Activist At Center Of Anti-Fossil Fuels Litigation Campaign Flies Under Radar At Climate Tutorial
One of the key climate experts speaking on behalf of the plaintiffs in a pair of lawsuits aimed at fossil fuel companies was also the architect of research and an activist game plan focused on building support for climate litigation against oil and gas companies, but apparently was not asked to disclose his financial ties to the campaign against energy producers at Wednesday’s climate tutorial.
U.S. District Judge William Alsup asked the plaintiffs’ attorneys and the defendants in the Oakland and San Francisco climate lawsuits to provide their answers to a series of questions provided by the court in a tutorial at the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.
Myles Allen, a Professor of Geosystem Science and a Leader in the Climate Research Programme at the University of Oxford, was the first to speak on behalf of the municipal plaintiffs.
In coverage by the Associated Press, Allen is described as a “professor at the University of Oxford who studies human influences on climate.”
But there’s more to this story.
The Associated Press makes no mention of Allen’s previous work, such as a profile in New Scientist last fall, sponsorship by deep-pocketed anti-oil and gas philanthropies funding the climate litigation effort, or his key participation at the 2012 La Jolla Conference, also funded by anti-oil and gas foundations, according to the Manufacturer’s Accountability Project (MAP).
MAP is a project of the National Association of Manufacturers’ Center for Legal Action.
Allen’s work on climate attribution extends even further back, to at least 2003. A Climatewire article (republished by Scientific American) profiling Allen said that he thought there might be a way to attribute particular events—a flood in Southern England—to emissions.
“At the time, everybody was saying, ‘Well, you can’t attribute a single event to climate change,’” he said. “And this prompted me to ask, ‘Why not?’”
By 2012 environmental activists gathering in La Jolla, Calif. for a conference led by the Climate Accountability Institute (CAI) and the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), produced a report widely distributed concluding that “we currently lack a compelling public narrative about climate change.”
The 2012 workshop brought together prominent climate activists with the aim of linking “Big Oil” with “Big Tobacco” by forging an immersive campaign with public relations, legal and academic research components. Part of the strategy discussed using the courts to sue energy companies in order to both move the public opinion needle against the industry and obtain internal company documents.
CAI, based in Snowmass, Colo., is led by Rick Heede and features Michael E. Mann on its Council of Advisors. Heede has been active in developing strategies for tying emissions levels to individual companies, with the hopes of establishing direct blame for climate change effects on specific actors. Mann is a climate scientist with close ties to UCS and Climate Nexus, a strategic communications firm promoting the climate lawsuits.
Matt Pawa, a former member of CAI’s advisory board, is representing Oakland and San Francisco in their climate lawsuits, and has said that “it’s time to focus on state law” when it comes to climate attribution lawsuits.Pawa was also a participant at La Jolla and is listed as the Founder of “The Global Warming Legal Action Project.”
Last September, Allen and Peter Frumhoff, also a Climate Accountability Institute advisor and the Director of Science and Policy at UCS, wrote in The Guardian that “Big Oil must pay for climate change” due to attribution studies conducted by Allen, Frumhoff, and Heede. They claim show that [m]ore than 6% of the rise in global sea level resulted from emissions traced to ExxonMobil, Chevron and BP, the three largest contributors.”
Allen saw “the possibility of massive class-action lawsuits—carrying the potential for ‘up to six billion plaintiffs’ around the world—attempting to hold greenhouse gas emitters liable for damages,” according to Climatewire.
The three companies mentioned by Allen et al., along with Royal Dutch Shell and Conoco Phillips, are the subject of the climate lawsuits brought by New York City and several California municipalities and counties.
“Lawsuits filed in July by three coastal California communities against ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP and other large fossil fuel companies argue that the companies, not taxpayers and residents, should bear the cost of damages from rising seas,” Allen and Frumhoff wrote.
The lawsuits “build on a vigorous and growing debate in the court of public opinion and among company shareholders about the responsibilities of fossil fuel giants for their contributions to climate change,” according to Allen and Frumhoff.
Those responsibilities could extend beyond the energy industry, with activists targeting manufacturers and other “private companies for failing to protect property, or public infrastructure, against extreme weather in a warming world,” Climatewire wrote.
Naomi Oreskes, a Professor of History and Science Studies at Harvard and previously a member of CAI’s council as a co-founder, was recently removed from CAI’s board website, according to archived pages of the site in early February 2018. Oreskes was also in attendance at the 2012 La Jolla conference as a “workshop organizer.”
Oreskes’ study assessing ExxonMobil’s climate change communications that purports to show “ExxonKnew” about climate change impacts and but hid them from the public was challenged by Kimberly Neuendorf, a Professor of Communications at Cleveland State University, as displaying “a variety of fundamental errors” in its analysis.
Oreskes is set to speak at the 2018 Conference on World Affairs on the campus of the University of Colorado Boulder in April.
Skeptics who weighed in on the climate tutorial with amicus briefs were asked by Alsup, according to court documents, to disclose their financial backers and affiliations, which they offered.
What’s not yet clear is whether Alsup also asked Allen to disclose his funders, which include a who’s-who of anti-fossil fuel foundations. His most recent climate attribution paper, published last September, discloses funding from the Energy Foundation, Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment, V. Kann Rasmussen Foundation, and Rockefeller Brothers Fund, among others.