Retread: Just 90 companies caused two-thirds of man-made global warming emissions?

Apparently, Just 90 companies caused two-thirds of man-made global warming emissions? was so popular that it gets a retread. Despite the original being published in 20133, we're now being told that Researchers have for the first time tied a group of the world’s largest fossil fuel companies, including ExxonMobil, and their products to specific increases in greenhouse gases, global warming and sea level rise. A study published Thursday in the journal Climatic Change concludes that since 1880, 90 of the largest carbon producers are responsible for up to 50 percent of global temperature rise, 57 percent of the increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and between 26 and 32 percent of global sea level rise. Don't worry, people have memories like goldfish, and the meeja even less, no-one will notice or think to complain1.

The original - not that it was terribly original - was Tracing anthropogenic carbon dioxide and methane emissions to fossil fuel and cement producers, 1854–2010 by Richard "just call me Dick" Heede2. The retread is The rise in global atmospheric CO2, surface temperature, and sea level from emissions traced to major carbon producers by a pile o' people, include R Heede, but also Myles "seminal" Allen.

Just to remind you of why the whole thing is bollocks: customers emit CO2, not producers. Don't blame the people that sold you a thing for your using it. Hopefully that's bleedin' obvious4.

The article in climateliabilitynews is unusually explicit in positively vaunting the political motives of this "science": The research could open the door for those who have suffered losses due to climate change to sue major oil companies for damages. The study also links each individual company to its percentage impact on climate change. “This study could inform approaches of juries and judges who are looking to monetize damages,” said study lead author Brenda Ekwurzel, a climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists. Not even a pretence of that ivory-tower impartiality so notable in the usual caricature of scientists.

1980 or 1960?

There's a detail of the analysis worth snarking about. From the article: In the century prior to 1980, companies may not have been aware of the harm their products cause, Ekwurzel said. After 1980, the firms had sufficient scientific data showing carbon dioxide from burning the fossil fuel they produce was harmful. [Obligatory Exxon drivel elided] “Once it became clear no later than the 1960s that continuing CO2 emissions would progressively undermine the climate, the major carbon producers could see that they were marketing harmful products,” said Henry Shue, a professor emeritus of politics and international relations at Oxford University, wrote in a commentary published alongside the study.

So, what's it going to be: 1960 or 1980? In the (IMHO unlikely) event that this nonsense ever turns into money, two decades will be a pile of dosh and lawyers fees and doubtless the expert witnesses can expect some, too. The "1960s" claim is by one "Henry Shue" in a commentary. I think it is bollox. Admittedly, he is emeritus, but really? OK, I suppose I'm obliged to find out who this old geyser is. He sort-of makes wiki, in the "Negative and positive rights". Ah, he's at Merton. Lovely place, but no real history of understanding climate science5.

Can I prove that "1960s" is bollox? Of course. Just consider the 1975 NAS report. Recall that I wrote that summary many years ago, when showing that the "global cooling" stuff was, also, bollox; so if anything I had an interest in exaggerating its "warming" credentials. And as I quote from the foreword, we do not have a good quantitative understanding of our climate machine and what determines its course. Without the fundamental understanding, it does not seem possible to predict climate. Which I gloss: "I believe that this is an accurate assessment of the state of knowledge at the time".

One of the sources quoted by this idiot Shue ("Later in 1965, the President’s Science Advisory Committee issued a report treating CO2 as a pollutant, with an appendix on “Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide”") is (US, White House 1965). And the report (well, the little bit of it that deals with CO2; notice, tellingly, that it is shuffled off to an appendix) says:

I'm not sure I'd say 1980s is right, either. But it would depend on what you meant. By then, IPCC were saying Based on current models, we predict: under [BAU] increase of global mean temperature during the [21st] century of about 0.3 oC per decade (with an uncertainty range of 0.2 to 0.5 oC per decade); this is greater than that seen over the past 10,000 years; under other ... scenarios which assume progressively increasing levels of controls, rates of increase in global mean temperature of about 0.2 oC [to] about 0.1 oC per decade so certainly predicting future warming. But they weren't signing up to attribution at that point: Our judgement is that: global mean surface air temperature has increased by 0.3 to 0.6 oC over the last 100 years...; The size of this warming is broadly consistent with predictions of climate models, but it is also of the same magnitude as natural climate variability. Thus the observed increase could be largely due to this natural variability; alternatively this variability and other human factors could have offset a still larger human-induced greenhouse warming. The unequivocal detection of the enhanced greenhouse effect is not likely for a decade or more.


0. Pic: seracs, Barre des Ecrins. One day I must learn how to do captions.

1. Other than a few grumpy old men, but they can just be ignored.

2. I know, I know. Forgive me. Also I used the same "joke" last time.

3. The published date is 2014 but my blog is from 2013; doubtless in the usual tedious way it was trailed but glowing clouds of PR.

4. I see form the comments last time that it isn't; so I'll say in advance: trying to palm our responsibilities off on other people is pathetic evasion. You buy and burn oil, that’s your decision. Don’t blame the guy you bought it from.

