Prosecuting Big Oil for Climate Deaths  

Prosecuting Big Oil for Climate Deaths by John M Repp

Harvard Environmental Law Review recently accepted a 70-page paper to be published in 2024, suggesting that prosecutors start charging the big oil companies with homicide for the deaths caused by climate change. Oil companies have already been sued by cities for financial damages caused by heat waves, wildfires, and rising seas. And federal prosecutors charged British Petroleum with manslaughter for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster. The company pleaded guilty and paid billions in fines and penalties.

It is well known that the oil companies were told by their own scientists as early as the 1950’s that the use of their product would cause climate change. Their response was many massive campaigns to call the science into doubt or put forward the idea that the users of their product were the guilty party. They want us to focus on the question: “What is your climate footprint?”  Such campaigns of denial are very close to the culpable mental state involved in criminal activity.

Climate scientists have been able to determine not that fossil fuel burning causes tornados or tropical storms, but that we now have more powerful tornados and storms due to the use of fossil fuel. This finding is the work of a branch of climate studies called attribution science.

The idea is that prosecution for homicide may be a more effective legal remedy than charges for damages. It would require a district attorney or attorney general’s office to have plenty of resources because the big fossil fuel companies are very profitable and have lots of cash. Climate Advocates have called the idea “brilliant”.