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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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Big Oil is the New Big Tobacco: Climate Change Liability Battles Heat Up

Exxon Knew

For decades now, fossil fuel companies have been misinforming the public about climate change. They’ve paid money for PR campaigns that confuse the climate science. They’ve supported climate change denying political candidates. They fund meteorologists to misinform the public.

The aim of these activities is to cloud the issue of climate change in the public sphere. To generate false debate and to support a political constituency (primarily republicans) that prevents climate action in the form of carbon emissions reductions.

(A recent study breaks down the climate impacts of the world’s largest fossil fuel corporations. The above graphic by Inside Climate News illustrates some of these proportional impacts.)

One term for this activity is predatory delay — aimed at ensuring that harmful fossil fuels control energy markets on and on into the future. Such activity is also intended to prevent a helpful and necessary renewable and clean energy transition.

But intentionally spreading incorrect and misleading information carries with it a degree of liability. Especially when these information and political campaigns lead to such results as getting hammered by worsening floods, storms and droughts that produce very real and widespread damage. Each emitting industry is responsible for a portion of the damage inflicted (see image above). And it is this kind of liability writ large that has landed corporate bad actors like Exxon in court.

So far, nine cities have filed climate change based lawsuits against oil companies. Other cities, like Paris, are considering pursuing legal action. In addition, attorney generals from states like Massachusetts and New York have taken fossil fuel companies to task for both misinforming the public and producing harms by burning fossil fuels.

Fossil fuel companies responded by leveling the ludicrous charge of ‘conspiracy’ against state attorney generals while also using subpoenas to intimidate cities. In an equally nonsensical claim, fossil fuel corps are blaming cities who have, for so long, been captive to fossil fuel energy sources, for their own carbon emissions. Carbon emissions that these cities are trying to reduce — even as they find fossil fuel companies attempting to thwart them at every turn.

Subpoena intimidation by fossil fuel corps was specifically aimed at containing the lawsuits by making an example of whistle-blower cities and states. The message to municipalities presently under threat from climate harms being — ‘if you attack us, we’ll spend a portion of our considerable profits to hurt you.’ And, in some instances, these intimidation tactics have succeeded. The Virgin Islands, for example, bowed to fossil fuel company bullying and withdrew its own climate change damages related subpoena.

On the flip side, the fossil fuel industry has also sustained losses. In a recent California ruling, a federal judge has ordered the first-ever court hearing on the issue of climate science and whether or not fossil fuel companies acted as a public nuisance. This precedent opens up a legal question that could result in a flood of lawsuits against the fossil fuel industry going forward.

It’s worth noting that these are just the opening salvos of a massive legal and political battle to come. We are still in the early stages of climate change litigation and the related wrangling over fossil fuel company liability. And it appears that courageous states, cities, islands and environmentalists are gearing up for a fight for our future that will last for many years to come (you can join in the fight by divesting from fossil fuels).

Sweden Aims to be Carbon Neutral by 2045; Largest Pension Fund Ditches Climate Bad Actors

In a stunning victory for clean energy and climate progress, Sweden this week overwhelmingly passed a law that fully commits the country to carbon neutrality by 2045. Meanwhile, Sweden’s largest pension fund has divested from corporations it identifies as violators of the Paris Climate Accord. As a wise person recently said (see featured comment below) — this is “what real climate leadership looks like.”

Beating a Fast Path to Net Zero Emissions

Sweden’s most recent climate law, which flew through the Parliament by a 254 to 41 margin, aims to have the country producing net zero carbon emissions in less than three decades. This new measure moves the date for Sweden’s carbon neutrality forward by 5 years from 2050 to 2045.

Already a climate leader, Sweden presently gets about 85 percent of its electricity from hydropower, wind and nuclear energy. Across all sectors of its economy, Sweden has achieved the goal of 50 percent renewable energy fully 8 years ahead of schedule. The new measure doubles down on this already-powerful trend by further trimming carbon-based electrical generation while shifting larger focus to carbon emissions cuts from the transportation sector.

(Swedish electrical generation is dominated by hydro, nuclear, and wind power. Sweden aims to remove fossil fuels from electrical power generation while shifting transportation to EVs and biofuels by 2045. Image source: Electricity Production in Sweden.)

In order to achieve carbon neutrality, Sweden is pushing hard for rapid electrical vehicle adoption, switching remaining liquid fuels to biofuels, and to completely phase out its ever-dwindling margin of fossil fuel power generation. The result of these policies would be a country that primarily runs on renewable and nuclear power generation and that uses EVs and other alternative fuel vehicles for motorized transportation. Ultimately, Sweden aims to cut its presently low carbon emissions by a further 85 percent all while planting trees and developing carbon sinks to offset the rest by 2045.

