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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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