The New York Law Journal (Volume 25-No.52) published an article by Michael B. Gerrard on Thursday. In the article, Gerrard tells about the various court cases involving (to some degree or another) climate change (see what I did there?).
In my various dealings with creationists, I have often heard a variation on this threat “I wish I could get you in the courtroom.” I just laugh, because the standard has been set by the Kitzmiller trial*. Judges and courts do listen to scientists. Now let me say, that in the vast majority of cases (I do wonder about a few), a judge’s name is not picked out of a hat. These are intelligent, well-respected people who work hard. And they, in general, have exquisite bullshit detectors.
Anyway Gerrard’s article talks about several cases, most of which you’ve probably never heard of.
First up are the various cases involving Michael Mann. You might know his the creator of the “hockey stick” graph. Using tree rings as proxies, he showed that global temperatures had been gradually declining for the last thousand years, then took a sharp upward turn in the late 19th century and a rapid increase in the late 20th.
Basically someone, no one knows who, hacked the e-mail server for the University of East Anglia and stole thousands of e-mails. The anti-climate change folks went on a quotemining rampage (much like creationists do**). There were a variety of law suits and investigations that had taken place. I’ll mention one interesting one here.
As I said, judges have a remarkable ability to detect bullshit. In this case, the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) accused Mann of fraud. Mann filed a lawsuit against CEI for libel and intentional infliction of emotional distress. CEI claimed that they were shielded by “fair comment” privilege.
The judge, however, disagreed. The court found that Mann had been investigated several times and several bodies found Mann’s work to be correct. In other words, science works. Peer-review and the repetition of experiments and data-analysis showed that Mann did everything correctly and that no manipulation of the data had taken place.
What clinched the case and showed the CEI was intending to cause harm was that several of the investigations have been conducted due to CEI’s accusations. The investigations showed no fraud had occurred and therefore, CEI acted “with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not.”
This is the same kind of thing that gets creationists in trouble. Just ask Michael “I’ve not read those 50 papers and 20 books about evolution of the immune system, but even if I had, they wouldn’t explain how the immune system evolved” Behe.***
Another case was held in Vermont with the auto industry challenging Vermont’s clean air standards. The state called three expert witnesses who talked about the science behind climate change and the implications of human-caused global warming. The industry tried to have the testimony striken on the grounds it was “not reliable scientific evidence”.
The judge decided that the evidence was reliable. I don’t know what exactly happened in this case, but in the Kitzmiller trial, the scientists brought hundreds, if not thousands of scientific papers to support their expertise and evidence. A partial list is read into the court record. I suspect much the same happened here.
Finally, the article talks about the various challenges to the Clean Air Act.
Supreme Court Justice Stevens wrote:
A well-documented rise in global temperatures has coincided with a significant increase in the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Respected scientists believe the two trends are related.”
What was really interesting was the dissenting opinion did not question the climate science. They wrote about the legal consequences, the role of the EPA and the government in dealing with them. But they accepted the fact that human caused climate change is occurring.
Another 100+ cases were taken together as the Coalition for Responsible Regulation v. EPA**** and heard by the D.C. Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.
The D.C. Circuit rejected all of these arguments and dismissed all the petitions. It found that EPA had compiled a very substantial record of scientific evidence on the anthropogenic causes and serious effects of climate change. In an allusion to the Mann studies and others, it stated that “[s]cientific studies upon which EPA relied place high confidence in the assertion that global mean surface temperatures over the last few decades are higher than at any time in
the last four centuries…. These studies also show, albeit with significant uncertainty, that temperatures at many individual locations were higher over the last twenty-five years than during any period of comparable length since 900 A.D.”
The article with examples of how federal agencies have had to deal with suits involving climate change. The Fish and Wildlife Service has properly and improperly used or not used climate change in consideration of the endangered status of species. Various agencies are required to prepare environmental impact statements for “major Federal actions significantly affecting the quality of the human environment”. This could involve coal production, gas standards, and emergency response.
Finally, not mentioned in the article, is that insurance companies are recognizing the danger.
And the industry expects the situation will get worse. “Numerous studies assume a rise in summer drought periods in North America in the future and an increasing probability of severe cyclones relatively far north along the U.S. East Coast in the long term,” said Peter Höppe, who heads Geo Risks Research at the reinsurance giant Munich Re. “The rise in sea level caused by climate change will further increase the risk of storm surge.” Most insurers, including the reinsurance companies that bear much of the ultimate risk in the industry, have little time for the arguments heard in some right-wing circles that climate change isn’t happening, and are quite comfortable with the scientific consensus that burning fossil fuels is the main culprit of global warming.
When it matters, i.e. to major companies profit/loss statements, they take global warming seriously.
There are few left that don’t take it seriously, but they have a large power base and lots and lots of money with which they will so confusion and doubt.
* The talk.origins archive has a complete transcript of the case here. If you are ever bored, read it. First, Drs. Padian, Miller, and Forrest present some good science and good education principles for the science classroom. I would start reading them. Then, for laughs, read Michael Behe’s testimony. Remember that Dembski bailed out on the case (after taking the retainer), which was probably wise, since the plaintiff lawyers wiped the floor with Behe. Finally, it’s interesting to read the non-science testimony from the defendants. They do several things that are plainly illegal. Indeed, Judge Jones suggested filing cases against them, but since they were not re-elected to the school board, it was a moot point.
** It’s amazing that the tactics refined by creationists for the last 60 years or so are now being employed by all manner of anti-science groups. Anti-vaxxers, anti-GMO, and anti-AGW all use the same (wrong) tricks.
*** An actual quote (parphrased) from Behe’s testimony, under oath, during the trial.
**** I greatly suspect that “responsible regulation” means “none”.