In The City of Paris goes full stupid – considers climate lawsuit over flooding, Anthony Watts discusses the movement that seeks to place responsibility for weather disasters allegedly caused by climate change on fossil fuel companies. Specifically:
The City of Paris decided today to explore possibilities to sue the fossil fuel industry for causing climate damages, following the example of New York and other US cities.
The Paris initiative was triggered by flooding caused by heavy rains, which supposedly resulted from climate change allegedly caused by burning of fossil fuels. Watts cites a FUBAR press release from Bill McKibben’s 350.org.
“It’s fantastic news that cities like New York and Paris are stepping up to protect their citizens and hold fossil fuel corporations accountable for the harm they cause. This is a major breakthrough for divestment campaigners around the world that have been pushing cities to take a stand against the polluters wrecking our climate.”
My emphasis. But the fossil fuel companies are in business only to the extent that consuming citizens that McKibben and his anti-energy ilk claim to want to protect voluntarily buy their products. This is true of every industry. If a consumer buys a product, and uses it the way it is intended, then the consumer is responsible.
If a gun buyer kills someone, the buyer, not the gun manufacturer, is the guilty party.
If a drunk drives off in his car and kills someone, it’s the car buyer, not the car manufacturer, that is the guilty party.
If I dump old paint into a stream, it is I, not the paint company that sold me the paint, that is guilty of polluting.
Likewise, if we accept the Paris argument on its face, if I buy a tankful of heating oil for the oil burner that heats my house and supplies hot water, it is I, not the company that provided me the heating oil, who is guilty of causing the floods.
My question is, aren't the consumers of fossil fuels at least as legally liable as the companies? After all, it’s well known that burning fossil fuels releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. So consumers know full well (or should know) of the alleged climate effects of the fossil fuels they willingly use. This means that the inhabitants of Paris, who drive cars, use electricity, buy food produced on farms using fossil fuel-powered equipment, and virtually any good produced in a modern factory, are themselves guilty of causing the flooding in their city. What about the city officials, who failed to ban the use of any energy produced with the product of the fossil fuel industry and who allowed the sale of myriad products within city limits that was produced in factories using fossil-powered energy?
In dismissing a climate change damage lawsuit based on the reasoning of the City of Paris, Federal Judge William Alsup correctly observed:
With respect to balancing the social utility against the gravity of the anticipated harm, it is true that carbon dioxide released from fossil fuels has caused (and will continue to cause) global warming. But against that negative, we must weigh this positive: our industrial revolution and the development of our modern world has literally been fueled by oil and coal. Without those fuels, virtually all of our monumental progress would have been impossible. All of us have benefitted. Having reaped the benefit of that historic progress, would it really be fair to now ignore our own responsibility in the use of fossil fuels and place the blame for global warming on those who supplied what we demanded? Is it really fair, in light of those benefits, to say that the sale of fossil fuels was unreasonable?
Fossil fuel villainization from the climate warriors are not looking to “protect our citizens.” They are among our greatest enemies by seeking to take away the vital energy that every aspect of our lives depend upon. But if there is blame to be placed, every consumer need only look in the mirror.
The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels—Alex Epstein