A Few Things Ill Considered

This is interesting. I have mixed feelings about it but it is probably a necessary step in forcing the reality of this issue into the correct legal and political context. Actions have consequences and actors have responsibilities.

The only question I have is that the respnsibility is really shared by all of us as consumers of fossil fuels, in some sense it is not fair to place all the respnsibility on the fossil fuel companies.

Of course when they intentionally create misinformation to avoid addressing the problem, the face a corresponding increase in culpability.

Read it below:

Katrina victims seek to sue greenhouse-gas emitters

Victims of Hurricane Katrina are seeking to sue carbon gas-emitting multinationals for helping fuel global warming and boosting the devastating 2005 storm, legal documents showed.

The class action suit brought by residents from southern Mississippi, which was ravaged by hurricane-force winds and driving rains, was first filed just weeks after the August 2005 storm hit.

“The plaintiffs allege that defendants’ operation of energy, fossil fuels, and chemical industries in the United States caused the emission of greenhouse gasses that contributed to global warming,” say the documents seen by AFP.

The increase in global surface air and water temperatures “in turn caused a rise in sea levels and added to the ferocity of Hurricane Katrina, which combined to destroy the plaintiffs’ private property, as well as public property useful to them.”

More than 1,200 people died in Hurricane Katrina, which lashed the area, swamping New Orleans in Louisiana when levees gave way under the weight of the waves.

The suit, claiming compensation and punitive damages from multinational companies including Shell, ExxonMobile, BP and Chevron, has already passed several key legal hurdles, after initially being knocked back by the lowest court.

Comments

  1. #1 Joseph
    March 4, 2010

    It would be tough to prove in court. For one, you can probably get experts to testify for both the positions rather well. The IPCC is not terribly clear on tropical cyclones, in my view, and its statements as to the nature of the relationship are largely based on modeling.

    Tropical cyclone data is extremely noisy. The Katrina season was an outlier, even if we accept that the number of storms and/or their intensity is driven by sea surface temperatures.

    Personally, I’m as confident as one could be, from what I’ve seen in the raw data, that the number of storms, at least in the Atlantic, is driven by SSTs. But again, the data is very noisy, so you can’t really see it year to year. I recently revisited this topic here.

  2. #2 george.w
    March 4, 2010

    It would be easier to pin on the oil companies for dredging channels for oil pipelines, allowing salt water to penetrate further into wetlands resulting in erosion and buffer loss. Or the Army Corps of Engineers for making levies that didn’t hold up. For that matter, how many times has New Orleans flooded in the past? Who do you blame for flood damage to a building (re-)built in a flood plain?

  3. #3 Al
    March 4, 2010

    Coby said:

    “The only question I have is that the responsibility is really shared by all of us as consumers of fossil fuels, in some sense it is not fair to place all the responsibility on the fossil fuel companies.”

    When they are subsidized with tax payer money it is indeed fair for citizens to sue them for damages caused by the use of that money.

    Al

  4. #4 Crakar
    March 4, 2010

    I wish them luck but i dont think they will win. First you have to prove beyond reasonable doubt that an increase in CO2 actually caused Katrina.

    If only someone here (hint, hint) had a legal background.

    I would have thought it would be easier to sue G.W Booosch as he was the one who cut back on money to maintain the levies.

  5. #5 Douglas Watts
    March 4, 2010

    The worst outcome they can get is what they would get by not suing at all. Anything more than nothing is far more than what they would have gotten by doing nothing. So you have to call it a big win just by the fact they’re doing it. This is a good strategic volley, since even if it doesn’t succeed, it helps establish the beachhead and a causal nexus. Read “The Riverkeepers” by John Cronin about how local fishermen on the Hudson River in the 1980s stopped gross pollution by suing the polluters under a long-forgotten 1899 law. This is how it’s done.

  6. #6 Douglas Watts
    March 4, 2010

    “The only question I have is that the responsibility is really shared by all of us as consumers of fossil fuels, in some sense it is not fair to place all the responsibility on the fossil fuel companies.”

    Thankfully, the law doesn’t see it that way.

    This would make “consumers” of Ford Pintos equally liable for the faulty gas tank that caused them to explode, because the poor saps unwittingly bought them and drove them, thereby encouraging Ford to continue making them.

    Of course when they intentionally create misinformation to avoid addressing the problem, the face a corresponding increase in culpability.

    Exactly. In a case of liability, as this is, the focus is on whether the oil companies knew, or should have known, their activities could cause the disaster but did it anyways.

    Interesting. Hope they win.

    Great post.

  7. #7 Treespeed
    March 4, 2010

    It was my understanding that increased hurricane damage was inevitable in Louisiana because of salt marsh loss along the coast due to the Corps controlling of the Mississippi and the resulting loss of silt deposition. I recall seeing a film in high school over 20 years ago about the Old River Control Structure and how the Mississippi switching channels and New Orleans flooding out were both just a matter of time.
    Maybe the folks that lost their houses in the mudslides and fires here in Los Angeles can join in on the suit.

