California Sues Over Global Warming, Judge Orders Climate Lesson

Courting Climate Comedy

By William M Briggs Published on March 10, 2018

The descent of climate science into the surreal is about to take another comedic slide. A judge has ordered the State of California and a handful of oil companies to present to him on 21 March “a two-part tutorial on the subject of global warming and climate change.”

Why? The cities of San Francisco and Oakland representing California are suing. They claim that British Petroleum and a group of other oil companies have created a “nuisance.” How? By not admitting, or hiding, or fibbing about what they knew about their products’ influence on global warming.

If anybody tells you he can peg the exact contribution any company has made to global warming, he is either lying or a lunatic, or he is too in love with his slide rule.

Of course, as we’ll see in a moment, nobody knows how much influence oil sales have on global warming. But the judge says he can learn all he needs to know about these kinds of attributions in court. Over four short hours.

Class is in Session

The judge ordered that his first lesson should “trace the history of scientific study of climate change, beginning with scientific inquiry into the formation and melting of the ice ages, periods of historical cooling and warming, smog, ozone, nuclear winter, volcanoes, and global warming.”

Lawyers from California, or whatever experts they pay to be their honest mouthpieces, get one hour. Then oil companies, or their experts, get an hour.

Lesson two “will set forth the best science now available on global warming, glacier melt, sea rise, and coastal flooding.” Another hour for each side.

It’s anybody’s guess what the judge will make of the information he receives, or how it will play in the remainder of the trial. But given the state of disagreement among the world’s top experts, four hours isn’t enough to do justice to the subject.

The Unknown Effects of Oil

If anybody tells you he can peg the exact contribution any company has made to global warming, he is either lying or a lunatic, or he is too in love with his slide rule.

We can’t underestimate the temptation to lie, perhaps by omission, when there is lots and lots and more than lots of money that can be taken from rich oil companies. Lunacy is unlikely. But we can’t dismiss it, especially if anyone involved in the trial is convinced the world is doomed unless we give up fossil fuels.

I should explain the slide-rule quip. To attribute a change in the climate to a particular thing, like an oil company’s sales (or whatever), we first need to demonstrate that we can predict the climate with low to no error, and with high certainty.

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The models that make these assumed excellent and reliable predictions must account in some way for the oil sales. Somewhere inside these models, then, there must be statements like “If oil sales go up by X amount, the temperature does this-and-such.” (These statements, of course, will be complex.)

The next step would be to remove the effects of the oil company from the models, and make new forecasts. The difference in the prediction of the climate models with the oil sales and the models without would represent the contribution of the oil sales to climate.

Climate Models Aren’t Accurate Enough

There are two big problems with this scheme. Our best climate models do not make low-to-no error predictions. They also have high uncertainty. They cannot be trusted. The truth is, we still have a lot to learn about what causes changes in the climate.

The second problem is of great import to those who are financially interested. The models do not internally represent oil sales, nor anything like it. The models do take as inputs carbon dioxide and other gases. And these gases are produced by using oil (and its byproduct gasoline, etc.) But one can only approximate the amount of yearly change in atmospheric gases caused by oil sales. Meaning there is uncertainty.

We can add the uncertainty from these gas measurements to the uncertainty from the attribution claims. It’s a good bet that those making claims against the oil companies won’t mention the uncertainty. Lawyers want rulings in their favor. 

The Politicization of Science

Anyway, the mental image of lawyers arguing over these and other unsolved open scientific problems in court is precious. But not unforeseen.

Climatology has for years been more a branch of politics than science. And nothing is more political than the enormous sums of money oil generates. This money produces a gleam in the eyes of politicians who believe they have found a way to control it.

All for the good of the children, of course.

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  • GPS Daddy

    I don’t envy the judge. If your not in the know on the issues with the science behind “global warming” then its a very steep learning curve. If your going to have to make a judgement and a ruling then what do you do as a judge? At least the judge is trying to get enough information to make a reasonable decision. But can the judge keep fear away? Is the judge beholden to the spirit of this age that tells us that our world is a fragile place? If so then CA will win no matter what the big bad oil companies argue.

    • Aliquantillus

      This judge is a fool. He should simply stay out of this. What is science or not is not decided by a decision or decree of a court, but emerges by the free exchange of arguments about the facts by experts and scholars. If the State of California wants to sue British Petroleum, it will have to get its act together for presenting a better case instead of this nonsense.

      • GPS Daddy

        Agreed, science is not decided by a court. But CA brought the suit so the judge has to hear it, right? Thats the way our courts work. Now the judge can throw the suit out as frivolous. The fact that the judge is willing to hear the suit is telling. I don’t know why a judge can or cannot hear a suit. I’m not a legal expert. But assuming that the judge must hear the case then I see no other way forward for the judge.

        All CA has to do is scare the judge. If CA scares the judge enough they will win. That is going to be hard for British Petroleum to fight.

        • Alice Cheshire

          Not if they STOP SHIPPING OIL TO CALIFORNIA. They can conveniently run out of supply every time CA calls. They won’t—they’re cowards and they don’t care.

      • Alice Cheshire

        It’s California. Everything is decided by leftist judges with no concern about the law.

    • Jim Walker

      Its you’re, not your…

  • Craig Roberts

    Lord have mercy. They already rake in millions and millions of dollars by taxing the pants off oil companies BUT NOOOOO! That’s not good enough. They won’t be satisfied until they kill the golden goose. That’s supposed to prove that they (oil companies) are the bad guys and we (the politicians) are the good guys. Can anything explain this sort of behavior but ego insanity?

  • Cody

    Global warming is coming, Gods going to cleanse the earth with fire.

  • Alice Cheshire

    Global warming does not make predictions, it makes projections. Like the stock market does. IF every single part of the projection happens, the likelihood is the projection was correct, or a lucky guess.

    Best solution over all, stop sending California any oil and gas. Then they are out of the picture and can bask in their moral superiority.

    We’re toast as a society. We just as well rob banks, steal what we need to eat, preach whatever religion we want in schools (global warming, gaia worship) and learn to love living in a banana republic. How stupid are people to even go along with this? Throw California out of the union NOW.

  • texantim

    Well this result is easy to see. With the non-factual ‘facts’, I predict the judge will be a global warming proponent at the end of the 2 hour tutorial.

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