5. The they did some good early work on physics.


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I'll just put this item from UCS here for your interest: FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Study Finds Top Fossil Fuel Producers’ Emissions Responsible for as Much as Half of Global Surface Temperature Increase, Roughly 30 Percent of Global Sea Level Rise Findings Provide New Data to Hold Companies Responsible…
That's what the Graun says. Timmy says Complete and total bollocks here. Or, if you prefer a more measured version he says Fossil Fuel Companies Do Not Cause Carbon Emissions, We Consumers Do. Timmy is right. The Graun is wrong. The Graun says Climate change experts said the data set was the most…
Just a quickie. In response to my last JM points me at The Greening of Planet Earth (1992), featuring luminaries such as Gerd-Rainer Weber of the German Coal Association (featured just in case you were under any illusion that it was only evil USAnian fossil fuel interests causing trouble; those…
You may have heard that the release of greenhouse gases has recently gone down, to match levels of several years ago. Why, then, do we have someone saying that greenhouse gasses have reached a new record high? There are two, maybe three, reasons. First, even though CO2 release from the US may be…

As I see it there are three parties responsible for the CO2 emitted from burning fossil fuels – the fossil fuel producers, the manufacturers of internal combustion engines, and the consumers. It’s a joint responsibility. All three contribute. I don’t understand how blaming and demonizing one of the three and giving a free pass to the others helps – how does it move us forward. All three are required for a solution. A quote I heard – “Men with beer bellies blaming the brewer”.

[Many people are required for a solution. I don't think I'm demonising anyone - I'm trying to lay the blame where I think it lies, and to some extent I'm reacting against the propaganda from the other side. I notice you don't criticise People like Heede for "demonising" only one of the side -W]

Nice pics. You should come to the Canadian Rockies some time.

[Thanks. They're on my list :-) -W]

I probably said this last time round but people don't want petroleum products, gas and coal; they want mobility, heat and power.

Fossil fuels happen to be the incumbent energy carrier, not because people demand fossil fuels, but because that's what the largest energy companies happen to supply.

Thankfully other companies are starting to supply low carbon mobility, heat and power at scale, and I expect that the vast majority of people would prefer to use that over fossil fuels given half a chance.

The end user doesn't have much agency over the type of energy available but does have considerable of agency over the quantity of energy consumed, so I'd call it joint responsibility: people can consume less energy, the energy suppliers can supply clean energy.

[I think that's largely true, but it is also largely true on the producer side, too -W]

I phrased part of that poorly. I wasn’t criticizing you. The ‘demonizing’ I was referring to was by Heede. I actually work in the oil industry. My intent was to support your criticism of Heede.

[Oh, thanks :-) -W]

>"Don’t blame the people that sold you a thing for your using it. Hopefully that’s bleedin’ obvious4"

Is it that obvious?

If you have to blame one or the other, producers or consumers, then I am with you it should be consumers that get the blame. But should it be one or the other? There seems a good case that both deserve to be held responsible, perhaps primarily consumers but this does not let producers off the hook (at least not completely).

[Possibly; see end. As I hope is obvious, I'm mostly reacting to the nonsense Heede and Oreskes are spouting, apparently unchallenged and even encouraged by those who should know better, such as Stephan Rahmstorf -W]

Producers may not only have some moral responsibility but also legal liability for use of product as intended. I mentioned Grant v Australian Knitting Mills (1936) last time. A clear case where you could blame the people who sold it to you for use of the item as intended.

[I don't see the relevance of that. In that case, there were facts know about the product to the manufacturer - that they required washing before use, effectively - and not to the purchaser. There are (despite Oreskes nonsense) no similar facts in the case of fossil fuels -W]

Is this a 'joint responsibility' or each being (fully?) responsible for the same thing with a slight different nuance? Maybe that still amounts to a 'joint responsibility'? But there is potentially a difference in that with joint responsibility you would allocate damages to share of the blame. With full responsibility for a different aspect, that may not apply. If it doesn't apply, then not allocating a large share of the responsibility to consumers might be justifiable and not a case of failure of ivory tower independence.

I am no expert, but this looks complicated rather than highly obvious.

[There is something to your view; I'm prepared to concede it requires thinking about; but having done so, I'm still mostly / largely / essentially blaming the consumers. Apart from anything else, if Exxon or Chevron of BP doesn't drill up the fossil fuels, someone else would do it instead. If I don't drive my car, no-one else will do it for me -W]

>"In that case, there were facts know[n] about the product to the manufacturer – that they required washing before use, effectively"

Do you know that? Got a ref? Are you sure it wasn't a case of this being established after the complaint?

[I read the wikipedia article. It was a guess -W]

"Evatt J dissented, holding that Dr Grant's dermatitis was caused by sulphur compounds and that the manufacturer had failed to fully or completely carry out its washing process"

Sounds like there was a manufacturer washing process that was somehow omitted or failed to be adequate. My guess would be that had they known, they would have sent them round the washing process again so in absence of any evidence of it being deliberate negligence, the assumption presumably would be that they did know washing was required but in this case as far as they knew, thought they had been adequately washed.

The sale of goods act created the duty of care that was broken, not a negligence tort.

So it seems established that selling goods can create a duty of care to ensure that if goods are sold and used as intended they are safe to use in that manner. What makes ff producers and/or retailers not liable in this way?

