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Lawyers could charge big oil with homicide after 2023 Arizona heatwave
Climate World News

Lawyers could charge big oil with homicide after 2023 Arizona heatwave

Prosecutors in Arizona could reasonably press homicide charges against big oil for deaths caused by a July 2023 heatwave, lawyers wrote in a new prosecution memorandum.

“[T]he case for prosecuting fossil fuel companies for climate-related deaths is strong enough to merit the initiation of investigations by state and local prosecutors,” the document says.

The memo, published by the consumer advocacy non-profit Public Citizen onWednesday, concludes that the state could pursue reckless manslaughter or second-degree murder claims for the extreme weather event that killed hundreds of residents and which climate scientists found would have been “virtually impossible” but for the climate crisis, caused primarily by the burning of fossil fuels.

Victims of the heatwave were diverse, the memo’s authors write.

“Some were homeless, like the man who died after breaking both legs jumping over a fence in a desperate attempt to find shade outside an elementary school; others were well off, like the woman who died in her $1 million home in Scottsdale,” the memo says, adding that while some victims were older and had pre-existing health conditions, the authors write, others were young and healthy.

The research comes as Arizona and many other US states have broiled under extreme temperatures this month.

“As Americans reeled from another lethal heatwave last week, it’s important to remember that these climate disasters didn’t come out of nowhere,” said Aaron Regunberg, senior policy counsel with Public Citizen’s climate program and co-author of the report. “They were knowingly caused by fossil fuel companies that chose to inflict this suffering to maintain their profits.”

Forty cities and states have sued major oil companies in recent years for their role in the climate crisis and in sowing climate doubt. Each of those existing cases is based on civil charges such as tort law and racketeering protections.

Last year, Public Citizen proposed also filing criminal charges – most notably, homicide – against the companies. The scheme may seem radical, and experts say filing such litigation would be an uphill battle. But the idea has sparked curiosity among experts and public officials and won support from likely voters.

The prosecution memo marks a step toward putting the legal theory into action.

“Although civil remedies are of course vital, sometimes only our criminal laws can measure up to the harm someone has inflicted,” said Cindy Cho, a former federal prosecutor of over a decade and co-author of the memo. “If human-generated climate change is killing people, and the organizations that generated it knew the risks, then it stands to reason that criminal charges may be exactly what society expects.”

Though the memo focuses on Arizona specifically, the authors stress that their findings “can serve as a starting point for any prosecutor” who is seeking justice for climate victims, arguing that the memo could inform legal efforts in “practically any jurisdiction that has experienced climate-related deaths”.”.

In a statement, climate activist and author Bill McKibben said: “What’s happened to the climate is a crime: after fair warning from scientists about what would happen, Big Oil went right ahead pouring carbon into the atmosphere, and now there’s a huge pile of dead bodies (and a larger one of dead dreams).”

“The only question left is whether our legal system will recognize these crimes,” he said, “and this analysis shows there’s a good chance the answer could be yes.”

Source: theguardian.com