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Environment

Planetary Smoking is Dangerous

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Sorry not to have posted much today--both of your bloggers are up to their ears in things. But my latest Science Progress column just went up: It's about recent revelations of the "what did they know and when did they know it" variety concerning the fossil fuel industry and global warming. Here's a sampling of my take:

At this point, anyone who seriously engages with the historical, journalistic, and also increasingly legal record on climate change over the last 20 or so years will find a gap between the state of scientific understanding on the one hand, and what some prominent corporate players were saying on the other. Inevitably, then, industry was either advised competently about the science and ignored it—as the latest memo would appear suggest—or was ill-advised, which is hard to believe given the size and scientific resources of most of these companies. In addition, there’s at least some evidence, cited above, that industry at times set out to fight against the science much like the tobacco industry did—a strategy epitomized by the famous tobacco “doubt is our product” memo. An interesting question now becomes whether someday, all this will matter for anything other than to generate outrage over the fossil-fuel industries’ shenanigans. For instance, the ongoing Kivalina case, a global warming lawsuit which takes on a number of oil and power companies and tries to seek damages for the plight of a threatened Alaskan village, contains a conspiracy charge. As the lawsuit puts it: “There has been a long campaign by power, coal, and oil companies to mislead the public about the science of global warming.” ExxonMobil, in particular, is singled out in the case as “the most active company in such efforts.” In this sense, the latest industry document “helps us factually build the case of what they knew and when they knew it,” explains Matt Pawa, who has specialized in bringing global warming cases against industry and is centrally involved in the Kivalina case. “They clearly had a sense they were causing massive harm to the planet.” But it’s just one piece of evidence to that effect. The real question, over the next ten years, is whether a judge will determine that the fossil fuel industry’s tobacco-like strategy merits a tobacco-like legal verdict.

You can read the full column here.

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