[I'm not really sure I follow your logic. But FF *are* safe to use in the way they're intended. The harm is long-term. It is also well-known to all govts, which choose to continue to permit that use, and all consumers, who choose to continue use even though they know the harm they are doing. So i don't see why producers are special in this regard -W]

Emotionally, I agree that consumers are more responsible than producers. However, if you want to use the law then you have to follow the law. AFAIK, there was no step in the assess the damages stage that said, Dr Grant could have washed them at the first hint of irritation so we will assign some proportion of the fault to him and reduce the damages to the remaining portion of the fault.

Are you claiming that in law, ff situation is somehow different and there should be such an apportion of damages according to blame step?

[The law is ambiguous and I don't really see any point pretending otherwise. So analysing possible outcomes on strict legal terms is not very useful, I think. I would be unsurprised if govts resorted to, effectively, banditry-within-the-law -W]

Apart from anything else, if Exxon or Chevron of BP doesn’t drill up the fossil fuels, someone else would do it instead. If I don’t drive my car, no-one else will do it for me -W

Where are we apportioning the blame for constructing a society in which it is very difficult to function "normally" without burning a lot of fossil fuels (either directly or indirectly)?

[Per Hayek, society isn't constructed, it grows. If we were in a command economy like the USSR, then the central planner would bear the blame. For the West, the "construction" is so diffuse that no-one can be meaningfully blamed more than anyone else -W]

>"[I’m not really sure I follow your logic. But FF *are* safe to use in the way they’re intended. The harm is long-term.]"

That seems pretty weird. They "*are* safe" followed immediately by admitting there is long term harm???? In what way is long term harm not a breach of being safe? Forgive me, if I throw 'I don't follow your logic' straight back at you.

[You use them. They don't damage you -W]

I don't know the law well enough to try to second guess what it will do, but I suspect neither are you. Perhaps a different knowledge set for govt, consumers and vendors is enough to differentiate the case, I am not going to guess.

What I am trying to get at is that the following was ambiguous.

"There is something to your view; I’m prepared to concede it requires thinking about; but having done so, I’m still mostly / largely / essentially blaming the consumers."

You could be just saying my emotional assessment of the case is that it is mainly consumers to blame and if the law doesn't work in that way then the law is an ass.

Or you could be saying that you have thought about it, accepted there is an emotional case where consumers are mainly the ones to blame but there is also a legal safety case where vendors are responsible for the safety of their products when used in the way intended. You have considered this legal aspect and concluded this does not apply or will get distinguished in some way.

I think you have now clarified that you are just taking the first approach. So there is something to my view, that requires thinking about, but there is no point in pretending other than you don't want to discuss it.

[I don't know where you got "emotional" as the opposite or alternate of "legal" from. I would use "logical" or perhaps "moral" -W]

Scatter, is correct but a lot of climate policy pundits don't want to hear of , much less act upon the mere fact that coal CO2 emissions could be cut as readily by hydrogen content incentives as carbon taxes-

The superabundance of cheap coal that is accelerating radiative forcing includes massive reserves that get a large fraction of their heat of combustion from H rather than C

Policies promoting high volatile coal to the exaclusion of high carbon varieties like anthracite could lower thermal plant per BTU emission ~10-20%

Why isn't the IPCC on the case?

[What reaction are you proposing? And why would it not also be promoted by a carbon tax? -W]

WC, inline to #4:

I’m still mostly / largely / essentially blaming the consumers. Apart from anything else, if Exxon or Chevron of BP doesn’t drill up the fossil fuels, someone else would do it instead. If I don’t drive my car, no-one else will do it for me

If this is tl;dr, sue me. I'd rather say too much than not enough on this blog.

William, I'm basically with you on blaming us fossil fuel consumers for AGW, but it's a Tragedy of the Commons only because the energy market is 'free'. Our marginal climate-change costs are socialized at the point of sale, i.e. during the transaction between producer and consumer.

Let's not forget that producers are the guys who actually dig the stuff out of geologic sequestration and sell it for as much profit as the traffic will bear. If the producer doesn't have to count climate change as a cost of production, he can charge me less without losing profits. As a consumer, I'm already paying more than I want for the benefit of a tankful of gasoline; why would I pay for my carbon emissions if ExxonMobil doesn't charge me for them at the pump, especially if nobody else is paying for theirs?

There's no need to judge culpability, though. You've all heard the market-oriented argument for a carbon tax: taxing producers per tonne of fossil carbon at the source, and letting them decide how much to raise their prices, means producers and consumer both pay more per transaction, but still no more than is cost-effective compared with doing something else with their money. Everyone not party to the transaction pays, in aggregate, that much less. The tax need only be high enough to eliminate the unfair price advantage FFs currently have over carbon-neutral energy sources with their full marginal costs internalized. A lower-bound estimate of marginal climate-change costs by carbon content of fuels will be enough to drive the build out of the carbon-neutral economy with optimum 'efficiency' and no recrimination. That's the theory, at least.

