Climate Change and Cigarette Litigation:
How Consumer Protection Laws Will Eliminate Fossil Fuel Emissions

by Daniel Brouse
2016 and 2023

In 2016, I had said: What will create the change needed?
The oil industry is going to be like the tobacco industry. The consumers are going to claim they were misled about the dangers of burning fossil fuels and will file lawsuits against the oil companies. You will not be able to buy oil or get insurance at a reasonable price (similar to what happened to cigarette smokers, or oil could be banned altogether.)

In 2022, WGUR Massachusetts reported, "State attorneys general from around the nation, including here in Massachusetts, are suing fossil fuel companies over climate change. Late last month, the state’s highest court rejected ExxonMobil's bid to dismiss a lawsuit by Attorney General Maura Healey. And yes, you’ve seen this movie before. The states took Big Tobacco to court, and they won. The 1998 Master Settlement Agreement imposed tight restrictions on how tobacco companies can promote cigarettes, and requires tobacco makers to pay billions of dollars in damages to the states annually, for as long as they do business in the U.S."

Commonwealth v. Exxon Mobil Corp.
Massachusetts High Court Affirmed Denial of Motion to Dismiss Attorney General's Climate Change-Related Enforcement Action Against Exxon. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court affirmed a trial court's denial of Exxon Mobil Corporation's (Exxon's) special motion to dismiss the Massachusetts Attorney General's enforcement action alleging that Exxon's communications with investors and consumers related to climate change constituted unfair and deceptive practices. Exxon filed the special motion under Massachusetts's anti-SLAPP (Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation) law, which protects parties exercising their right of petition. The Supreme Judicial Court held that the anti-SLAPP law did not apply to government enforcement actions brought by the Attorney General. The court found that this interpretation was grounded in the statutory language, the rules of construction applicable to enforcement of statutes against the Commonwealth, and the legislative history and purpose of the anti-SLAPP law.

In 2023, the BBC reported, "The findings add to ongoing pressure on the company over what it knew about climate change. Campaigners allege it spread misinformation in order to protect its business interests in fossil fuels and are suing the company in a number of US courts. ExxonMobil's private research predicted how burning fossil fuels would warm the planet but the company publicly denied the link."

The report published in Science will be used as evidence against ExxonMobil:
Assessing ExxonMobil’s global warming projections

However, ExxonMobil continues to deny the facts. "This issue has come up several times in recent years and, in each case, our answer is the same: those who talk about how "Exxon Knew" are wrong in their conclusions," the company told BBC News.

"It really underscores the stark hypocrisy of ExxonMobil leadership, who knew that their own scientists were doing this very high quality modelling work and had access to that privileged information while telling the rest of us that climate models were bunk," Naomi Oreskes, professor of the history of science at Harvard University, told BBC News.

"Our analysis allows us for the first time to actually put a number on what Exxon knew, which is that the burning of their fossil fuel products was going to heat the planet by about 0.2C of warming every decade," says co-author Geoffrey Supran, associate professor of environmental science and policy at the University of Miami.

"Their excellent climate modelling was at least comparable in performance to one of the most influential and well-regarded climate scientists of modern history," Prof Supran said, comparing ExxonMobil's work to Nasa's James Hansen who sounded the alarm on climate in 1988.

Prof Oreskes said the findings show that ExxonMobil "knowingly misled" the public and governments. "They had all this information at their disposal but they said very, very different things in public," she explained.

The research, published in the academic journal Science, also suggests that ExxonMobil had reasonable estimates for how emissions would need to be reduced in order to avoid the worst effects of climate change in a world warmed by 2C or more.

Their scientists also correctly rejected the theory that an ice age was coming at a time when other researchers were still debating the prospect.

The findings add to ongoing pressure on the company over what it knew about climate change. Campaigners allege it spread misinformation in order to protect its business interests in fossil fuels and are suing the company in a number of US courts.

The Human Induced Climate Change Experiment

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