not view the spectacle of Arnold Schwarzenegger carrying water for Exxon et al, by establishing a precedent for civil damages for AGW crimes at the lowest imaginable schedule and find anything to cheer about here. Sorry to be such a downer about this.

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        • OK Ginger, this is pretty sour grapes.

          The notion that Exxon is cheering Arnold publicizing the notion that they’re killing people is pretty outlandish. In any case, the suits against fossil fuel industry are pretty unprecedented and we have to start somewhere.

          If you think we should go further, then by all means push that point. But this is a considerable escalation and a joining with a much larger trend of suits against a bad actor industry. We are holding them more to account than before and the trend is progressive. If you can do more yourself, then by all means, sue for trillions. And if you or anybody else took it up to do so, I would certainly be cheering you/them on here. So, yes, please do more than just print warning labels, even if warning labels will probably help when added to other numerous actions.

          So yes, the notion to do more is a good thing. But I think that the thing you’re missing here is that attacking positive action is not. And adding everything together this multiplication of lawsuits is going to mean both billions and a major mark on fossil fuel industry standing and prestige. Ultimately, all told, it can lead to the trillions you mention.

          It takes a long time to turn such a big ship as the global energy industry, Ginger. But we are doing it. And we’re doing it on multiple fronts. Arnold is just one part of that.

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        • Ginger,

          I’m going to take a step back here to address a larger issue since your outrage is certainly justified.

          We should be clear that the governments of the world presently exist in a state of partial capture by fossil fuel special interests. That we are operating as a kind of underground resistance to that political and economic force. And that we can’t just push a button to hold people accountable.

          As a result, we’ve got to move on a lot of fronts and the lawsuit front is just one of many. What I’m trying to say is that many are doing what they can in asymmetrical fashion. And that this is the reality of the present geo-political state of play.

          In other words, we resist fossil fuels in every way that we can.

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  13. Vaughn An

     /  March 15, 2018

    Robert: +1 You said it eloquently!

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