Producers aren't actually prohibited from acting collectively as responsible citizens, either. I'm aware of growing corporate support, including ExxonMobil, BP and Royal Dutch Shell, for a US Carbon Fee and Dividend with Border Adjustment. Meanwhile, investors large and small are divesting themselves of FF securities, leading to producer bankruptcies (albeit with little penalty for certain privileged officers and creditors).

As for "If I don’t drive my car, no-one else will do it for me", you may be saying "I enjoy the full marginal benefit of my FF purchases, so I should pay for the full marginal costs", which is pretty much my view too. OTOH, it's not hard for me to imagine my hypothetical Trumpist neighbor gleefully rolling coal as I peddle painfully off on my bicycle, nor my satisfaction at seeing him trade his F-350 dually for a Prius when he can't afford the gas any more ;^D.

[That wasn't quite what I was trying to say; I was trying to contrast my and the producer's responsibility. Given a need - say, my desire to drive to work rather than cycle - there will likely always be companies ready to step up and meet that need, thereby causing fossil emissions (leaving electric vehicles aside for the moment). So I'm suggesting that if some morally pure company refused to meet my need, that wouldn't actually do much good, because someone else would. But if some morally good person - say, myself - decided virtuously to cycle, then the emissions wouldn't occur. Thus, I am responsible for the emissions, if they do occur. So I'm talking about responsibility, not payment.

Tragedy-of-the-commons doesn't get the consumer off the hook, though, because it doesn't explain lack of support for a carbon tax. This goes all the way back to Hobbes but is explicit in Hayek (not for carbon, of course, but for other matters): even if you won't voluntarily pay a cost (because of the risk of free riders, as you point out), it can be entirely rational to want everyone in society to be forced to pay the cost, perhaps via taxes. So it could be entirely rational for USAnian voters to want lower priced fuel, but to be keen for a carbon tax. What isn't rational is for them refuse that carbon pricing -W]

By Mal Adapted (not verified) on 11 Sep 2017 #permalink

Long time reader, first time commenter.

[Welcome -W]

My opinion posted below is probably pretty trite, and while my point is touched on above, though not I think in this form.

I will agree that customers do clearly share a good deal of the blame. Your blog has made me more sensitive to this than I think I'd otherwise be. This argument has been discussed at length above, so I need not go into detail here. But I do agree.

On the other hand, some of these specific oil companies do share a special blame. Not because they provided the product*, but because they spent so much time lying about the product. It's well-known that Exxon and other oil giants funded a decades-long misinformation campaign. Even if they no longer support that campaign, which Exxon at least has promised, they helped create the denalist machinery which is still in operation. They built it, but they've played very little role in dismantling it, tepid statements in support of future taxes notwithstanding.

If a product is dangerous, we expect warning labels. Everyone knows that hydrochloric acid is dangerous, but we'd still be mad at an acid manufacturer that didn't put a label on a bottle if someone got hurt. The public is full of ignorant people after all, which is not always blameworthy since we're all ignorant of many things. What we would __not__ expect is for that acid manufacturer to produce reams of propaganda about how healthful their hydrochloric is and about how materials safety datasheets are government-sponsored anti-acid anti-progress hoaxes. You often write that everyone "should" have known that CO2 was harmful from the 80's on, but any public poll will show that to this day a great number of people have built their political identity around denying that fact**. Exxon and others do play a role in creating that confusion, and to that extent they are morally culpable. Though it may not be a legal principle, it is my view that an honest company _must_ be upfront about the reasonable potentials for harm of their product, and that includes long-term harm. Again, to be clear, this is a moral judgement, not legal pontification. If Exxon had been honest from the start, then they would have to be guiltless.

*Though as an aside, one wonders how much willpower a society, in which responsibility is diffuse, (rather than an individual), can be expected to have.

**Ironically, as consumers, I think that makes people who believe and care about the climate change more culpable than people who deny it. Oh well, since culpability is tied to awareness that one is doing wrong.

[I think those who lied, like Exxon, must get blame for that; they certainly intended to influence public opinion. But they were only one or a few of many sources of information for people; I still reject the Oreskes-type narrative that poor dear Joe Public had nothing else to believe, which is clearly false.

Or, phrased better, you're responsible for your emissions but you're also responsible for your opinions, too -W]

>"[I don’t know where you got “emotional” as the opposite or alternate of “legal” from. I would use “logical” or perhaps “moral” -W]"

I don't think the emotional tag is a very good tag for the aspect I am referring to either. However I needed some tag to refer to this view of there wouldn't be a problem if there wasn't so much demand. Who is responsible for the demand, the consumers obviously. But there are other aspects like safety where the vendor carries some responsibility. Using a tag like logical might imply this is the one and only view that really should matter. 'Moral' could be a little better or maybe 'excess demand caused the problem aspect' would be better, I don't particularly care.

No need to keep moving mountains to get at carbon fuel.
Now can a carbon tax run in reverse to fund this approach?
______quote follows______
Researchers Make Alcohol Out of Thin Air |
| from the were-they-in-Denver? dept. |
| posted by Fnord666 on Tuesday September 12, @04:53 (Science) |
| |

[0]Phoenix666 writes:

It may sound too good to be true, but TU Delft PhD student Ming Ma
has found [1]a way to produce alcohol out of thin air. Or to be more
precise, he has found how to effectively and precisely control the
process of electroreduction of CO2 to produce a wide range of useful
products, including alcohol. Being able to use CO2 as such a resource
may be pivotal in tackling climate change. His PhD defence will take
place on September 14th.

