Climate Change Lawsuits: Please Excuse Us For Living

Robert Bradley | Founder and CEO of the Institute for Energy Research

Around the world, billions of consumers voluntarily consume fossil fuels to live safe, comfortable, prosperous lives. Tens of thousands of entities and tens of millions of employees provide oil, natural gas, coal, and electricity to them. As such, plentiful, affordable, reliable energy is a global good with moral and enrichment implications—is, has been, will be.

Strange, then, that climate-change alarmists/activists are suing the largest, most profitable energy companies by using local “nuisance” ordinances to claim damages related to global warming. In California, for example, San Francisco, Oakland and other cities have sued BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil, and Royal Dutch Shell claiming undetermined damages in their jurisdictions simply because their operations emit carbon dioxide (CO2). No other industry sectors have been named in the lawsuits. If you make concrete, operate heavy construction equipment, produce steel, run ships, you apparently are not to blame for alleged climate change.

These plaintiffs implausibly claim that the top energy companies are somehow akin to the tobacco industry. Energy production and consumption emit CO2. We all know that. But analogizing carbon dioxide to the dangers of tobacco smoke is meritless, although it might make for catchy headlines. Truth is, the debate over global warming and climate change is not a matter for the courts. Attorneys general from 15 states filed a brief this week saying just that in expressing their opposition. Their amicus brief states that attempts to use local “nuisance” ordinances seriously distort the law and are inappropriate in adjudicating an issue as broad and complex as global warming.

The 15 briefs also states that the climate debate is a national policy issue beyond the jurisdiction and ability for individual courts to decide. In addition, the attorneys general argue that thousands of individual lawsuits and conflicting judgments would likely cause broad, unintended consequences to cities and towns across the nation and would create bad precedents regarding the application of local laws.

The real causes and consequences of anthropogenic global warming are far from settled. A warming “pause” has left climate models significantly over predicting real-world warming. Climate-sensitivity estimates are actually coming down; global lukewarming has become a more reasoned school of thought, with radically different implications for public policy. At the same time, climate exaggerations are falling aside. Remember Al Gore’s prediction of a twenty-foot sea-level rise, made a decade ago in An Inconvenient Truth? The reality is inches per decade — about the same amount recorded well before the current climate scare.

Expect the climate activists’ latest effort to be tossed out of court. The Supreme Court did so during the Obama years when several states tried to blame global warming on a few western utility companies. Justice Ruth Ginsberg wrote in an 8–0 decision that the EPA and the Congress have proper jurisdiction over climate change. Justice Ginsburg warned against state courts becoming “Super EPAs.” She was correct; imagine the legal mess if ten thousand mayors across the country could sue for what they believe are climate-change damages.

The complainants apparently want to ignore the benefits of affordable, reliable energy. They live in an alternative universe where real people and real economies are absent. It is a people-last, prosperity-last agenda. That, itself, is the real nuisance involved with climate litigation.

Most Americans recognize the benefits of modern, robust, ubiquitous mineral energies. They know that climate science is in flux, not only the climate. And they can rightly respond to the would-be legal profiteers, “Well, excuse us for living.”

Robert L. Bradley Jr. is the founder and CEO of the Institute for Energy Research.


The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.

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