Global warming hysterics have resorted in recent years to one of the biggest gun in any political advocacy arsenal—the lawyers. Suits have been brought, for example, against businesses that have acted within existing pollution regulations—for spewing carbon dioxide and supposedly warming the planet. This is all part of the hysterics’ drive to drive down economic activity as a means of somehow preventing global warming.
Never mind that the “science” on the efficacy of such a supposed “cure” is wholly hypothetical, that it is based mostly on computer models—which so far don’t exactly have a great record of accuracy. But we’ve seen situations in law in which juries awarded big verdicts against companies, based on what later turned out to be junk science. (And the other way around, of course, verdicts denied because juries didn’t believe what later turned out to be valid science.)
But with lawyers increasingly filing such lawsuits, an article in Nature Climate Change notes (warns?) that individuals might one day also be sued for using more than their allotted individual carbon ration. The question arose in a current case before the U.S. Supreme Court in which a utility is being sued for causing global warming. From “Climate Change in Court” (no link, VOL 1 | JUNE 2011):
The State of Connecticut versus American Electric Power is the most high-profile climate case to have reached the courts so far. Brought by six state attorneys general, the City of New York and three land trusts against six US power companies which together are estimated to produce a quarter of emissions from US electricity-generation operations the case is based on the principle that greenhouse gases are a ‘public nuisance’ under common law, with the plaintiffs demanding that the companies reduce their emissions.
And that led Justice Scalia to ask a pertinent question:
In oral evidence heard in April, Supreme Court judges aired scepticism of the validity of targeting utility companies as a collective. “You’re lumping them all together. Suppose you lump together all the cows in the country. Would that allow you to sue all those farmers? I mean, don’t you have to do it defendant by defendant?,” said Justice Antonin Scalia. The plaintiffs also face opposition from the Obama administration. “In the 222 years that this court has been sitting, it has never heard a case with so many potential perpetrators and so many potential victims,” said Acting Solicitor General Neal.
The lawsuit is nuts. But if it is allowed to proceed, the article too wonders how any of us could be exempt from being sued:
Only if a case came to be judged on its merits, would the science of climate change be called on to help make the case: and even then, there are difficulties. If global warming caused by greenhouse-gas emissions is legally held responsible for damage, how could the emissions of specific defendants be singled out? To have a reasonable chance of keeping global temperature rise to 2 °C above preindustrial levels, the German Advisory Council on Global Change has calculated that the annual emissions budget, divided equally among the world’s people, works out as 2.7 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions per capita to 2050 (ref. 2). The number of people who at present produce more than this, and so could technically be in legal breach of their duty of care to the climate, runs to the billions concentrated mainly in North America, Australia and Europe, but also in China and other large developing nations.
Ironically, were that to happen, the loudest and most hysterical voices warning of a warming fireball could lose the fortunes they have made off of their advocacy or inherited. I am talking about you, Mr. Al—owner of Five Houses and flying in private jets all over the world—Gore, and Prince—carbon spendthrift—Charles. Your respective carbon footprints alone equal the allotment for the entire state of Rhode Island.
Individuals being sued for spewing carbon dioxide—pardon us for breathing—is very unlikely to happen, of course. But GWH lawyers could destroy what is left of the Western economies by amassing huge verdicts against power companies and manufacturing concerns. Then everybody could work at McDonald’s—except they will be driven out of business, too. Cooking hamburgers—and the methane emissions from steers from which the meat comes—causes global warming!. And even if McD’s managed to stay in business, given the cost of jury verdicts, carbon credits, and the high price of transportation caused by carbon taxes, nobody’s going to pay $9 for a Quarter Pounder with cheese. (I won’t pay for them at any price, but that’s another story.)
When I was a sapling lawyer, we used to laugh at a bumper sticker slogan, “Sue them all and let God sort it out.” Not funny anymore.