Episode 19

The climate change lawsuits tsunami spreading around the world while it's raining and snowing plastic everywhere

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The climate change lawsuits tsunami spreading around the world while it’s raining and snowing plastic everywhere

Photo by Assaad W Razzouk

Episode Transcript

Welcome to Episode 19 of the Angry Clean Energy Guy with me, Assaad Razzouk. I am so happy you’re here. Thank you.

Today I want to talk first about climate change lawsuits. Climate change lawsuits matter enormously. They are bubbling below the surface of the daily news grind, but they can make so many companies and they can ruin so many others and they can change the business models that are being applied so destructively to the world at large.

Today I also want to talk about plastics. The news flow over the past two weeks on plastics has been nothing short of horrible. However, there are so many things that we can do to solve the plastics problem once and for all.

On a minor note, the Angry Clean Energy Guy will come back every two weeks. Now that I am at 19 episodes and counting and that the website, https://theangrycleanenergyguy.com/ is up, there is already a wealth of information there, to which I will start adding more slowly.

CLIMATE CHANGE LAWSUITS

So let’s talk about climate change lawsuits. First of all, there are so many – over a thousand in the United States alone. These are generally lawsuits that are trying to hold power to account and by power, I mean Governments on the one hand and polluters on the other hand and polluters would be oil, gas and coal companies.

So there are a thousand over a thousand cases in the United States alone and climate change lawsuits are now spreading like at tsunami across so far 28 countries. The number two country after the United States in terms of lawsuits is Australia with almost 100 lawsuits. Then you’ve got European-wide lawsuits and there are 55 of these, plus 53 in the UK, 17 in New Zealand, 16 in Canada, six in France, three in Ireland. They are also in Nigeria, in the Philippines, in Uganda, in Ukraine, in Sweden, in Poland, in Norway, in the Netherlands.

There are 10 in India, two in Pakistan, three in South Africa, et Cetera.

These lawsuits matter. They matter because what they fundamentally are going after, the question they’re trying to answer, is who should pay for the damage fossil fuels? Who should pay for the fact that we’ve known that increased use of oil, gas and coal is totally destructive to our health and to the planet, and we’ve known that for over 40 years, yet we haven’t done anything about it? So they are about a fundamental question. Oil, gas and coal companies have done anything but try to mitigate any of the damage from their product.

So the climate change lawsuits are not about whether we should or should not use fossil fuels. Any reasonable observer accepts that we will still be using some fossil fuels even beyond 2050 but the point is it should be not even 2% of our energy needs. And so the related question the climate change lawsuits ask is what are the consequences of hiding information that oil companies knew about decades ago, then using massive amounts of money – and we’re talking hundreds of millions of dollars each year – to deliberately misinform the public, to deliberately shift responsibility (and very smartly I must add) to the public, and to keep the politicians globally on message with some of the typical nonsense being, oh, coal is important because it alleviates poverty; or we need coal to power our economies; or gas is clean; or even gas is cleaner than coal; all of which are factually false.

Now, this tsunami of climate change lawsuits terrifies oil companies because oil companies know that they know. It is a matter of public record, that Exxon had detailed forecasts of what’s going to happen to the global climate by now all the way back in 1982: Their internal papers were unearthed and published. They’re dated 12 November, 1982 so Exxon actually confirmed climate change consensus back in 1982 with an in depth inhouse paper and its own climate models. That’s the same company that later would attack climate models as unreliable. It’s the same company that campaigns to stop global action on fossil fuel emissions. They were not alone of course: All the oil companies whose names you might know did the same, so that would be Exxon of course, but also, Shell and BP and Total and Chevron and ConocoPhillips and of course the state owned companies as well around the world. They were all complicit in one way or another with Big Oil, with the big guys, Exxon, Chevron, Shell, total, BP fronting the deceit and the lies.

These guys have been building defenses to their offshore oil rigs for decades to fight against the consequences of rising sea levels and climate change – while at the same time trying to mislead the public and keep politicians on message with hundreds of millions of dollars a year. It’s the same people.

