In a way, it is nice that the weather has calmed down a bit because that gives me a chance to blog about a few other interesting things going on in the world of science and weather. By the way, the weather still looks sunny from today through Monday. The next chance of rain looks to be Tuesday night into Wednesday morning. One thing that popped onto my radar screen again today is the effort by some to sue for damages over weather events theoretically linked to AGW (anthropogenic global warming). This was brought up in the context ofthe recent Pakistani flooding. To me, at this point in time, with current evidence, the thought of AGW lawsuits is nonsensical on so many levels that I do not know where to start. Perhaps the weather is the best place.
The weather changes. Extreme weather events happen every year. Record-setting events happen every year. This has been going on not only for the short time that humans have been keeping track of the weather, but for the entire life of the earth itself. So many record-setting cold weather events occurred around the middle of last century that a large and influential group of scientists publicly worried about the onset of a new ice age. In the 1930s, long-lasting heat waves in the U.S. were common, deadly, and devastating. In Wausau, the high temperature in July of 1936 reached 97 or higher on nine consecutive days. On six of those days the temperature reached the 100s. No doubt if we had such a heat wave in the present, a great media storm about global warming would erupt. Back in the 30s, people adapted, survived, and soldiered on with no thought of suing anyone over the weather. Before the U.S. was settled completely, the droughts in the West (according to tree ring and other analysis) were much worse than the 1930s, lasting several decades at a time. Extreme weather happens. It would happen whether or not humans even existed on the earth, which brings us to the legal aspects of this story.
Humans are the only species on the planet that could even comprehend suing one another over the weather. During the evolution of animal and plant life on this planet, different forms of flora and fauna have radically altered not only the weather but also the very composition of the atmosphere. Only now, as humans exert at least a small (but possibly more significant) influence on the weather and climate is there a thought of suing for damages. Evolution is now malfeasance, I guess.
Moving beyond the esoteric evaluation of evolution and what it means to sue life forms that are inextricably linked to changes on the planet, what about the nitty gritty of lawsuits?
How does one conclusively prove an intent to cause harm, or even criminally negligent behaviour when all you have are computer simulations producing a guesstimate of the likelihood that a weather event was caused or influenced by human behavior? There is no one in the world or no country of the world that has direct control of the weather or climate. Next, how do you pin down the legitimate litigant(s) or defendant(s)? Almost everyone in the world benefits from the use of fossil fuels. Do people who use less modern technology have greater standing to sue than others? Is there some sort-of sliding scale that would be developed based on per-capita energy consumption? I ride a bike to work, organically grow much of my own food, keep my house at a cool 63 degrees during the winter, and most importantly for the future environment - I don’t have kids. I guarantee there are at least a few victims of extreme weather events (even in less-developed countries) that have more kids, are richer, and use more energy than me. I am already making small sacrifices to limit my impact. Why should I have to pay money to some people who have a greater theoretical impact on the environment and future climate? (I am assuming the U.S and Europe will pay the brunt of AGW lawsuits) .
Or wrap your head around this – the European heat wave of 2003. Do Europeans sue themsleves? Theoretically, they caused most of the carbon emissions throughout 19th and 20th century, either directly or indirectly through immigration to the U.S. How does one sue oneself? Do you go to the laywers office and say “I want to sue myself, how do I go about that”? I suppose the lawyer wouldn’t mind as long as he/she gets 30% of the payout, or pay-in, or whatever it would be called. LOL.
What about a statute of limitations? Many have argued that past wars, such as the early 90s conflict in Ethiopia were caused by climate change. Do Ethiopians now have a standing to sue…to sue…someone…over the drought and resulting war?
What about confronting your accuser? In the U.S., everyone has a right to confront their accuser in court. If my tax money is going to pay some lawsuit from some weather event, don’t I get a chance to confront the accuser(s).
What about weighing the positive and negative. The use of fossil fuels has lifted the world out of subsistence living. Fossil fuels made possible almost every good thing we see in the world today. Everything that has raised the standard of living for billions of people was made possible through fossil fuels. Even if it was more conclusive that a majority of global warming was caused by humans, are we to blame for wanting a safer, more comfortable, and longer life using the cheapest most readily available fuel? Is it criminal?
Following this line of thought, there is also the fact that we are on the precipice of an energy revolution and we would not have arrived at this point without fossil fuels. Every dollar that flows into a weather lawsuit is one less dollar for the building of a clean energy future.
It used to be that the better nature of people led to personal help and charity after extreme weather events. Now with the weather, like most everything else that is being criminalized, it is TIME TO SUE! Come to think of it, that drought last Summer in Wisconsin caused me to work extra hard watering my garden under the hot sun. It was tough work. I lost sleep. My garden did not produce as good as this year. Maybe I can sue for pain and suffering. I figure it might be worth $10,000. Now who do I sue? I hope it is not myself.
Have a good Thursday! Meteorologist Justin Loew.
Posted under AGW, Climate Change
This post was written by jloew on August 26, 2010