One of our local counties here in Oregon recently filed a lawsuit against several fossil fuel companies in an attempt to hold them responsible for a deadly heat wave (a "heat dome" caused by a hot air mass under a large area of high pressure) that occurred in the Pacific Northwest in 2021. The suit alleges that the companies’ greenhouse gas emissions played a significant role in causing the heat dome, and that studies have now shown the connection.
I agree that improving attribution science will incentivize more litigation. But I wonder if it will result in the verdicts and monetary awards being sought.
Fossil fuels globally have historically earned about ~$1.5 trillion annually (higher last year). Total global market value of the industry is ~$5 trillion. Multnomah County is asking for $50 billion. Let's hypothetically say they are awarded $10 billion (with $3 billion going to the lawyers who took the case on a contingency basis). What happens next is likely to be 1,000 similar lawsuits (minimum) filed almost immediately around the U.S. and the world -- arguably leading to a sudden collapse of the global fossil fuel sector.
IMAGINE the implications. It is those implications that will probably be most on trial. Even taking attribution for granted, what are the questions that a judge and jury will have to grapple with in order to come a "climate-favorable" verdict? To list just a few:
A leading lawyer at a public trust conference some years ago noted that a judge (and presumably a jury) would be "insane" to deliver the kind of outcome being requested by Multnomah County. That still seems true, regardless of improvements in attribution science and regardless of how alarmed one is about climate change - as indeed I am!