Two signs climate-change has gone mainstream

First, according to the Dallas Morning News (pointed out by TreeHugger), blue-chip law firms are beginning to advertise their expertise in climate-related regulation and law:

The Bush administration’s recognition of climate change along with overall Democratic momentum in Congress has pushed both energy-related companies and their law firms into action.

The regulatory side, not the litigation side, is where the bulk of the legal work will come from, said [Dallas lawyer Christopher] Carr, who hopes to bring his experience with carbon-credit trading [gained at the World Bank] to bear with Vinson & Elkins’ numerous energy clients.

“While there may be some litigation in the shorter term, the transactional area is going to be a significant source of long-term legal work,” he said. “To me, it’s personally important that we get the business legislation right.”

There’s also the virtual certainty of some big-money lawsuits, akin to suits against tobacco companies, from people who argue they’ve been hurt by climate change and want compensation from big greenhouse-gas emitters. Sheila Watt-Cloutier, a very smart Canadian Inuit, has already been very vocal in international forums in protesting the effects of climate change (and other contamination from the south) on the Arctic way of life and has won awards for her efforts. It’s only a matter of time before someone decides to head for the courts, even if only to bring attention to the issue.

As a matter of principle, I think they have a point that someone’s got to pay for the damage, at least now that a scientific consensus has become clear. As a matter of law … it’s going to keep a lot of lawyers busy for a lot of years. It is, nevertheless, very significant that the lawyers agree with that prediction, and should be a reminder to regulators not to fool around, particularly in creating loopholes for one favoured industry that will create grounds for companies operating in other industries to challenge the whole legal edifice.

The second indication is the switch, on some protesters’ part, from targeting governments to targeting emitters. Grist Mill‘s Jon Rynn notes the growth of Rising Tide, a pretty aggressive-seeming protest group that focuses not on banging drums outside legislators’ offices, but on making life difficult for, e.g., coal-power-plant operators and the Bank of America for its coal-industry investments.

I don’t think much of Rising Tide’s tactics; I believe in minimal law, but the ones we have need to be respected; I don’t have a lot of sympathy for their anti-capitalist principles (or their sloppy understanding of the Kyoto Accord, which you can find in that last link, too); and I’d worry they’d cost more public sympathy than they’d create. Nevertheless, it’s significant that they’re treating the underlying issue as settled and moving on to specifics. It’s the difference between pointing out that Apartheid was evil and pointing out the companies and individuals among us who benefitted from it.

We can still argue about the theory of climate change and what our goals ought to be, but it’s good to see vigorous contests, both in boardrooms and in the streets, over how we ought to achieve them.


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