Harvard Law Accepts a Paper Advocating Homicide Charges for Big Oil Execs

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From Watts Up With That?

Essay by Eric Worrall

h/t mark1w, Cam_s; Environmental activists have written a paper on a computer made of coal and oil products, to demand the prosecution of big oil execs.

New climate paper calls for charging big US oil firms with homicide

Brian Kahn Wed 22 Mar 2023 21.00 AEDT

Authors of paper accepted for publication in Harvard Environmental Law Review argue firms are ‘killing members of the public at an accelerating rate’

Oil companies have come under increasing legal scrutiny and face allegations of defrauding investorsracketeering, and a wave of other lawsuits. But a new paper argues there’s another way to hold big oil accountable for climate damage: trying companies for homicide.

The striking and seemingly radical legal theory is laid out in a paper accepted for publication in the Harvard Environmental Law Review. In it, the authors argue fossil fuel companies “have not simply been lying to the public, they have been killing members of the public at an accelerating rate, and prosecutors should bring that crime to the public’s attention”.

“What’s on their ledger in terms of harm, there’s nothing like it in human history,” said David Arkush, the director of the climate program at consumer advocacy group Public Citizen and one of the paper’s authors.

The paper is rooted in part in the growing body of evidence fossil fuel companies knew of the harm their products caused and misled the public about them.

…Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2023/mar/22/big-oil-companies-homicide-harvard-environmental-law-review

The abstract of the paper;

Climate Homicide: Prosecuting Big Oil For Climate Deaths

Harvard Environmental Law Review, Vol. 48, No. 1, 2024

70 Pages Posted: 25 Jan 2023 Last revised: 2 Mar 2023

David Arkush
Public Citizen

Donald Braman
George Washington University – Law School; Justice Innovation Lab; DC Justice Lab
Date Written: January 23, 2023


Prosecutors regularly bring homicide charges against individuals and corporations whose reckless or negligent acts or omissions cause unintentional deaths, as well as those whose misdemeanors or felonies cause unintentional deaths. Fossil fuel companies learned decades ago that what they produced, marketed, and sold would generate “globally catastrophic” climate change. Rather than alert the public and curtail their operations, they worked to deceive the public about these harms and to prevent regulation of their lethal conduct. They funded efforts to call sound science into doubt and to confuse their shareholders, consumers, and regulators. And they poured money into political campaigns to elect or install judges, legislators, and executive officials hostile to any litigation, regulation, or competition that might limit their profits. Today, the climate change that they forecast has already killed thousands of people in the United States, and it is expected to become increasingly lethal for the foreseeable future. Given the extreme lethality of the conduct and the awareness of the catastrophic risk on the part of fossil fuel companies, should they be charged with homicide? Could they be convicted? In answering these questions, this Article makes several contributions to our understanding of criminal law and the role it could play in combating crimes committed at a massive scale. It describes the doctrinal and social predicates of homicide prosecutions where corporate conduct endangers much or all of the public. It also identifies important advantages of homicide prosecutions relative to civil and regulatory remedies, and it details how and why prosecution for homicide may be the most effective legal remedy available in cases like this. Finally, it argues that, if our criminal legal system cannot focus more intently on climate crimes—and soon—we may leave future generations with significantly less for the law to protect.Read more: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=4335779

For starters I want to state I’m OK with Harvard Law publishing this paper. Such accusations should be discussed and rebutted.

And the obvious rebuttal is the impact of industrialisation on life expectancy. Thanks to fossil fuel, we don’t work ourselves to death by our 40s. We have the wealth to heat our homes in winter and cool them in Summer. Our children are well cared for and receive high quality food. Parents have the wealth to send children to school, to let them enjoy their childhood, instead of making them work the fields at a young age, to join the daily battle for survival as soon as they are able to do useful work.

So whatever harm fossil fuel has done, and I’m not denying it produces toxic pollutants which kill people, by any rational measure this harm is far outweighed by the good access to cheap energy provides.

What about the charge that fossil fuel companies concealed information from the public? Every charge I have examined to date in my opinion turned out to be nonsense. The “secret” internal memos I’ve seen to date were derivative, derived from publicly available data.

If anyone is unconvinced, the remedy is obvious – stop using their product. If fossil fuel is so evil, switch it off. Reject it. Stop using it. Such lifestyles are entirely possible, groups like the Amish reject modern technology for religious reasons. Yet somehow most anti-fossil fuel advocates seem to find reasons to keep using the evil.

Until anti-fossil fuel advocates personally take the step of expelling evil fossil fuel products from their lives, in my opinion their protestations of harm must be viewed as hypocritical and absurd.