The Most Dangerous Litigation in America
April 14, 2008
(Editor’s Note: Since my initial post about global warming litigation, Shannon Goessling, one of the principal authors of an upcoming study on the subject, agreed to an exclusive interview regarding the trial bar’s tactics. I’ve updated the post to include her comments.)
A new report due in the next couple of weeks from Southeastern Legal Foundation (SLF), with an assist from the American Justice Partnership Foundation, exposes the trial bar’s strategy for turning global warming into the next tobacco and asbestos windfalls – by strangling the ability of business to be environmentally responsible and silencing all dissenting voices who don’t drink the “man-made global warming” Kool-Aid.
A native Eskimo village of about 400 people perched 70 miles north of the Arctic Circle is suing 24 major oil and power companies for “causing” global warming. They want $400 million, the amount they allege it will cost to move the village, which they allege is threatened by the melting of Arctic Sea ice.
But it’s the tactic used by Kivalina’s lawyers that should get our attention. In the upcoming report, the dangers will be spelled out in terms of First Amendment free speech and freedom of association which, according to SLF, are under direct attack in the Kivalina lawsuit.
According to SLF, by casting the lawsuit as an effort to uncover a conspiracy, the lawyers hope to silence all public education and advocacy activity that disputes the conclusion that human activity causes global warming.
SLF’s executive director and chief legal counsel, Shannon Goessling, shared a few exclusive insights with me. Consider the dangers ahead:
“The Kivalina lawsuit breaks new ground by alleging that third-party policy and advocacy organizations are co-conspirators because they dare to speak out on one of the most important issues facing our planet,” she says. “In effect, the tactic is an attempt to bully companies and organizations into silence through litigation.”
“According to the Kivalina lawsuit, any company, organization or individual that publicly addresses environmental issues is subject to the ‘conspiracy,’” says Goessling.
She maintains that the lawsuit attack has turned the First Amendment on its head by making public education and debate on the environment a criminal act. “Disagree with Kivalina’s lawyers and you’re breaking the law,” says Goessling.
Another groundbreaking tactic used by Kivalina’s lawyers – any ‘green-friendly’ program or education effort offered by the energy producers is ‘evidence’ of global warming liability.
“By citing information from the defendants’ web sites and marketing materials, the lawyers are trying to establish that some ‘green’ programs are merely remedial measures to cover up global warming liability,” says Goessling. “They’ve blurred the important line between market-driven, environmentally responsible corporate programs and global warming causation. And, more importantly, they are attempting to silence legitimate public debate on climate change by stigmatizing those who differ with the ‘man-made global warming’ dogma.”
You don’t need to be steeped in the history of the asbestos and tobacco lawsuits to see where this is headed. If the Eskimos succeed – or, more precisely, if the trial lawyers who are using the Eskimos succeed – not only will every imaginable company become a target for global warming lawsuits, but every company, group, scientist, or public advocate that says anything about the environment will be a “conspirator.” If they win, the public debate goes silent, and the trial bar controls the entire playing field.
That’s what makes this case “the most dangerous litigation in America.”