The former Department of Justice lawyer who led the watershed lawsuit against tobacco companies, says that the news out today about oil giant ExxonMobil knowing as early as 1981 about the threat posed by climate change could worsen the fossil fuel industry's liability picture.
Not only the media are buzzing over the revelation today that Exxon executives knew as early as 1981 of the significance of climate change and the dangers of carbon dioxide emissions, yet continued to fund scientists and a global misinformation campaign to sow doubt about whether global warming is real for another 27 years. Lawyers thinking of suing the industry for its role in warming the planet will certainly take note of what could be a potent new piece of evidence.
The admission came in an email by Leonard Bernstein, a chemical engineer who was Exxon’s in-house climate specialist.
The revelations in the Bernstein email had a familiar ring to former federal Department of Justice lawyer Sharon Eubanks. Eubanks led DOJ’s successful lawsuit against the tobacco companies under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) laws that proved a fifty-year-long conspiracy by Big Tobacco to create doubt about smoking’s hazards.
Eubanks said the revelations in the Bernstein email could significantly worsen the fossil fuel industry’s liability picture:
“It starts to look like a much longer conspiracy. It’s like what we discovered with tobacco – the more you push back the date of knowledge of the harm, the more you delay any remediation, the more people are affected. So your liability can grow exponentially as the timeline gets longer.”
Image credit: Mike Mozart on Flickr