Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Heated Lawsuits

Katrina was a disaster so someone must be responsible, right? Most of the blame has been going to President Bush but he doesn't have deep pockets so lawyers have moved on to different targets. Who has enough money to attract Katrina-inspired lawsuits? "Dozens of oil companies, utilities, and coal producers, from Chevron and Exxon Mobil to American Electric Power and Xcel Energy."

This will be very tricky to prove. First, the lawyers will have to prove that the world has warmed and that humans are responsible. That alone is tough. There is general agreement that the world has warmed over the last century and a half but many, including the National Council of Scientists, think that there was a period of world-wide cooling prior to that. At least some of the warming can be attributed to the world coming out of a cold phase. How much was natural and how much was human-induced? Both sides can trot out expert witnesses as long as the courts will let them without reaching a consensus.

Assuming that human-induced warming can be proven to the satisfaction of the court, the next question is how much did it influence Katrina? The answer seemed much clearer last year when we had a record number of storms. With only three hurricanes and none causing significant damage, 2005 looks more like a fluke than a trend.

More important, the people who predict hurricanes at NOAA think that Katrina and the increased storm levels of 2005 were part of a natural trend.

So we have three big questions to answer right off the bat - is the world warming, is it human-induced, and did warming cause bigger storms? That still leaves the biggest question - are oil and gas companies responsible for carbon-dioxide output? Yes, if you use their product as intended, it will produce carbon dioxide but the alternative is to put a sudden, complete stop on civilization (and breathing which also produces carbon-dioxide).

Will any court in the land rule that the fuel that runs civilization is a menace and producing it punishable? Well... maybe but I doubt that it can stand on appeal.

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