Divesting From Climate Bad Actors

In a related move, Sweden’s largest pension fund, which manages the pensions of 3.5 million Swedish citizens, decided to divest money from various climate bad actors. The fund, AP 7, announced last week that it would pull investments from six corporations that it identified as being engaged in various violations of the Paris Climate Summit. These companies included: ExxonMobil, Westar, Southern Corp, and Entergy for fighting against climate legislation in the United States, Gazprom for oil exploration in the vulnerable Arctic, and TransCanada for building pipelines across North America despite widespread local opposition and obvious long-term climate impacts.

(AP 7’s divestment from climate bad actors is a major win for climate action advocacy groups like 350.org which nobly aim to leverage mass social, political and protest action to help spur a transition to 100 percent renewable energy in an effort to prevent serious global harm from climate change. Image source: 350.org.)

These moves were praised by climate action advocacy group 350.org’s Jamie Henn, Strategic Communications Director for the global grassroots climate movement, who stated:

“Sweden divesting its largest pension from Exxon proves you can’t claim to support climate action while funding and perpetuating climate change. Exxon knew about climate change half a century ago, and continues to sow doubt and bankroll climate deniers. With its core business model dependent on exploiting people and planet for profit, Exxon is in direct violation of the Paris agreement.”

Responsible Climate Action by Sweden

Sweden’s latest moves cast light on various agencies who have done so much to slow the pace of a much-needed response to climate change and a related energy transition while putting serious legislative muscle behind carbon emissions reductions. It’s a major win for the divestment and climate action movements — further calling into doubt the viability of a number of businesses who’ve predicated their future profitability on wholesale global harm. Sweden, by both moving forward its date for carbon neutrality and by moving large pension funds away from direct capital support of the fossil fuel industry continues to set an example for all by vividly underlining how decisively the rest of the world needs to act to catch up.

Links:

Sweden Commits to Becoming Carbon Neutral by 2045 With New Law

Sweden’s Largest Pension Divests From Paris Accord Violators Including ExxonMobil and TransCanada

Electricity Production in Sweden

350.org (Please Support)

Featured Comment:

Cruel Intentions — Opposition to Climate Change Response is Swiftly Becoming Illegal

“From 1957 onward, there is no doubt that Humble Oil, which is now Exxon, was clearly on notice” about rising CO2 in the atmosphere and the prospect that it was likely to cause global warming… — Environmental Law Center’s Director Carroll Muffett in The New York Times

*****

We’ve known for some time that failing to respond to climate change is a callous cruelty of the worst kind imaginable. That continuing to burn fossil fuels and to delay a necessary transition to renewable energy will not only melt ice caps, provoke extreme weather the likes of which none of us have seen, flood coastlines and island nations, and threaten global food production, but it will also ultimately set off a hothouse mass extinction that is likely to be as bad or worse than the Permian.

We’ve known for decades now that the best, most moral, choice for human civilization is to keep those harmful fuels in the ground. To find a better way for conducting our national and global affairs and not to continue along the catastrophic business as usual emissions path. To listen to the increasingly urgent warnings posed by scientists — not the all-too-harmful dissembling of climate change deniers.

(Nature will surely grant no quarter if we do not hold the climate bad actors to account.)

And because continuing to burn fossil fuels commits so many harms on individuals, on nations, on the world, on children who are now growing up or who have yet to be born, and on the vital skein of nature itself, this activity is increasingly being viewed in the context of liability and criminality.

Corporate Support of Climate Change Denial Invites Accusations of Fraud, Consumer Protection, Environmental Law, and Securities Violations

For its actions as a leader in misinforming the public and promoting climate change denial, Exxon Mobil has found itself at the center of a maelstrom of lawsuits and investigations. The oil and gas company opposed regulations to curtail global warming. It funded organizations critical of global climate treaties and actively sought to undermine public opinion about the scientific consensus that global warming is caused by burning fossil fuels. And, in a move reminiscent of the Orwellian nightmare, the company helped to found and lead a misinformation engine called the Global Climate Coalition of businesses opposed to regulating greenhouse gas emissions. All this despite the fact that Exxon’s own scientists had previously confirmed that fossil fuel burning was indeed the cause of the warming.

By 2015, after numerous failures to respond to letters by Congressional Lawmakers and concerned citizens, Exxon was the subject of increasing scrutiny. In October of the same year, the company became the focus of a formal request from more than 40 social justice and environmental organizations to the United States Attorney General that an investigation be opened into its public deception and climate change denial campaigns. Vice President Al Gore, among other national leaders, then called for the revocation of Exxon’s articles of incorporation.

(Exxon’s own scientists told the corporation that human-caused climate change was a threat as early as the late 1950s. Exxon then spent millions of dollars to misinform the public. Image source: The Guardian.)

