Smoke and fumes: the legal and evidentiary basis for holding big oil accountable for the climate crisis

Establishing that major carbon producers are causally contributing to climate impacts and climate harms is only the first step in accountability. The question remains: can we hold them responsible? Under multiple theories of law, these companies could be held liable if they knew or should have known of climate risks linked to their products, but failed to take action to avoid or reduce those risks — either by eliminating them or by properly warning consumers, regulators, and the public about them. Company documents, scientific studies, and other evidence show that fossil fuel companies, especially petroleum companies, knew about the dangers of climate change — and their products’ role in exacerbating it — much earlier than previously understood. This documentary evidence also reveals that major carbon producers repeatedly misled the public about climate science in an effort to stymie regulation and the development of alternative technologies.