William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Attention Lawyers: New Way To Sue Over Global Warming

Remember old Ned Comer? Old Ned was a good old boy who got walloped by Hurricane Katrina.

Yes, sir, it rained on old Ned and he did get wet. He took his drenching like a cat; which is to say, badly.

He figured that because Katrina had caused him harm, it had to be someone’s fault. Accidents just don’t happen: they are planned, deliberate actions by nefarious beings. This is, is it not?, the prevailing belief of our age.

Old Ned sued: he found a lawyer to help him discover whose fault Katrina was. They had two rules which governed their search for a culprit:

  1. The person or business responsible had to appear plausible,
  2. This person or business had to have a lot of money.

They chose Murphy Oil as their main target, but they tacked on a few other energy companies on the theory that since they were already handing in the paperwork, it would be a shame to limit the potential cash payout.

The suit made its way up through the judicial hierarchy, sometimes rising, sometimes falling. Alas, the suit was at last dismissed based on a legal formula more complicated than any devised by an alchemist. The complete story is covered by SPPI.

Importantly for lawyers, the suit was not dismissed in the sense that future suits based on the same reasoning that old Ned used will be disallowed. Stated more plainly, there are still opportunities for attorneys to cash in on this new field of suing.

According to SPPI, the theory guiding these suits is simple for any Mississippi jury to follow. All you have to do is claim what old Ned did: A (rich) company “(a) generated greenhouse gases (b) which caused global warming, (c) which increased global surface air and water temperatures, (d) which in turn caused a rise in sea levels and strengthened Hurricane Katrina, and (e) which all then combined to damage their homes and property.”

So much you already knew. But I promised a new way to sue, and so here it is.

The key in my innovative theory comes in understanding two points: (1) you must demonstrate, by a short a causal chain as possible, the tie between any piece of weather and any adverse event your client claims to have suffered; and (2) that the causal chain need not be limited to greenhouse gas creation.

Incidentally, I emphasize weather and not climate, because nobody or nothing experiences climate. People and things instead experience a succession of weather. This is important to understand because you would not want to limit yourself to suits only involving climate. Stated more plainly: there are more chances to sue over weather.

In 1963, Ed Lorenz gave us his “Deterministic Nonperiodic Flow”, a paper in which he introduced chaos to the meteorological community. Have you heard of it? Chaos, I mean; not the paper (which is lovely).

Lorenz’s paper entered the folkways with the idea that a butterfly could flap its wings in Cleveland and a week later a rainstorm would fall on a farmer’s crop in South Carolina. The idea is that small perturbations to the weather/climate system can grow into large, possibly devastatingly suable effects.

Perhaps you don’t see the magic of this method, its stunning generality and lucrative nature. Here is an example of how to implement it.

Bill Gates drives his car to the grocery store, an activity which agitates, mixes, and messes with the air, such that the turbulence surrounding his jalopy eventually makes its way to the jet stream, pushing it slightly off course, and thus directing a storm that would have hit an unpopulated area smack into your client’s backyard.

Not only is Gates, a very rich man, responsible for any ensuing property damage, but we also have to consider the emotional distress caused his hedonistic driving. Certainly millions worth of distress points!

Well, you get the idea. The only difficulty I foresee is that this stratagem will become so successful, that you’ll soon run out of moneyed victims. All of what’s left of value will be left only in lawyers’ hands. What to do then?

Sue each other! And do it before the other guy sues you. Sure, there are unstated rules about this kind of thing. But are you going to let mere etiquette stand in your way when to not sue means you will be responsible for destroying the planet? To ask this question is to answer it.

By the way, I expect a healthy cut from any and all successful lawsuits. And I prefer cash, not checks.

6 Comments

  1. Michael Sittnick

    4 June 2010 at 10:00 am

    “Bill Gates drives his car to the grocery store, an activity which agitates, mixes, and messes with the air, such that the turbulence surrounding his jalopy eventually makes its way to the jet stream, pushing it slightly off course, and thus directing a storm that would have hit an unpopulated area smack into your client’s backyard.”

    Does he get any sympathy for all of the times that his car pushed the storm OUT of harm’s way?

    If I get sued, can I maintain that the law firm is causing environmental damage that affected my allergies by the turbulence caused by their trips to the courthouse?

  2. Mr Gates has asked me to inform you that, during the trip to the shops as specified, a pedestrian wandered into the roadway in front of Mr Gates and caused him to brake suddenly. Thus the usual smooth flow of his necessary trip for supplies was interrupted, disrupting the usual perturbations caused by his passage and substituting another, radically altered, set of initial conditions. It is our contention that it was this abnormal set of circumstances that cause the storm in the plaintiff’s back yard. We ask for all claims to be dismissed and counter-claim for $100,000,000 in costs and damages.

    We don’t take cheques either.

  3. Send contributions to my pet charity, “CollectingOldBusesInWhichToCarryLawyersOffCliffs.org”. As soon as enough buses are available, and a huge storm is upon us to mask the additional airflow, we’re off for Yosemite.

  4. On the other hand …

    IF:
    “Global Warming” is found NOT to be caused by human/industrial release of CO2 AND IF large publicly held companies are found to have spent billions of dollars needlessly reducing their CO2 emissions OR developing products to do same AND IF the combination of these “IFs” results in a reduction in earnings followed by a fall in stock prices …

    THEN:
    Injured parties (stockholders) will possibly sue the deep pocket institutions that posited the CO2-Global Warming link for untold billions of dollars. Institutions such as universities with giant endowments and perhaps the United Nations. Especially if they knew or should have known that their research was faulty. Bad record keeping, lack of supervision and all that.

  5. Bill Gates pays umpteen $millions in taxes. Those taxes are used to build highways. Therefore, Bill Gates is directly responsible for every traffic accident that ever occurs on any Washington or Interstate highway. Ipso facto Q.E.D.

    If Bill Gates was not so irresponsible and negligent, he would not earn so much money and would not incur such a huge tax liability. It is truly all his own fault. Nolo contendre.

  6. Bill gates drove his car on the right side of the road, thus passing port-to-port with drivers in the other lane. He has increased cyclonic vorticity in the air as a result, which flows from Seattle over the northern Great Plains, where that vorticity contributes to a tornado a few days later.

    Bad Bill. Bad.

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