Attribution Science Is Empowering Lawyers To Turn Climate Change Into The Next Asbestos Liability

The work of a Norwegian geography academic is finally bearing fruit. Richard Heede spent a decade trying to determine whether he could pin down to what degree individual companies contributed to climate change.

By 2013, according to this report in Politico, he had his answer. Heede determined that through mergers and acquisitions and other economic activity, 90 companies worldwide were responsible for emitting nearly two-thirds of the world’s greenhouse gases since the dawn of the industrial revolution.

So what does this mean? In the area of liability, Heede’s discipline of “attribution science” is being put to the test in the courts.

New York’s Attorney General Letitia James sued Exxon Mobil, accusing the company of securities fraud. She alleges that Exxon Mobil was duplicitous in how it measured the impact of carbon-reduction policies on its business.

She alleges that the company had an internal estimate for that cost that was different than the estimate it presented to investors.

But the potential for liability in this case goes far beyond Exxon Mobil’s clash with James.

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