The City of New York is suing five major oil companies claiming that they have knowingly produced and marketed oil and gas that is causing catastrophic climate damage. The City’s Counsel is using a non-existing case as part of a PR campaign. The brief is an example of the lawyer’s rule: when the law is against you, argue the facts; when the facts are against you, argue the law; and when both are against you, pound the table and yell—a PR stunt.
The heart of the City’s argument is ascribing certainty of knowledge where no certainty exists, impugning the integrity of those who don’t embrace the climate orthodoxy and claiming intentional deception.
The idea that companies and their scientists knew in the 1970s that CO2 from fossil fuel combustion would cause catastrophic climate change is pure nonsense. In the 1970s, there was concern about global cooling as was documented by the first Secretary of Energy, the late James Schlesinger. Concern about global warming that followed the cooling concern was led by the leaders of the Club of Rome which predicted the end of mankind within decades. The flawed predictions, based on a complex computer model, were widely criticized and discredited but like all zealots many of the Club’s members moved from Limits to Growth to an impending climate catastrophe without missing a beat. Their predictions of climate catastrophe and James Hansen’s were based primarily on models which continue to overstate warming and climate events as was demonstrated by Professor John Christy in Congressional testimony in 2106.
The limits of models should not surprise anyone since our understanding of many climate processes that are included in models is far from certain and as has been documented by the IPCC—clouds, solar irradiance, oceans, and aerosols, and climate sensitivity. A major problem with predictions are the complications caused by the climate system being chaotic. The father of chaos theory, Ed Lorenz, in 1991 stated, “We note the consequent difficulty in attributing particular real climate change to causes that are not purely internal.” He also said, chaos theory “will tell us that there is a limit to how far ahead we can predict, but it may not tell us what this limit is. Perhaps the best advice that chaos theory can give us is not to jump at conclusions; unexpected occurrences may constitute perfectly normal behavior.”
The City also claims that these companies acting through the American Petroleum Institute (API) and Global Climate Coalition(GCC) engaged in a concerted deception of the public as to the damaging effects of climate change from burning fossil fuels. That charge is absolutely false. Neither API nor the GCC ever denied the reality of climate change—called global warming back then–, the fact that CO2 contributed to warming, or that human activities affected climate. What both organizations did say was that the extent of uncertainty about the impact of human activities did not justify the mandatory emission reductions endorsed by Vice President Gore and the IPCC or the economic damage that they would cause.
The City’s brief would lead a reader to believe that the oil industry refused to take any action on CO2 emissions. That also is absolutely false. In Kyoto and subsequently, the GCC and API told VP Gore and White House staff that it would work with the Administration on adopting and promoting voluntary programs, that it would support additional R&D on new energy technologies, and it would work with the Administration to promote the adoption of energy technologies by developing countries. That offer was rejected because neither the oil industry nor any GCC member was willing to adopt the mandatory actions that were part of the Kyoto Agreement.
One of the most offensive parts of the City’s brief is its slander of the late Fred Seitz who can’t defend his good name. The City has accepted uncritically the calumny of Naomi Oreskes who among other things slanders Seitz for overseeing research sponsored by Reynolds tobacco. Oreskes might not be aware but the City’s Counsel should know that a company has a legal duty to have the knowledge of an expert. Turning to someone who was a past president of the National Academy of Sciences and Rockefeller University would demonstrate that it took this obligation seriously.
The weakest part of the City’s case is ignoring the tremendous economic benefits and progress that fossil fuels have made possible around the world. It is only necessary to look at the plight of under developed countries where over 1 billion people lack access to commercial energy. Does the City and its Mayor really want Americans to live that way?
If the Mayor was engaged in more than a public relations campaign, he would ban cars and trucks from New York. He knows, however, that if he tried to ban cars and trucks from the city he would be recalled and run out of town on today’s equivalent of a rail.
New York has real problems and their neglect is made worse by the Mayor’s folly and the waste of funds on frivolous litigation.