[...] For mitigating atmospheric CO2 concentration, carbon capture
and utilization (CCU) could be a feasible alternative strategy to
carbon capture and sequestration (CCS). The electrochemical reduction
of CO2 to fuels and value-added chemicals has attracted considerable
attention as a promising solution. In this process, the captured CO2
is used as a resource and converted into carbon monoxide (CO),
methane (CH4), ethylene (C2H4), and even liquid products such as
formic acid (HCOOH), methanol (CH3OH) and ethanol (C2H5OH).

The high energy density hydrocarbons can be directly and conveniently
utilized as fuels within the current energy infrastructure. In
addition, the production of CO is very interesting since it can be
used as feedstock in the Fischer–Tropsch process, a well-developed
technology that has been widely used in industry to convert syngas
(CO and hydrogen (H2)) into valuable chemicals such as methanol and
synthetic fuels (such as diesel fuel). The figure attached describes
these three processes and the way electroreduction of CO2 could
potentially close the carbon cycle.

Beer, from air. Others use barley as an intermediary.

Publication: Aula TU Delft, PhD defence Ming Ma, Selective
Electrocatalytic CO2 Conversion on Metal Surfaces.


[2]Original Submission

Discuss this story at:


[File under CCS I guess; but it is going to be energy-inefficient and low-volume I think -W]

By Hank Roberts (not verified) on 12 Sep 2017 #permalink

> [For the West, the “construction” is so diffuse that no-one can be meaningfully blamed more than anyone else -W]

There's a happy coincidence.

[It isn't obvious why it is a "coincidence". What does it coincide with? A generally free society, perhaps? I think it is at least part true that a society that grows is more likely to be free than one that is constructed -W]

Well, as I understand the 'ibertarian notion, sue the bastards is the appropriate remedy for anyone burdened with someone else's externalized costs. Tho' there are accounting problems .....…

"San Francisco and Oakland are suing to get five oil companies, including San Ramon-based Chevron, to pay for the cost of protecting the Bay Area from rising sea levels and other effects of global warming.

"These fossil fuel companies profited handsomely for decades while knowing they were putting the fate of our cities at risk," San Francisco City Atty. Dennis Herrera said in a statement...."

[Sue is one remedy. The hard-core Libs will, I think, try to tell you that works in all circumstances, but I don't think that is believable. The case you point to is an obvious example: it is hard to see how it could succeed, for a number of reasons: (a) per this post; (b) those companies are hardly the only ones; (c) the handsome profits are no longer with the companies, but distributed as dividends to the shareholders. It is weird the way people seem to look upon companies as though they were real people - presumably the same people who are most opposed to the companies-as-legal-people legal fiction -W]

By Hank Roberts (not verified) on 20 Sep 2017 #permalink

Is commenting working again?

[Yes :-). AFAIK it always has been, apart from a brief interruption around "the mgt regrets...", though if you've tried and failed recently, do let me know -W]

>"[(c) the handsome profits are no longer with the companies, but distributed as dividends to the shareholders. -W]"

If someone stole 100k, spent 200k after theft but before being caught but still had assets of 50k, would this be a reason not to sue them for the return of 100k even though may not even recover as much as 50k?

I would say 40K would be a success, but obviously doesn't fully recover 100k.

Should distributed to shareholders be any different from thief spending money?
(Well perhaps it is: if awarded damages of more than company valuation you can threaten to bankrupt company unless shareholders agree to hand over 99% of shares in company to you in exchange for forgiving the debt. This is likely cheaper than administrators fees for you and shareholders retain something. But this is reason to sue rather than giving up on it. Either way, it is the (current) shareholders that suffer from the damages awarded.)

(c) is clearly a reason why it may not fully recover the amount of damages not a reason why the action shouldn't succeed.

Instead how about (d) much of the greenhouse gasses that have been emitted were emitted at a time when either it was not clear there would be adverse impacts (before 1990 ish) or were recent and had little to no impact on trajectory of climate or sea level rise over last 20 years or so. The remainder between these dates is so small it is not clear it has any significant impact?

(Then (b) these 5 companies being sued emitted so little of that....)

[I don't think your thief analogy quite works; recall that the shareholders own the company, and are thus responsible for it. Also, if you're awarded "damages" against the company, on the grounds that the company itself and its entire business model is Evil, then why would you want shares in it? There is no money in the company other than the thing you regard as Evil, so there is no remedy available. It would be entirely hypocritical to do anything other than shut it down -W]

I couldn't comment between late on 21st til 24th, tried a few times without comment appearing but no error message and a couple of times with message saying it looks like you have already said that without the comment ever appearing. I suspect nobody else could comment either because there are no comments after #15 above until 24th Sept.

[I did notice an absence of comments. I just assumed I'd offended everyone :-). If it ever happens again, try email: wmconnolley (at) (I think you already know that; that;s for others) -W]

I don't see what "recall that the shareholders own the company, and are thus responsible for it" has to do with my point. If there are some assets there, then the legal action can 'succeed' even if not fully recover wrong done.

