Climate change: Dogs of law are off the leashWhile this is not a legal tsunami washing over the court system quite yet, it's clearly being seen as a "growth sector" for the future:
Imagine: a country or an individual could get redress for a drought that destroyed farmland, for floods and storms that created an army of refugees, for rising seas that wiped a small island state off the map.
In the past three years, the number of climate-related lawsuits has ballooned, filling the void of political efforts in tackling greenhouse-gas emissions.
Eyeing the money-spinning potential, some major commercial law firms now place climate-change litigation in their Internet shop window.
Seminars on climate law are often thickly attended by corporations that could be in the firing line -- and by the companies that insure them.
But legal experts sound a note of caution, warning that this is a new and mist-shrouded area of justice.Please, do read the whole thing.
Many obstacles lie ahead before a Western court awards a cent in climate damages and even more before the award is upheld on appeal.
"There's a large number of entrepreneurial lawyers and NGOs who are hunting around for a way to gain leverage on the climate problem," said David Victor, director of the Laboratory on International Law and Regulation at the University of California at San Diego.
"The number of suits filed has increased radically. But the number of suits claiming damages from climate change that have been successful remains zero."
Lawsuits in the United States related directly or indirectly almost tripled in 2010 over 2009, reaching 132 filings after 48 a year earlier, according to a Deutsche Bank report.
Elsewhere in the world, the total of lawsuits is far lower than in the US, but nearly doubled between 2008 and 2010, when 32 cases were filed, according to a tally compiled by AFP from specialist sites.
The majority of these cases touch on regulatory issues and access to information, which can have many repercussions for coal, gas and oil producers and big carbon-emitting industries such as steel and cement.
"In this area, the floodgates have opened," said Michael Gerrard, director of the recently-opened Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School in New York, who contributed to the Deutsche Bank report.
In the United States, many cases seek clarification on the right of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, while in Europe, the main issue has been emissions quotas allotted to companies in Europe's carbon market.
In some cases, courts have thrown out the suits, admitted part of them or declared themselves unfit to issue a ruling and booted the affair to a higher authority.
The legal fog is especially thick when it comes to so-called nuisance suits, which seek to determine blame, and thus open the way to damages.
"There are billions of potential plaintiffs and millions of potential defendants," said Gerrard. "The biggest problem, though, is causation."
Gerrard and others pointed out some of the dilemmas for establishing liability, starting with the fact that fossil fuels are used, by all of us, in complete legality.
And a molecule of CO2 is no respecter of national boundaries. Gas emitted by a car in Los Angeles or by a coal plant in China will help drive climate damage in South Asia, Europe, the North Pole -- anywhere.
Then there is the business of distinguishing between weather and climate. For instance, hurricanes, droughts and floods have always occurred in human history. Can one, or even several, of these be pinned to human meddling in the climate system?
And there's a further complication: rich nations were the first to plunder the coal, oil and gas that powered the industrial revolution, but they are now being overtaken by China and other fast-growing but still poor giants.
So who is to blame? And to what degree?
Those industries who have provided petroleum for plastics, our cars, coal and fuel oil to keep us warm and provide electricity, steel for our buildings, ships and automobiles and cement for our roads are now being prepared as sacrifices on the "green" altar of environmentalism.
I'll be the first to admit that all of these industries have been guilty of fouling the air and the water. The fact is, however, with each succeeding year, comes new technologies that have reduced this repulsive and unhealthy byproduct of industry. The air and the water are far cleaner as a result of this technology than they were decades ago and this trend continues apace.
The "Green Movement" can be a good guide as to how we can continue to use technology to satisfy environmental preservation, as well as increased industrial development and production, but many choose a more radical course. Alas, the "Green Movement" has become an alarmist community that seems insistent upon stifling development and production and, at their fringes, literally questioning man's very existence on the planet.
The movement of this environmental war into the courts is not a good development for anyone; artificial "good guys" and "bad guys" have already been created and litigation will cause further alienation and forestall any hope of cooperation.
Environmental warriors must learn the value of patience and understand the meaning of the proverb "Rome wasn't built in a day". As is the case with any campaign, wars are won by a succession of small victories; that is the way industrial progress is made as well. "Wanting it all now" can not only be self-defeating, it could very well have a very real and very negative impact upon economies and future development.
As for me, I am simply not willing to give up warmth in the winter, cool air in the summer, personal transportation, fresh food on my table and all of the other advantages of living in a 21st century western society. Technology and industry have produced advancements I never thought possible and, if allowed to, we will continue to marvel at what we "can do" as we move into the future. Can we have all of these things in a way that doesn't "destroy the planet"? Well, of course we can.
The answer, however, lies in research labs, not in the courts.