Essay by Eric Worrall
h/t Dr. Willie Soon; Lawyer Sharon Y. Eubanks thinks the great legal weakness of Big Oil is their attempts to greenwash. She could have a point.
I led the US lawsuit against big tobacco for its harmful lies. Big oil is next
Sharon Y Eubanks
Tue 5 Jul 2022 21.00 AESTLast modified on Tue 5 Jul 2022 22.40 AEST
We may be approaching a legal tipping point for fossil fuel companies and the spin masters that work for them
In 2005, I was the lead counsel on behalf of the US in one of the biggest corporate accountability legal actions ever filed. That trial proved that the tobacco industry knew it was selling and marketing a harmful product, that it had funded denial of public health science, and had used deceptive advertising and PR to protect assets instead of protecting consumers.
Today, the fossil fuel industry finds itself in the same precarious legal position as the tobacco industry did in the late 1990s. The behaviour and goals of the tobacco and petroleum industries are pretty similar – and there are many similarities in their liabilities.
Both industries lied to the public and regulators about what they knew about the harms of their products. Both lied about when they knew it. And like the tobacco industry while I was in public service, the deceptive advertising and PR of the fossil fuel industry is now under intense legal scrutiny.
The most significant legal cases facing fossil fuel companies today focus on ongoing deceptive marketing in the form of “greenwashing”. This is different from green marketing – companies that have genuinely sustainable products are, and should remain, free to market them accurately. But the oil industry is not a sustainable business – on average, less than 1% of its capital expenditures goes into low carbon projects– and free speech laws do not stop corporations making false statements.
The oil and gas industry is now touting the promise of carbon capture and storage projects as a way to avoid reducing emissions. But not a single existing CCS project is viable, and no company is investing at a rate likely to make future ones viable. It’s an old bait-and-switch, as it mirrors how tobacco companies promoted various smokeless alternatives for decades.
…Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2022/jul/05/us-lawsuit-big-tobacco-big-oil-fossil-fuel-companies
Sharon in my opinion is right about the technical difficulties of carbon capture and storage. Any big oil company which touted carbon capture in their annual report or other legally regulated literature could be in trouble.
The problem with greenwashing is, lying to shareholders and customers can carry a financial penalty. If Sharon can establish Big Oil lied about or exaggerated the possibilities of carbon capture, and other shareholder report statements about their efforts to go green, she likely has them.
Imagine if from the start, instead of ducking and weaving, all the energy companies had had the balls to say, “if you don’t like our product, we’re happy to withdraw service with immediate effect?”.
There are a few companies whose CEOs have the guts to be honest and defend their product. For example, in 2021 Whitehaven Coal faced down regulators over the self evident statement by WhiteHaven’s CEO that coal would remain a major component of the energy mix for the foreseeable future. Such courage is unfortunately an industry rarity.
An honest person is a difficult target, even in a police state. But the moment people start ducking and weaving, trying to play the game, displaying their fear and weakness, as way too many energy CEOs appear to have done, their persecutors own them.
What if Sharon succeeds? What would we all do without Gasoline? What would she do without gasoline?
If you think actually destroying big oil, destroying the supply of oil, would be too insane to genuinely contemplate, think again. There is no rule that nations and peoples must always make rational choices. History is full of examples of nations which did the unthinkable, and self destructed, because the rulers or people embraced mass delusion or insanity.
Look at the Chinese Ming Dynasty, which after the great explorer Zheng He opened the sea lanes for Imperial China in the 14th century, bringing back fabulous wealth from his expeditions, decided to turn its back on prosperity and outside contact. Look at the Blues and Greens, sport hooligans who almost ripped the Eastern Roman Empire apart in the 6th century, when sport team rivalry became more important than civil order. Or for something more recent, look at what happened to Venezuela, when as a nation they decided they could do without private oil companies. Venezuela went from being one of the richest countries in South America to being a failed narco state in a single generation.
All nations are only a few key failures of judgement away from senseless ruin.