Climate alarmists have lost a major court case that had the potential for turning every weather emergency into endless litigation. It’s a victory for the law, for science and for common sense.
On Tuesday, Federal Judge Louis Guirola Jr., in the Southern District of Mississippi, dismissed the case of Comer vs. Murphy Oil for lack of standing. Gulf Coast property owners had sought to hold a grab bag of energy companies responsible for damage they suffered from Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The plaintiffs claimed the power companies knowingly had endangered them by emitting unsafe levels of carbon dioxide. The case was dismissed in 2007, then resurrected by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2009. The latest ruling should put an end to it.
For the property owners to be able to claim damages, the court would have had to accept some vast logical leaps. First is the highly speculative argument that carbon-dioxide emissions contribute to cataclysmic weather. There is no statistical evidence that hurricanes, tornadoes, cyclones or other extreme weather events have been increasing in frequency. Nevertheless, after every disaster, climate alarmists exploit the suffering by claiming it is an example of “global weirding.” Because warming has stopped, this vague notion - which can encompass just about any weather fluctuation - is all they have.
Second, the court would have to link Hurricane Katrina specifically to carbon-dioxide emissions. It would have to accept that the timing, intensity and route of the hurricane were caused by - or at least unduly influenced by - emissions enough to have caused the disaster. This would be speculative to the point of absurdity. Hurricanes have always been with us. Climatologists still have an incomplete understanding of what causes them and the factors that determine their life cycle. Even uber-alarmist Al Gore said days after the Katrina tragedy that “no single hurricane can be blamed on global warming.” This may be the only thing about the climate he has gotten right.
Third, the court would have to be able to assess exactly how and to what degree the defendants contributed to Katrina. The alarmist argument rests on the presumption that warmer ocean temperatures will create more destructive storms. If that is true, it would be unjust to hold a group of American energy companies solely responsible. The plaintiffs might as well have sued everyone in the world who drives a car, uses a dry cleaner or breathes because all those activities emit carbon-dioxide.
Empowering such expansive lawsuits was the prime motive at work. Warmists sought to establish a legal framework in which torts could be used as handy weapons to intimidate the energy sector or anyone they felt was standing in their way. If the Comer case had gone forward successfully, every major weather event - hurricanes, floods, blizzards, you name it - would have been followed by a barrage of lawsuits filed by affected parties and backed by environmentalist legal teams.
Fortunately, Judge Guirola understood that it takes more than shaky science, a cause celebre and a national tragedy to make a compelling case. The science may not be settled, but hopefully the law is.