The oil industry just told a judge that climate change is undeniably real, but they still found a way to weasel

Originally published at:


Some people might find this article heartening, even uplifting, seemingly vindicating decades of scientific reason in the face of gross falsehoods and fabrications.

But I’m just tired. Too little, too late.


Alsup is also the judge who oversaw/oversees the Oracle v. Google and Waymo v. Uber suits… as this other Verge article mentions, one of his other skills is programming, which is oddly appropriate for a judge handling Silicon Valley.


The same oil companies that supply the jet fuel so that Mr Doctorow can fly on his jet planes.

But then its easier to blame someone else than actually make the personal sacrifices needed.

Stop putting their petrol in you car and for your jet flights Cory, then you can talk…

What’s the argument for oil company liability for climate change?

Some of their scientists and leadership knew about it a long time ago, but so did “ours”, our academics, researchers and political leadership.

Oil companies pulled it out of the ground, but that was – in part – to meet our demand. They refined it and distributed it, then we bought and burned it.

Oil company executives did lie and hide what they knew, so there’s that. Anything else?


They knew in advance that it was real and a danger and that their products were largely responsible starting with what they were told personally by Edmund Teller back in about 1959. In the 1970s they did their own research showing it was real and suggesting it was accelerating from the 19th and early 20th centuries. In spite of this they concealed the information and spread lies in order to convince the public that it wasn’t real and that they had no part in it strictly to protect their profits. They’re like the tobacco companies only on a planetary rather than an individual scale.


His case is on law - not on facts in evidence. And it seems there is merit. Extracting oil, or coal, or gas from the earth does not cause climate change.
CO2 is caused by burning it. His argument is that Ford, GM power stations should be liable.
The comparison with big tobacco?
well… Calvin: A painting. Moving. Spiritually enriching. Sublime. …“high” art! The comic strip. Vapid. Juvenile. Commercial hack work. …“low” art. A painting of a comic strip panel. Sophisticated irony. Philosophically challenging. …“high” art. Hobbes: Suppose I draw a cartoon of a painting of a comic strip? Calvin: Sophomoric. Intellectually sterile. …“low” art.

I’m not convinced that you need more then that. “It isn’t my fault, I just gave them what they asked for…that I knew was incredibly dangerous in quantities they were using, and I kept selling it…and telling them it was totally safe!”

If it was a lie of omission, maybe it would be different. If it was a lie of intentional obliviousness it might be different. However going to great lengths to muddy the waters about the truth for decades and then pointing at people who you had been attempting to trick for decades, nope. I’m not buying it.

However, I’m not a judge.


I’m glad the oil industry execs are being taken care of. I want them to stay all juicy and tender for when the day comes.

Ah crap. I was hoping there were two of them.

So, because we’re all embedded in a system that deserves criticism, none of us are allowed to criticise it?

I’ll get back to you when I’m off the grid, using a clockwork computer.


This is the argument that anarchists have to smile and roll their eyes at every day.


Who’s smiling?


Climate denial propaganda is a frontal assault on science and on civilisation itself, and it would be constructive and splendid if there were real consequences for the people who dun it. So, I hope this case succeeds as a first step in that direction.

But they’re not on trial to establish their guilt for climate change, and they aren’t guilty of that. More or less, no one is. It might feel satisfying to rage against oil companies for doing this to us, but it’s morally and factually wrong. They never planned climate change and they have no more power over it than the rest of us – if they all switched to making bead necklaces tomorrow, hundreds of millions would be dead within a year.

I mention that because if we don’t focus on the real crime against humanity – the propaganda – then we might forget to smite the other propagandists who aren’t on trial yet, like the Kochs and Rupert Murdoch.


The comparison with Big Tobacco is obvious: Philip Morris didn’t actually light the cigarette and stick it in your mouth, they didn’t actively go in and smear tar in your lungs, but they sold you the poison to do that with, and they told you the lies that it was all ok.

For this they were found liable.

In this case, it’s exactly the same: they’re selling is the poison, and have been telling us – and, most importantly, lobbying Congress and giving them shaky “scientific” arguments to allow them to justify voting in their favor after pocketing millions – that climate change is not caused by humans.

The new lawsuits will benefit from revelations about what fossil fuel companies knew about climate change and when they knew it. In the years since Kivalina, reporting by InsideClimate News and others has shown that fossil fuel companies, Exxon in particular, conducted their own research in the 1970s and ‘80s confirming the risks posed by greenhouse gasses. Internally, companies prepared their own infrastructure for climate change, raising the decks of drilling platforms and designing pipelines for predicted rising seas and melting permafrost. But externally, they denied the risk, marketing and selling fossil fuels while sowing doubt about climate change through front groups. The suits compare the disinformation campaign to that waged by tobacco companies, a comparison made easy by the fact that both industries paid some of the same people to downplay the danger.


That’s totally different. They made the product, advertised how to use it.
There are loads of extraction companies that pull poisonous stuff out the ground Phosphorus, arsenic, heavy metals - it’s a question of what’s done with them. You have misunderstood the industry and the law

The issue is not that they mined carbon fuels. The issue is that they created a massive disinformation campaign in order to disguise the known harms of the product they were selling.

Selling arsenic as arsenic is fine; pretending that it’s baby formula is not.


But Big Oil learned from Big Tobacco’s failure. There’s a reason Ted Boutros knew the 2013 IPCC report inside and out: the statute of limitations for fraud under California law is three years, and Big Oil’s strategy will be “we disclosed our agreement with the big IPCC report back in 2013, so by waiting until 2017 to file suit, the plaintiffs have admitted their claims are untimely.”

This is a key passage from the article:

The legalistic reading of the IPCC’s statements was frustrating to Allen, he said in an interview with The Verge after the tutorial concluded, because to scientists, the evidence and context are more important than the language. “The question of whether somebody writing a scientific paper uses the word ‘likely’ or ‘very likely’ is kind of neither here nor there,” Allen says. “What’s actually said is not nearly as important as what the evidence is to support it.”

The scientist doesn’t like terms such as “very likely.” But we’re in a courtroom, not the pages of Nature. “More likely than not” is the plaintiffs’ burden of proof, not some annoying verbiage.

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