Litigation: We wondered what trial lawyers would gun for next after smoking the tobacco industry. Fast-food chains? Soft-drink bottlers? Gun makers? How about companies that contribute to . . . global warming?
Alas, the last example isn’t far from the truth. According to news reports, trial lawyers are setting their sights on companies and their carbon dioxide emissions.
Jonathan Lash, president of the World Resources Institute, a Washington think tank, was the first to sound the warning. He predicted in the Toronto Star last April that "companies that generate significant carbon emissions face the threat of lawsuits similar to those common in the tobacco, pharmaceutical and asbestos industries."
Now, courtesy of the New Jersey Star-Ledger, comes word that "the legal world has been jumping on the bandwagon of those convinced the issues of global warming and climate change are here to stay — and could even prove to be a lucrative new field."
"These days," the Star said in its July 8 issue, "it seems everyone wants to get in on the act, from big law firms starting specialty practice groups, to solo lawyers working on projects, to law schools adding classes devoted to the subject."
Howard Latin, a law professor at Rutgers University, told the newspaper that global warming litigation is "going to be one of the biggest legal practices in the next 20 years." He’s even begun discussing global warming in the toxic torts and product liability classes he teaches.
"It’s a whole new industry, so there’s always a lot of legal work," agrees Edna Sussman, chairwoman of an American Bar Association committee on renewable energy resources.
Targets of global warming litigation could range from automakers and energy producers to airlines and home builders. Any business, in other words, that puts out, or is thought to put out, large amounts of CO2 — and which of course has deep pockets.
The trial bar has already shaken down the tobacco industry for nearly $250 billion. With a wide and deep pool of possible victims to choose from, how much sweeter does this racket promise to be?
We wish we were just engaging in fearful speculation. But already, says Georgetown University Law Center fellow Justin Pidot, at least 15 climate-change lawsuits are under way or pending across the U.S.
That, we assume, includes litigation in Mississippi, where a class action has been filed against a dozen oil and coal companies claiming they knew their emissions caused the climate change that generated Hurricane Katrina.
Never mind that there’s no evidence, just conjecture, that man is warming the planet, or that climate change is causing stronger and more frequent storms. Lawyers are on a roll — and they’ll roll right through as many wallets as lenient judges and compliant juries allow.