2-28-08 by dugan
It’s a Hail-Mary pass, but the Alaskan Inuit lawsuit against the oil industry on global warming just might work. It may come down to how the judge views the definition of "conspiracy."
Alaska’s Eskimos, or Inuit, have been refining the argument for a long time. Four years ago, the Inuit as a group sought a ruling from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights that the United States, by contributing substantially to global warming, was threatening their existence. This time their focus is a lot sharper: Residents of the drowning coasal village of Kivalina are blaming five oil companies, 14 electric utilities and the largest U.S. coal company, Peabody, for their plight. The cost of moving the village following the loss of their protective sea ice could reach $400 million, to say nothing of the cultural loss.
The lawuit calls the global warming caused by the industries a "public nuisance," but also hangs its argument on a conspiracy charge, as related in the New York Times story:
In an unusual move, [BP America, Chevron, Peabody Energy, Duke Energy and the Southern Company] and three other defendants —
the Exxon Mobil Corporation, American Electric Power and the Conoco
Phillips Company — are also accused of conspiracy. “There has been a
long campaign by power, coal and oil companies to mislead the public
about the science of global warming,” the suit says. The campaign, it
says, contributed “to the public nuisance of global warming by
convincing the public at large and the victims of global warming that
the process is not man-made when in fact it is.”
One of the companies in the lawsuit is ExxonMobil, which seems particularly vulnerable to the charge of a conspiratorial public campaign to deny global warming. What other company could have gotten the White House to boot the chief United Nations expert on global warming? A 2001 Exxon memo to from an Exxon lobbyist to a White House official asks baldly, "Can [Robert] Watson be replaced now?"
Watson, the U.S. scientist heading up the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, had angered Exxon and friends by leaking conclusions from a report that strengthened the case for human-caused global warming.
Exxon also generously funded fringe think-tankers to carry the anti-global warming message to TV, newspapers and magazines, omitting any mention of their funders. In a Feb. 2007 print ad, Exxon even had the gall to brag,
“[F]or 15 years, our scientists have been participating directly in the
preparation of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports.”
If the case is allowed to go forward, the discovery portion could be a feast of information on oil company PR practices. I’m setting the table and crossing my fingers.