Key Literature Concerning Climate Change

Two wonderfully researched “must” reads for a better understanding of the debate over climate change are Climate Cover-Up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming by James Hoggan (Greystone Books 2009) and The Climate War: True Believers, Power Brokers, and the Fight to Save the Earth by Eric Pooley (Hyperion 2010). Told from different perspectives, these books explain the global debate about climate change and identify the important players on all sides of the issue.  James Hoggan sets a provocative tone for his book from his opening metaphor: 

We are standing at the edge of a cliff. Behind us is a considerable crowd, 6.7 billion people and counting, and below is a beckoning pool. Some people say that you can jump into that pool without risk. They say that humans have been doing so for ages without any problems. But others say that waves have been eating away at the foot of the cliff, causing big rocks to fall into the water. They say that the risk of jumping grows more frightening by the day. Whom do you trust?

That’s a tricky question because here, on the climate change cliff, some of the lifeguards are just not that qualified, some have forgotten entirely whose interests they are supposed to protect, and some seem quite willing to sacrifice the odd swimmer (or the whole swim team) if they think there is a good profit to be made in the process. That’s what this book is about: lousy lifeguards – people whose lack of training, conflicts of interest, or general disregard have put us all at risk of storming off the cliff like so many apocryphal lemmings. 

What is exciting about Eric Pooley and James Hoggan’s work is that they bring the reader up-to-date concerning an ongoing struggle that requires sound scientific thinking and the best leadership that our country can provide. Everyone recognizes that climate change poses an enormous problem for our future, but there has been to date a disturbing lack of political willpower to address it.



Climate Change Science in the Courtroom

Two electrifying Circuit Court of Appeals cases handed down in 2009 may set the stage for climate change litigation in the years to come. The decisions are Connecticut v. American Electric Power Co., et al., 582 F.3d 309 (2d Cir. 2009) and Comer v. Murphy Oil USA, et al., 585 F.3d 855 (5th Cir. 2009). In both cases, the Court of Appeals reversed the decision of the federal district court and held that the plaintiffs had pleaded adequate facts to permit their cases to proceed. Therefore, unless the United States Supreme Court weighs in and reverses this growing momentum in climate change litigation, it is likely that federal trial courts will be grappling with all of the issues surrounding climate change liability, not least of which will be the science. Did defendant oil and coal producers, chemical companies and coal-using companies bring down the wrath of Hurricane Katrina on the Mississippi plaintiffs? What scientific evidence will be marshaled by plaintiffs to support their allegations? These are the questions that the Comer court will have to grapple with. The very idea that a corporate entity could be found legally responsible for unleashing the catastrophic power of a hurricane would have been unthinkable even ten years ago. Leaving aside epochal issues of public policy, justiciability and theology, the science surrounding climate change litigation will figure prominently in these lawsuits.

An excellent article on scientific issues in climate change litigation, Issues of Proof in Climate Change Litigation, by Francis J. Menton, a partner at Willkie Farr & Gallagher, appeared in The New York Law Journal (12/29/09).  Mr. Menton’s discourse, commencing with the issuance in 2001 of the Third Assessment Report (“TAR”) from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (“IPCC”) and bringing us up-to-date, reads like a Dan Brown conspiracy thriller, replete with conflicting claims and allegations of scientific fraud, data distortion, revelations by whistle blowers, and spoliation of evidence. On the one hand, the climate change plaintiffs allege that there exists a “clear scientific consensus that global warming has begun and that most of the current global warming is caused by emissions of greenhouse gases, primarily carbon dioxide from fossil fuel combustion.” On the other hand, there are those who deny that there is any consensus and that the entire hypothesis of human-caused or “anthropogenic” global warming is an “urban myth.” Undoubtedly, there will be Daubert–driven debates on both general and specific causation in the global warming litigation.

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