It may well look slightly hypocritical to do other than shut it down, but do you think the law cares?

[I think - but you could try to persuade me otherwise - that I'm not terribly interested in a discussion restricted purely to what courts might decide. I'm also interested in morality; and hypocrisy is part of morality -W]

After awarding damages the law washes its hands of the situation. The person awarded damages can then do what they want to collect what they can. If net asset value on a shutdown of business is as high as share valuation, sure shut it down. But what if net asset value on a shutdown is negative but the company was making large profits and therefore sustaining a large valuation. Some people might decide, who cares if it looks slightly hypocritical, I'll shall swap debt for equity and then sell the equity to get what I can to recover some of my damages. Is this all that hypocritical? After all you might sell to someone who after seeing company valuation wiped out might run it in a way that insists on paying for carbon offsets. This is the new equity buyer's decision not yours (you hope not to own it for long).

[If the companies valuation is wiped out, why would you buy it? This discussion seems to be getting confused; I'm no t convinced it is well-founded -W]

AFAICS some people would do what it takes to recover some of their damages and feel entitled to do that without being worried about any accusation of being hypocritical.

[If a bunch of well-off USAnians can demonstrate convincingly that they have used little or no fossil fuels, then they can sue fossil fuel companies with no hypocrisy. I still don't think any such suit would make any sense, of course, as I've already said. However, there are no such groups; so the question is void -W]

>"[If the companies valuation is wiped out, why would you buy it? This discussion seems to be getting confused; I’m no t convinced it is well-founded -W]"

I wasn't suggesting buying it. I was suggesting that *if* awarded damages of more than the company stock market valuation then you arrange to swap that asset (Company liability) for 99 times more share capital than currently exists. Then you sell those shares. If existing shareholders don't agree to this, then they lose all instead of 99% of value.

If you don't want to discuss 'what courts might decide' then I should probably just stop commenting.

[I didn't say that. I said, "restricted purely to" -W]

It is just that you keep saying silly thing. E.g. I was just responding to
"Also, if you’re awarded “damages” against the company, on the grounds that the company itself and its entire business model is Evil, then why would you want shares in it? There is no money in the company other than the thing you regard as Evil, so there is no remedy available."

by saying actually yes there is a potential remedy and being hypocritical really doesn't get in the way of this.

[No, what I meant was, suppose you think you're entitled to damages from this company, because of the Evil that it has done you, how can you justify taking that money, when you know full well that it can only come from doing equivalent Evil to other people? There's no other source of money in fossil companies; it doesn't come from majick -W]

I am taking remedy as a legal term, so it appears you are discussing legal situation despite saying you are not interested in this and the law is ambiguous so there is no point trying to consider the legal situation.

If there is a group who haven't bought any ff, well they couldn't sue under sale of goods act could they? It is only purchasers that have contracts with ff companies, so the question about a group who haven't bought any ff is perhaps void for a different reason.

More relevant to me seems to discuss the group that has bought ff:

It may well be hypocritical to enjoy benefit of ff knowing they may well damage climate and then sue for the damage. However, the question really is, does this legally stop a group of people from suing on the basis that it is the sellers responsibility to ensure the product is safe in normal use?

If you want to avoid prolonging the discussion of the legal situation, then stopping replying with silly comments that could be interpreted as applying to legal situation might help.

[The legal responsibility to ensure that products are safe only really ought to apply to stuff like woolen leggings, which can be processed in ways that might cause problems for those with sensitive skins; and such people can't really know that before purchase. There's no similar consideration for FF. The damage is know to both seller and purchaser; the seller has no particular advantage (I'm using the simplifying assumption that the "seller" is actually the Giant Evil Corporation, like Exxon; in many cases, though, the ultimate seller is an intermediary) in terms of information, the way the seller of stockings does have, whatever Oreskes may try to tell you -W]

>"[No, what I meant was, suppose you think you’re entitled to damages from this company, because of the Evil that it has done you, how can you justify taking that money, when you know full well that it can only come from doing equivalent Evil to other people? There’s no other source of money in fossil companies; it doesn’t come from majick -W]"

Strange argument. I think the reverse: How can you justify not taking that money? It is only by taking that money that the company will learn that that is not acceptable behaviour. If you let it get away scot free, why would it learn?

[Perhaps we're back to the original argument: if I sell you something Evil, and you and I both know it is Evil, why should you have the right to sue me? Makes no sense to me -W]

BTW I suspect most people willing to sue are quite capable of twisting logic to suit their purposes especially when it suits them financially. So instead of source being evil process done by company the source become a good corrective action by courts and it is better that I get to put it to good use than leave it with evil company that might do evil things with it. Or maybe simpler the process was evil but I am not responsible for that and the money isn't evil it is just a medium for exchange. or.....


>"The legal responsibility to ensure that products are safe only really ought to apply to stuff like ..."

So if the manufacturer didn't know there had been a problem with the washing process, both the purchaser and manufacturer don't know so in same boat and Dr Grant shouldn't be able to sue? Maybe in this case the manufacturer ought to have known and so would still be able to sue.