If this rings a distant bell which says tobacco on it, then you are absolutely on message. It’s the right bell. Oil, gas and coal companies have lied for decades about global warming risks, exactly as tobacco companies lied about the connection between smoking and cancer. It’s the same playbook. So today obviously oil and gas companies are desperate to stop the climate change lawsuits that I was referring to because these ultimately would hold them financially responsible for their role in climate change. And if they were held financially responsible, then they wouldn’t have a penny to drill or extract more oil and gas. Their shareholders – obviously those who have not sold out of the stock yet – would be wiped out as well. And we, the citizens, would suffer once again because our pensions, the pensions of the public that are still invested in fossil fuels, would also disappear.

So there’s a whole chain of responsibility here and it doesn’t stop at oil and gas companies, but an easy message for pension funds everywhere is to just sell out of these stocks because they are coming down and they’re coming down in part, I personally feel it’s an important part, because of these climate change lawsuits.

Imagine what would happen the minute an oil and gas executive from Exxon testifies in open court that they knowingly misled the public about the climate threat and that they have done so knowingly since at least 1982.

That’s exactly what happened in the case of the tobacco industry: if you’re sitting on a jury and you hear that executive saying the truth, then obviously you convict and then obviously they have to pay humongously large fines and they might go out of business. The tobacco companies back in 1998 signed on to the largest civil litigation settlement in US history. It forced Big Tobacco to stop advertising, to limit lobbying, to restrict product placement, to fund anti-smoking campaigns, and to pay more than $200 billion over 25 years.

Now, if you put that into perspective, the oil and gas companies are potentially on the hook to pay 10 times, 20 times, a hundred times that amount because what they’ve done is far, far more destructive. They’ve gone after the very fabric of our planet and of our climate and therefore they’ve gone after the very fabric of our civilization for short term profit.

So keep an eye out on this climate change litigation. It can change everything. It can become a huge financial liability on a large segment of the current stock and bond market and that’s the oil companies, the gas companies, the coal companies, but also a lot of other companies that use a lot of fossil fuels in their products including petrochemical companies and cement companies and steel companies.

The climate change lawsuits can also make an enormous amount of companies – and that would be green companies and companies that are substituting for fossil fuels and these are across the transportation sector, soon the aircraft sector, the shipping sector, they are across obviously the electricity sector as well, energy efficiency, buildings, a huge part of the stock market and the bond market and the capital markets. There’s a huge part of our collective wealth that can win big because of these climate change lawsuits and there’s also a huge part that can lose big because the climate change lawsuits tsunami is coming.

You just have to be on the right side of history by investing in green and divesting from dirty oil, gas and coal.

And where this might go, which is also very interesting, is that these climate change lawsuits tsunami could lead the public and governments eventually to treat climate change as a health problem, not just an environmental problem. In other words, and to give an example, you would start putting warning labels on cars and buses and trucks that run on diesel and petrol. School buses that run on diesel for example, should carry a warning right now, and it should say your kids are inhaling this bus’ smoke and what they’re inhaling causes all sorts of respiratory problems. Why don’t they, they should. And that’s without even getting to the climate change dimension of that diesel fuel. Then if parents still want their kids on diesel buses, they can make that choice for themselves. But obviously they won’t. They will ask for electric buses.

Electric buses are already cost competitive today, globally. And I don’t understand why they are not everywhere. So put those warning labels on the buses, on the cars, put the warning labels on the planes, put the warning labels on plastic, put the warning labels on gas heaters, make everyone understand the consequences of their consumer choices, especially when they know or they should know that there are many alternatives. Right now it’s just that in many cases these alternatives are being lobbied out of the market.

There’s a wall of money between the consumer and even a basic knowledge of these alternatives and I very much hope that the climate lawsuits tsunami will dismantle that wall and we’ll do that very quickly by relying on the wisdom of the judiciary and judges in at least the 28 countries where this litigation is underway right now. I publish the transcript of each podcast about two or three days after the podcast goes live. You will find there additional resources that points you to fantastic databases where you can look at every single one of these climate change lawsuits and then decide for yourself where this is going and what to do about it.