  8. #8 Joseph
    March 5, 2010

    I have a simple idea that the plaintiff’s might be able to use: 1998 + 7 = 2005.

  9. #9 PaulinMI
    March 5, 2010

    Where do the people line up to pay the said companies for increase in life expectancy and higher standard of living?

    Good grief, will it ever end?

  10. #10 pete
    March 5, 2010

    Where do the people line up to pay the said companies for increase in life expectancy and higher standard of living?

    At the gas station?

  11. #11 PaulinMI
    March 6, 2010

    At the gas station?

    Exactly

  12. #12 Jeeves
    March 6, 2010

    First you have to prove beyond reasonable doubt that an increase in CO2 actually caused Katrina.

    IANAL but I don’t think civil trials require proof “beyond reasonable doubt”, I’m pretty sure that the bar is set much lower than that.

  13. #13 skip
    March 6, 2010

    “preponderance of the evidence” is the usual standard but i don’t think we even have that here.

  14. #14 coby
    March 6, 2010

    IANAL either, but I don’t think “caused Katrina” is required either, just “contributed to”.

  15. #15 Moridin
    March 7, 2010

    This of course presupposes that global warming (or global climate change, or global cooling or whatever the current buzz word is) actively contributes to the strength of individual hurricanes (in contrast to the average strength).

    I am amazed by the cognitive dissonance that is needed to pull this off: occurrences such as the massive snow storms in Scandinavia is rejected as a mere deviation from a trend of global warming, but individual strong hurricanes are not treated as a deviation, but as evidence for this trend.

    It would seem as confirmation bias can be found even in scientific enterprises, especially in such highly politicized ones.

    Is it just me who thinks that these people have discovered a way to greedily profit from other peoples winnings?

  16. #16 Daniel J. Andrews
    March 7, 2010

    This of course presupposes that global warming (or global climate change, or global cooling or whatever the current buzz word is)

    Changing the ‘buzzword’ was the idea of the Bush admin (Frank Luntz) as “climate change” sounded less urgent than “global warming”.

    occurrences such as the massive snow storms in Scandinavia is rejected as a mere deviation from a trend of global warming

    Strawman argument. No scientist would have said it was a deviation from a global warming trend. Extreme precipitation events are expected in a warmer globe–where temps are below freezing point of water that precip will fall as snow. They are not deviations, but expectations.

    but individual strong hurricanes are not treated as a deviation, but as evidence for this trend.

    Strawman again. No scientist would say an individual hurricane is evidence for a warming trend.

    It is like rolling a die loaded to come up with a 6. You can’t say if the 6 came up due to chance or the loading, but over a number of rolls you’ll see there is a higher probability of rolling a 6 than there should be. You’ll know you’ve rolled more 6’s than you should have, but you can’t say which ones were due to loading or just chance.

    See U.S. Climate Extremes Index (http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/extremes/cei.html). They’re just one of many places tracking the number of 6’s.

    Reconsider your sources of information. If you listen to them they will make you look foolish.

    As for the whole suing, I’m also not sure what I think of that. I’ll stick to the science.

    –dan

  17. #17 Moridin
    March 7, 2010

    No scientist would have said it was a deviation from a global warming trend. Extreme precipitation events are expected in a warmer globe–where temps are below freezing point of water that precip will fall as snow. They are not deviations, but expectations.

    So in your opinion, both extreme precipitations and a warming (presumably less precipitations) are predictions of global warming? Then surely, global warming is unfalsifiable, since it predicts both A and non-A. A theory that can predict anything is of very little use scientifically.

    Strawman again. No scientist would say an individual hurricane is evidence for a warming trend.

    But you just said that an individual whether event is evidence for a warming trend!

    “No scientist would have said it was a deviation from a global warming trend. […] They are not deviations, but expectations.”

    You seem to believe that cold weather is evidence for warming. That is kind of like saying evolution is evidence for creationism or the existence of god is evidence for atheism. Once a person believe something like that, one is unwilling to reconsider ones position that one might be wrong.

  18. #18 Moridin
    March 7, 2010

    I forgot to cite the source to my claim about Scandinavian snow storms and its implications for global warming. Al Gore, the Pope of global warming, stated it in an interview with Skavlan (part 6 of 11, 5th march) on Swedish television.