Sounds like a can of worms to me: Suppose for product X it is decided in one legal case that manufacturers and buyers know equally about some issue with use and so buyers can't sue. Then a manufacturer uses a different process which unknowingly makes the problem much worse. Can a buyer then sue?

So 'only really ought to apply to stuff like' seems a bad idea. The current law AFAIK seems to point to manufacturer is responsible for all products being safe in normal usage or usage the customer has made clear.

I accept there is a possibility for the law to evolve by differentiating ff situation from Grant v Australian Knitting Mills

If buyers knowledge of damage is at least similar to that of sellers and after appropriate period for buyers to digest the information on the issue then further purchases by buyers become in the knowledge of the issue and suing for damages from this point on might be rejected or become rejectable. This might be one way such cases could and perhaps should be differentiated but how courts might differentiate cases is probably deep into wild speculation.

>"[Perhaps we’re back to the original argument: if I sell you something Evil, and you and I both know it is Evil, why should you have the right to sue me? Makes no sense to me -W]"

I think there is a principle of tort that the wrongdoer (tort feasor?) cannot sue someone for their own misdeeds. I have been discussing sale of goods act which is obviously contract law not tort law.

Maybe the law is an ass for not also applying this to contract law? Maybe I have misunderstood and it does.

What should academics addressing the situation do, discuss the law as it appears to be, or go into flights of fancy of what they would like the law to be, or decide lets not speculate and say nothing?

[What should academics do? Obviously, nothing like what the likes of Oreskes are doing, which is to totally misrepresent the situation. Their current behaviour is so far away from ideal that there seems little point in discussing the exact niceties; we're at the gross errors stage. That is, after all, where this post started: "academics" are actually publishing nonsense on the subject -W]

>"[That is, after all, where this post started: “academics” are actually publishing nonsense on the subject -W]"

Yes that is back where you started. But have you learnt anything from our discussions, because this looks like the answer is no?

The original was
"Just to remind you of why the whole thing is bollocks: customers emit CO2, not producers. Don’t blame the people that sold you a thing for your using it. Hopefully that’s bleedin’ obvious4."

You seem to have accepted there was more to think about than just saying it is obvious. However you still seem to be taking a line that seems to amount to saying well obviously the law should work in the way that I think it should work and on that basis what is being said is nonsense or badly biased.

I agree that academics discussing the issue should be critical of their position and discuss the legal position as they see it as standing but also possible ways in which the ff situation might be differentiated from previous case law. If they have done so and concluded there is no realistic prospect of that happening then they should say so.

Given a limited legal understanding, that seems about as far as your criticism can reasonably go.

BTW I would suggest that Richard Lord is a suitable expert. I have probably linked

Without delving deeper into the law, I cannot see that your rather blase attitude of lets assume the law works as I think it should and on that basis these analyses of the situation are clearly rubbish and biased is a justifiable criticism. For all you know these academics could have examined the law in much more detail than you and I and what they are writing might be reasonably justified.

Some criticism may be justified, but without delving further into the actual legal position, wholesale 'it is obviously nonsense or badly biased' criticism doesn't look like it has enough substance to stick.

A perhaps interesting analogy:
The FF companies are providing a "drug" to us "users" who are "hooked" on the use of this destructive material. This has negative social side effects - pollution and climate change. In the current legal system, BOTH drug users and pushers are subject to sanctions.

[It is an analogy, but is it useful? It doesn't capture the obvious positive effects of FF, which is after all why people use them. Perhaps a more interesting analogy might be with roads. Roads have positive effects - that's why we build them - but also negative effects: people die on the roads. Should those injured on roads, and relatives of those who die, be able to sue road-making companies, for the entirely foreseeable effects of their roads? -W]

But is that ordinary usage of roads? I would be more inclined to say roads are safe in ordinary/intended usage than to say ff are safe for ordinary/intended usage.

If someone buys petrol douses themselves and sets him/herself on fire then they shouldn't be able to sue the petrol station. Similarly if someone performs poorly at driving, then they shouldn't be able to sue road builder or government for their own misdeed. We are in tort law here as road user hasn't bought the road so no contract. Hence there is a need to show injury was foreseeable and proximate enough in order to put a responsibility on someone. Roads owned by government would make it hard to argue that government is not acting in best interest of population to best of their ability having weighed economic advantages and injury effects.

[Exactly. And in the same way, the govt - having weighed costs and benefits - allows FF to continue to be burnt; indeed, it burns many of them itself -W]

Suppose we change it slightly to a private racetrack which is not adequately fenced off. There is an economic advantage to not spending money on fencing, does that get them off the hook if someone is injured?

Technically, it is possible to sue in the aftermath of an accident if the road was not adequately maintained, and there is at least some duty of care around dangerous junctions/accident blackspots. As ever, there are grey areas. YMMV(sic.)

I do think that suing FF corporations directly for global warming is wrong, simply because it's what they do, and it would be a strong disincentive for anyone to try anything new if you may be sued decades down the line for then-unknown effects. I would like to see them nailed to the wall for *lying* about AGW, though. Just as with car makers, there is a huge difference between 'We didn't know our cars blew up in minor accidents' and 'We knew but lied about it because it would hurt sales'.