RAINING PLASTICS

I want to talk briefly about plastics. Back in April, I was intrigued by a story showing that the French and Spanish Pyrenees mountains had microplastics all over them. According to the research, the scientists discovered that 365 particles of microplastic land on every square meter there, each day. So that’s back in April. And then a couple of days ago I saw another story about plastic that was raining from the sky in the US Rocky Mountains where scientists discovered that microscopic fibers were falling from the sky. And then just a day ago, there was another story about plastic particles falling out of the sky with snow in the Arctic. So it’s snowing plastic in the Arctic. It’s raining plastic in the Rocky Mountains and in the Pyrenees mountains. This on top of what we already know, which is that some 83% of global tap and bottled water is contaminated with plastic. And that at least 400 species of animals have members that either ingested plastics or got entangled in it.

So we’re eating plastic via our food chain. We’re drinking plastic via both our tap water and our bottled water. And now we also know that we are breathing plastic and why is that?

That’s because we don’t actually recycle plastic. 90% of plastic is not recycled. It’s also because we’re inundated with, in particular, single-use plastics. That’s plastic that we use once and then throw away. It’s as you know, everywhere. It’s your plastic straw, your plastic cup, your plastic bag. It’s everywhere. Now obviously all of us should do what we can to use less plastic, but that’s not going to resolve the problem.

The reason we have this problem is actually very straightforward. Plastic is 99% oil, so there you have it. We go back to Big Oil and Big Gas and the petrochemical companies, they’re producing very cheap plastic because they are not paying for its pollution. If the pollution was priced, then plastic would be correctly priced and then guess what would happen? It would just be priced out of most markets. We would keep valuable plastic – plastic that we must use in medical devices, for example. At least until we find an alternative. But all the single-use plastic would just disappear.

So yes, individually we can all do something about plastic and we should skip that plastic bag. If you can, don’t take that plastic straw, return the plastic cutlery and bring your own cup to drink. Importantly, don’t get fooled when you see recycled or recyclable plastic because even though it might be recyclable, it’s not being recycled or at least it’s not in 90% of the cases, but most importantly, the most important action you can take is to ask for plastic to carry at source the price of its environmental pollution and for Big Oil and big petrochemicals and Big Gas to pay for that pollution directly. If their plastic had a pollution surcharge on it, it would become much more expensive and we would use so much less.

Meanwhile, they are making money hand over fist trying to bury us in plastic and the most important lever we have to change this is legislation. So individual action is great, but we need to focus on legislation: Price plastic out by pricing it’s pollution in.

HERO OF THE WEEK

Thank you so much for listening to me, The Angry Clean Energy Guy, this far.

My hero of the week is an Indonesian gentleman by the name of Medi Bastoni, a 43-year-old father of four protesting deforestation in Indonesia by walking 700 kilometers backwards all the way from his home in East Java to Jakarta. And what he’s hoping to achieve is to shine the spotlight on Indonesia’s devastating deforestation, most of it driven by reckless palm oil plantations.

To quote him, “my home is losing all of its trees, so I have to do something. I can take the pain and fatigue”. Well done, Mr. Bastoni!

VILLAIN OF THE WEEK

My villain of the week is Jennifer Wilcox. I came across Dr. Wilcox on a podcast called Ted Talks Daily. She’s just published a Ted Talk that about new ways to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. And when you listen to the Ted Talk, you realize it’s just more of the Big Oil narrative about how all these emissions are, you know, maybe not a huge problem because, maybe we can have a magic machine with which, maybe we can extract all that CO2 back from the atmosphere. And wouldn’t it be nice if that magic machine was, for example, fueled by natural gas so that we can use even more of it?

I don’t know why Dr. Wilcox got herself embroiled in this kind of nonsense of a Ted talk, but frankly, doing the bidding for Big Oil is not on.

On that note, thank you again for listening and have a great couple of weeks.

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About Me

There is so much to be angry about, if you are a clean energy guy.

Every day, so many things that happen around the world make me angry when I look at them with lenses colored by the climate change chaos unfolding everywhere around us. And I am especially angry because I know we can solve the climate change crisis if we were only trying.


Each week, I will share with you a few topics that struck me and that I was very angry about – and this will generally have to do with climate change, solar or wind power, plastic pollution, environmental degradation, wildlife, the oceans and other related topics.

Assaad Razzouk

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