  19. #19 Jack Savage
    March 8, 2010

    As an ex UK lawyer (though not well versed in litigation) I would give this suit very little chance of success.
    However, like the EPA lawsuits to come, we will perhaps see the interesting spectacle of the theory that there is a causal connection between increased CO2 and hurricane intensity. In a British civil court this would be decided on a “balance of probabilities”. If the same standard applies in the US it should be an interesting battle. A sort of super-debate conducted by skilled advocates with expert witnesses on both sides.
    I am sure there are better battlegrounds on which to tackle the companies which have done so much damage to the environment in that area. It is a shame that the citizens do not seem to be able to enforce the environmental laws you already have, and that somehow I understand that the oil and gas companies have been able to ride roughshod over them. The desecration of those wetlands is a national scandal.
    (P.S. I read all James Lee Burke’s novels so am intimately aquainted with the problem!)

  20. #20 coby
    March 8, 2010

    FWIW, Jack, I agree with the above. The hurricane-CO2 link is just not yet established.

  21. #21 Brunnen
    March 9, 2010

    I love the hypocracy here. The coldest winter in decades is discarded as mere weather and no one is to use that as evidence that AGW might just be the biggest pile of bullshit since intelligent design.

    Fair enough, I’ll ignore four months of cold weather, despite it being the coldest winter in Europe for decades.

    However, to then claim AGW caused Katrina, a single weather event is nothing short of breathtaking.

    So, are we only supposed to count weather that supports AGW theory or are we not supposed to count weather at all, only climate?

    You can’t have it both ways.

  22. #22 Bean
    March 9, 2010

    @Brunnen

    Coldest winter in decades? Hardly. More like higher precipitation than normal. More snow != colder weather. Maybe extra snowy for certain parts of the USA and Europe, but not for the all parts of the world AFAIK. The northwest USA experienced higher than normal temps this year and the southern hemisphere had a warmer than normal summer.

    More water in the air means more precipitation; when it’s cold, that precipitation is usually in the form of sleet or snow. It doesn’t take a genius to understand that. Ever since I was a child I have been aware that warming temperatures meant increased precipitation. A 2 or 3 degree mean temperature rise isn’t going to prevent snow from forming nor will it make a pointed effect on the immediate weather. It’s all about statistical trends over time (ie. climate). You’ve got a bit of research into fundamentals of thermodynamics to do as well. The entropy isn’t going to just dissipate from last year’s warm mean temperature like magic. (Unless you’re an IDiot and think there’s not a strong enough external entropy source to fuel life on the planet).

    You’re making a strawman while simultaneously (and quite accurately) demonstrating why much of the AGW movement is tiring of “debating” these facts with your type. Now start some actual discourse on the subject and cease the tit for tat yammering, or go back to your circle-jerk session at the Telegraph.

  23. #23 Bean
    March 9, 2010

    For the record, before the denialists jump in on my first paragraph; I’m pointing out that while there might be colder temps this year in certain parts of the world, it doesn’t mean it isn’t warmer elsewhere.

    As for the actual topic, I think suing over a natural disaster is preposterous. Sue the government for yanking the funding of the Army Corps of Engineers when they recommended an upgrade for the levees in New Orleans or sue the state government of Mississippi for allowing people to live that close to the water (Waveland and Bay St Louis literally sit next to swampland fed in from the gulf).

    You can’t prove it was AGW that did it nor can you just blatantly make that assumption as it was a specific weather event. Similarly, we cannot be so arrogant as to cast the blame of AGW onto single entities as SO MANY are at fault including ourselves. Degrees of fault may vary, but we are all guilty nonetheless.

  24. #24 Brunnen
    March 9, 2010

    Does that guilt come with sackcloth and ashes?

    And as for snow making winters cold; damn, I’m glad I was sitting down when you dropped that bombshell on me. That explains why I couldn’t heat up my cocoa by leaving it sitting on a snowdrift.

    Snow = cold. Thanks, I’ll do my best to remember that, especially next winter when it’s -19C and I’m looking for a way to keep my soup warm.

  25. #25 Peter of Sydney
    March 11, 2010

    Well the oil companies can defend any attempt to sue them simply by demonstrating in a court of law there is no evidence of a runaway global warming event that’s being caused by man and man alone. For starters they can look at this: http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/2010/03/the-case-against-the-hockey-stick/

    Despite all the evidence that’s meticulously presented in that article, AGW alarmists will continue to exaggerate and claim that the world is warming at an out of control rate, and it’s all due to man’s fault.

  26. #26 skip
    March 11, 2010

    Hi Peter.

    I cannot remember for certain if this is the seventh or only the sixth time I’ve asked but . . .

    Had a chance to think about your answers to my questions about your McIntyre link?

  27. #27 Brian Schmidt
    March 23, 2010

    I did a series of posts on the legal causation issues, last one here:

    http://backseatdriving.blogspot.com/2007/02/part-3-katrina-specific-legal-theories.html

    I’m not sure if “contributes to” is enough proof if the contribution is minor. OTOH, to the extent that sea level rise worsened damage, that’s 100% attributable to AGW. Separate that part out of the damages, and you have something interesting.

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