Big Oil Going The Way Of Big Tobacco?

I love of energy... I always thought environmentalists got it wrong about energy. The problem isn't overconsumption, its unsustainability. So, go ahead and drive your Hummer, as long as it runs biodiesel from sources like algae or bacteria. If Big Oil was sharp, they would stop denying global warming, and embrace new carbon-negative oil technologies before the high tech venture capitalists steal all their business...

To add insult to injury, it seems that some prominent scientists want to put Big Oil on trial for global warming. At first, I believed that these kinds of trials would go exactly nowhere. Until I found out about one case backed by a dream team of trial lawyers: Steve Berman and Steve Susman.

The former was the lead lawyer representing 13 states against Big Tobacco in their historic defeat in the 1990s. The latter was the man who defended Big Tobacco. Now, they have teamed up and are taking on Big Oil, with pretty much the same strategy...

The Atlantic outlines the logic of the case quite well. There have been dozens of lawsuits against Big Tobacco, dating as far back as the 1950s. The plaintiffs were all the same -- people who got addicted to cigarettes, and got health problems, and were now suing the tobacco industry for selling an unsafe product. Early anti-tobacco lawsuits all ended the same way: the judge would declare that every consumer product has some danger, but its not the judge's responsibility to decided an acceptable level of safety.

Defining what is an "acceptable level of safety" is up to Congress... who are always on top of things...

This of course led Big Tobacco in the past -- just like Big Oil right now -- to funnel millions of dollars to "skeptical" scientists, and use them to pass off PR as genuine research... and use that to influence congress and the media into inaction. Not to mention the millions in campaign contributions, free trips, lobbyist jobs, etc. etc. etc.

Unfortunately, Big Tobacco finally realized the flaw in that plan:

  • When you pass of PR as genuine scientific research, it is a lie.
  • When you lie about consumer products you sell, it is fraud.
  • When you defraud consumers, class action lawsuits are not far behind.
  • When you get sued, you have to produce old memos, emails, and data relevant to the case... which are usually very incriminating

The Steves' plan is not to claim that oil is causing "too much harm." The plan is to prove that Big Oil used both licit and illicit means to downplay the actual harm of their product, whatever that harm may be. Essentially, when companies engage in fraud, they make it impossible for a consumer to make a reasonable choice about whether or not to use their product... and congress has a long list of laws against that...

Essentially, even if oil is 90% safe, if the Steves can prove that Big Oil claimed it was 95% safe, and that Big Oil downplayed evidence to the contrary, then Big Oil is guilty of both fraud, and conspiracy to commit fraud. That exact tactic brought down Big Tobacco, and it seems like it would be pretty easy to do the same to Big Oil...

I, for one, am curious to see how all this pans out...

Who gets the money

Okay, say they find Big Oil guilty of fraud. Who gets the money? In theory, everyone is impacted. Case-by-case will eventually break down until a class-action is required.

I think that this is harder than big tobacco. It is like me bringing a case against Phillip-Morris for the second-hand smoke that I consumed, and I consumed quite a bit. Technically, it all the smokers using their product that caused me to be impacted. I think it still works legally, but diminishes the responsibility of the Oil guys. The power companies are toast though.

the plaintiffs are an Alaskan island village

For this specific case, the plaintiffs are a small Alaskan village, suing for about $95 million in relocation expenses.

Apparently, their island is being washed away, and they have to move all residents inland. They claim Big Oil is responsible because of "conspiracy to commit fraud about global warming being a hoax."

If this lawsuit works, I imagine a lot of folks in the Gulf States may follow suit. Maybe even a few places in Micronesia.

Human impact to Global Warming is negligible

George Carlin had a keen wit for mocking dogma from the left and right.

Excerpt from George Carlin's "The Planet is Fine"

The planet has been through a lot worse than us. Been through all kinds of things worse than us. Been through earthquakes, volcanoes, plate tectonics, continental drift, solar flares, sun spots, magnetic storms, the magnetic reversal of the poles...hundreds of thousands of years of bombardment by comets and asteroids and meteors, worlwide floods, tidal waves, worldwide fires, erosion, cosmic rays, recurring ice ages...And we think some plastic bags, and some aluminum cans are going to make a difference? The planet...the planet...the planet isn't going anywhere. WE ARE!

We're going away. Pack your shit, folks. We're going away. And we won't leave much of a trace, either. Thank God for that. Maybe a little styrofoam. Maybe. A little styrofoam. The planet'll be here and we'll be long gone. Just another failed mutation. Just another closed-end biological mistake. An evolutionary cul-de-sac. The planet'll shake us off like a bad case of fleas. A surface nuisance.

You wanna know how the planet's doing? Ask those people at Pompeii, who are frozen into position from volcanic ash, how the planet's doing. You wanna know if the planet's all right, ask those people in Mexico City or Armenia or a hundred other places buried under thousands of tons of earthquake rubble, if they feel like a threat to the planet this week. Or how about those people in Kilowaia, Hawaii, who built their homes right next to an active volcano, and then wonder why they have lava in the living room.

I miss Carlin...

Yep, heard that rant before... although conservationists are batting 1000 on this: any time anybody has said "human impact is negligable," they have always been wrong ;-)

Over hunting, over trapping, over fishing, over mining, over logging, air pollution, water pollution, ozone layer, etc... "global warming" is just the latest human effect that's being denied. You'd think these people would be tired of being wrong all the time... humans always affect the planet, the only matter for debate is how much?

Saying humans don't affect the planet is like saying trees don't affect the planet. The primary rule of ecology -- and network programming -- is that everything is connected to everything... so everything in some way affects everything else. And serious badness occurs when you put people in charge who don't understand this basic fact...

Personally, I take a long-term view. Over the past 2.5 million years, we had glaciers like clockwork. 90,000 years of ice, then a warm spike. Curiously, we're in the middle of a warm spike that has gone on for about 2500 years too long. Nobody knows why yet... remember: plate tectonics was radical science until well into the 1950s, so we really don't have a clue what the planet has in store for us next.

Maybe increased CO2 level will force us to skip our regularly scheduled ice age. Maybe CO2 will delay it for a while, and then it will be 10 times worse, turning the gulf of Mexico in Kansas.

Either way, sea levels will certainly rise somewhat this century... so we had better be prepared for it.

To hedge our bets, we should probably also learn how to build igloos...

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