Big Oil’s day in court

There is a potentially game-changing way to make the fossil fuel industry pay for its climate crimes — with a very good track record. It worked against Big Tobacco. It has been used against organized crime, gangs, and corrupt police departments, Even FIFA. It is a small legal code known as Ricoor the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act of 1970. This law has been used successfully to prosecute organizations for a wide range of alleged offenses from tax evasion to mail fraud and money laundering to drug trafficking.

Recently, 16 Puerto Rico municipalities filed a class action lawsuit in federal court against fossil fuel companies — including Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron, BP, ConocoPhillips and Arch Coal — alleging they colluded to suppress evidence of climate change whose devastating effects include Hurricane Maria in 2017.

If the RICO Code successful Big Tobacco in 2006 for a “decade-long conspiracy to deceive the public about the dangers of smoking in order to preserve their profits”. Can the same logic be used again here? I certainly hope so.

The similarities are eerily familiar. Not only have the fossil fuel giants deployed the same deception tactics, they have been hired The same PR firms Big Tobacco in an apparent attempt to deceive the public about the dangers of their products.

Last addresses I read that “Exxon knew” that its products were causing global climate change for nearly half a century. This, of course, has been part of the climate discourse since at least Naomi Oreskes and Eric Conway’s 2014 book.Doubt merchantsUnearthed. But what’s new is exactly how they were on the nose New study In the journal Science published by Harvard researchers, they find that, starting in the late 1970s, “63 to 83% of climate forecasts reported by ExxonMobil scientists were accurate in predicting subsequent global warming.” Their climate models were more accurate than NASA agency. Let that sink in.

Armed with information that could save countless lives and our planet from imminent doom, they did exactly what you’d expect. No, not springing into action, alerting the authorities or trying to use its considerable financial strength and technical prowess to start developing solutions. instead of it, The major oil companies are said to have spent millions of dollars on a global public disinformation campaign That stretched out decades to make science seem unclear that climate change was real and cast doubt on the role of fossil fuels. they Updated playbook He seems to accept that fossil fuels have caused climate change but insists that fossil fuels are needed to address energy poverty and provide resilience to climate change.

Likewise, the big tobacco companies known for decades that cigarettes are addictive as well as health risks including premature death – but they have spent millions misleading the public. a RICO Historical Case In 2006 he found them guilty of civil fraud, racketeering, and conspiracy to mislead the public, which is why the federal RICO case against fossil fuel companies looks promising.

But successful legal action against Big Tobacco has yet to begin at the federal level. It started at the state level.

In 1994, Congress had the CEOs of Big Tobacco Witness In public, claiming that they do not believe their products are addictive. This led to widespread public outcry for legal action. But because it seemed unlikely to win legal action at the federal level, attorneys general from 46 states, the District of Columbia and five U.S. territories filed independent lawsuits against Big Tobacco. This approach led to historicism master settlement agreement It was 1998 as Big Tobacco forced billions of dollars into the states each year.

If the current case ends up in the Supreme Court, it is hard to imagine the court ruling clearly and firmly against the oil majors. (Interestingly, justice Amy Coney Barrett’s father He is said to have spent three decades as a lawyer at Shell Oil and was a respected member of the American Petroleum Institute).

That’s why the multi-pronged approach that has been forged—which includes congressional hearings, state lawsuits, and a federal RICO case in Puerto Rico—shows promise.

In addition to the RICO issue, the Climate Integrity Center which tracks climate states in the United States, found that “seven states, 35 municipalities, the District of Columbia, and one industrial trade association are suing major oil and gas companies for deceiving the public about the climate damage they knew their products would cause.” These cases fall into different legal categories according to the centre:

In one high-profile case in Montanaa group of children are suing the state for violating their constitutional rights to a healthy, clean environment by supporting an energy policy that focuses on fossil fuels.

Congress began to hold plenary sessions hearings about Big Oil’s climate deception in November 2021 and it’s still doing it. Now the Senate Budget Committee is reportedly seeking to Recruit Experienced in Investigating Fossil Fuel Impact Campaigns.

This trend is not only happening in the United States. In a previous win in 2021, he got Netherlands He reportedly forced Shell to reduce its emissions in line with the country’s climate goals. As cases like these are prosecuted and won around the world, we’re seeing momentum build and strong legal precedents established.

While any of these efforts could fail, it seems to me that the fossil fuel industry’s day of reckoning is upon us. It is damn time.

Wouldn’t it be bloated if they were forced to use their ill-gotten riches to deploy clean energy, transition society off fossil fuels, electrify everything, provide reliable power to the have-nots, implement regional climate adaptation measures, and pay compensation to those who have to bear the brunt of the impending climate catastrophes that Caused by the industry? And maybe if we’re lucky, we can even stop our government from handing the fossil fuel industry an insane amount of taxpayer money. Subsidies — which was said to be $11 million every minute in 2020.

Mostly, I just hope that the courts consider the seriousness of the situation and the need for swift and immediate action as they consider these cases. As the famous naturalist and broadcaster David Attenborough reminds us“If the natural world could no longer support our most basic needs, most remaining civilizations would quickly collapse. Please make no mistake, climate change is the greatest security threat modern humans have ever faced.”

Andreas Karelas is the author ofClimate Courage: How Dealing with Climate Change Can Build Society, Transform the Economy, and Find the Political Divide in America. He is also the founder and CEO of the company RE-volv, a climate justice nonprofit helping fellow nonprofits across the country transition to solar energy. Follow him on Twitter: @tweet

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