By Andrew Dodds (not verified) on 28 Sep 2017 #permalink

In the current legal system, BOTH drug users and pushers are subject to sanctions.

And look how well that's working!

>"[Exactly. And in the same way, the govt – having weighed costs and benefits – allows FF to continue to be burnt; indeed, it burns many of them itself -W]"

I would suggest that "allows FF to continue to be burnt" is effectively do nothing and this is different from regulating sales or even just requiring warning messages like on cigarette packets.

"indeed, it burns many of them itself" is just being a user not a vendor, like the person suing not the defending companies, so irrelevant, I think.

Despite these differences there may be a defence that there is only a problem if too much ff is burnt and it is too big a problem for any one company so it is government job to regulate and ff vendors have done everything required by government. So if there is any case it should be against government for failing to adequately regulate (and govt could then use weigh costs and benefits as its defence). I have no idea whether ff companies trying this defence have any chance of getting this defence to succeed, but I would think defending companies would try it along with other defences. I would think fair discussion of the situation should mention this.

If car maker knew cars blew up in minor accidents but lied about it because it would hurt sales and they knew but purchasers didn't then yes there is a world of difference. If buyers knew every bit as much of full extent of risk as vendors, then a) is it lying or just keeping quiet/not emphasising it? and b) is there still a world of difference?


More interesting IMHO is whether FF vendors should put great big warming sign on products "May cause climate change unless CO2 is captured or some other carbon offset is performed".

Cigarette companies had to be forced to put such warnings on their products. Should ff vendors put such warnings on their products to reduce risk of being sued and does failure to do on similar 'because it may harm sales' reasoning make them more vulnerable to being sued?

If one company did this, would it harm their sales more than other vendor sales? Possibly would make people less comfortable filling up their car, but would it push people to other vendors? and/or reduce total sales? or perhaps give impression of vendor being responsible so attract sales from other vendors?

[Why restrict it to "FF vendors", by which I guess you mostly mean fuel pumps? Car makers should do the same, airlines (on boarding, and when buying tickets); supermarkets on all products; all household light switches and thermostats; indeed almost every aspect of our lives -W]

>"[Why restrict it to “FF vendors”, by which I guess you mostly mean fuel pumps? ]"

The effects I mentioned happened to discuss fuel pumps, but I didn't intend to restrict it to just fuel pumps. Certainly stations buying from fuel bunkering co, fuel bunkering company buying from refiners and so on up the line might find they need to have it in their contract terms both re using product and advising putting such a notice in terms for resale of product.

You are trying to go too far to make it sound ridiculous. Why do you need it both on airline boarding and on ticket terms and conditions? Similarly why is it needed on switches and thermostats as opposed to just in terms and conditions of electric supply contract?

[I'm trying to make it sound ridiculous because I think it probably is. Putting it into the T+C of your elec contract is pointless, because no-one reads them. Did you think of a reason why supermarkets (and all other vendors, including booksellers) wouldn't have to put a note on every item sold? -W]

Fuel pumps are turn up and use without a contract so has to be a warning notice on the pump. Where there is a contract, then contract terms and conditions seems an appropriate place for such a warning to me.

Sorry forgot to deal with supermarket on all products. If the product isn't ff itself but say pint of milk and there is some ff transport and electric for milking etc intrinsic in the product. I would suggest some sort of appropriate and proportionate level is drawn, so putting on all bottles, jars, bag, boxes, and other containers when they are selling products which aren't ff simply isn't appropriate and proportionate.

Airline sells transport not ff but ff is significant intrinsic part of product and not too difficult to put in terms and conditions of ticket sales so it would be appropriate to do so.

Steel and glass manufacturers using lots of ff might be wise to include such warnings in their T&C of sale. By the time it reaches double glazing or shop selling fridges or whatever, you are mainly paying for peoples time rather than ff so somewhat less clear it is needed but some note in user manual / warranty / T&C might still be appropriate.

Any effects are likely limited, shoppers if they even notice will likely soon think oh, there is that notice again, doesn't it get everywhere and promptly ignore it.

Given this apathy effect, and a small chance that it might make a difference between the company being wiped out or not by litigation, wouldn't it be a sensible for ff companies to implement such a system.

I don't think what I am suggesting is too onerous.

>"pointless, because no-one reads them."

No not pointless, just no effect on shopping habits, there is a difference. T&C are important, just because no one reads them doesn't mean they have no effect. The effect that the ff vendors should want by introducing this is that the responsibility for CC is clearly put on the consumers. You may believe the responsibility is already there, but it is a matter of taking belt and braces approach. If consumers ignore this then they lose any right they may have had to sue.

Should we get really excited about what amounts to a slight bureaucratic failing of ff companies? Possibly not, but it looks to me like ff vendors are taking larger risk than they need to.

This makes no sense. The only reason to produce something is to invite others to consume it. What else would the fossil fuel producers be doing?

This is not a moral judgement. It's about causality. Producers dig the carbon out of the ground. It doesn't mean they're evil, just that they've committed a physical tort. But then you already know that. Were you just waiting for someone to say it for you?