The outcry built as New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman opened an investigation into Exxon’s activities. At issue was whether or not Exxon committed fraud or violated consumer protection and securities laws. Subsequently, the California Attorney General opened his own investigation into whether Exxon misinformed its shareholders, committed securities fraud, or violated environmental laws. And by mid summer of 2016, seventeen state attorney generals were involved in the growing legal action.

After various Congressional wranglings and court hearings, the case against Exxon is now headed for a New York state trial. It now appears that Exxon is likely to be found guilty of some or all of these charges. A decision that the company is likely to attempt to appeal.

Children Sue National Governments Over Human Rights and Welfare

Also in August of 2015, a group of children in Juliana vs the United States sued the federal government — arguing that its actions have endangered future generations’ rights to the degree that it threatened their survival. The government is argued to have endangered these children and to have failed in its duty to protect their access to crucial natural resources — to include a stable atmosphere and a natural world capable of sustaining the people of the United States.

(In the U.S., a variety of climate impacts ranging from sea level rise devouring coastlines, to worsening droughts, heatwaves, fires, and floods, to increasingly intense storms, to declining ocean health, air and water quality, to harm to the U.S. food and water security all threaten our children’s future well-being and survival. Their lawsuit — compelling the federal government to act decisively on climate change — continues to move forward in federal court. Image source: Common Dreams.)

The lawsuit has named President Donald Trump as a party to be held accountable. But the legal action’s overall aim is to compel the U.S. federal government to act in a decisive manner to respond to climate change in order to protect the survival and well being of future generations. The lawsuit continues to advance in federal court despite numerous calls by the fossil fuel industry and by the Trump Administration to have the case thrown out or delayed (you can read the legal argument of the plaintiffs here). At this point, the case appears likely to receive a hearing this year.

On April 1 of 2017, a similar lawsuit was also filed by 9 year old Ridhima Pandey against the government of India. Ridhima’s lawsuit argues that India, which is also the world’s third largest carbon emitter, has failed to put into action the promises it made by signing the Paris Agreement on climate change. The case also alleges that India has violated its public trust doctrine, its implied promise to provide inter-generational equality, and a number of national environmental laws. Ridhima’s lawsuit comes as India has increasingly succumbed to dangerous heatwaves, droughts, and floods which have harmed food production, provoked mass suicides by farmers, and put the water security of a number of provinces into increasing jeopardy.

UK Government Faces Lawsuit in 21 Days if it Fails to Act on Carbon Budget

In the UK, promises to cut carbon emissions are now legally binding. Britain’s Climate Change Act required the government to find a way to reduce the amount of carbon hitting the atmosphere by 57 per cent through 2032. And considerable progress has been made toward this goal as a shift away from coal precipitated a 33 percent drop from 1992 through 2014. However, the government’s reliance on fracking, its sand-bagging of renewable energy adoption policies, and its failure to more fully incentivize electric vehicles has now put it in a position where the 57 percent goal is falling out of reach.

In response, environmental law firm ClientEarth is giving the UK government 21 days to make good by producing a policy that puts emissions reductions back on track to meet 2032 goals. Failure to do so, says the firm, will result in a lawsuit against the government for not meeting its legal obligations to the public.

(Climate change denial may make you want to laugh or cry. But it’s a deadly serious matter.)

James Thornton, chief executive at ClientEarth, noted:

“We want to work with the government on a strong, effective emissions reduction plan, but all we get is never-ending delays. Government must publish the plan, and must consult with industry and civil society. If it continues to kick this can down the road, we will have no option but to consider legal action.”

Paradigm Shift Running Throughout Civil Society

Legal actions holding powerful corporations accountable for climate harms, holding governments to account for failing to provide for the welfare of future generations, and legally compelling governments to adhere to climate policy obligations represents a pivotal shift in the rules and standards governing western civil societies. It provides an institution that enables citizens and environmental watch-dogs to shape climate policy while holding bad climate actors to account. And this critical social advancement in the presently perilous age when climate impacts are now starting to be realized could not have come soon enough.

Links:

Pressure on Exxon Intensifies

What’s Scarier than the Permian Extinction? Burn all the Fossil Fuels to Find Out.

350.org

Business as Usual Emissions Path

Professor Calls Out Writer Who Misleads on Climate Change

Exxon Mobil Climate Change Contraversy

Exxon Spear-Headed Misinformation Campaign Against its Own Scientists

Children’s Climate Lawsuit Names Trump

Small Children Take on Big Oil

Kids Sue U.S. Government over Climate Change

9-Year-Old Sues Indian Government over Climate Change

UK Government Threatened with Legal Action Over Failure to Cut Emissions

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to Erik

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