YOU CAN’T SUE your way to a solution for global warming. So says the judge.
On Thursday, Judge John Keenan of New York’s Southern District dismissed the City of New York’s lawsuit against the international oil and gas companies BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, and Royal Dutch Shell. Facing billions of dollars in climate change-related damage in the coming years, New York was hoping to extract some money from the transnational companies that extract the oil that people burn for energy—raising the planet’s temperature, exacerbating storms, melting polar ice and elevating sea levels, worsening wildfires, extending droughts, and allowing diseases to spread farther and faster.
But no. The problem isn’t the science; it's settled. The problem is the law. Even though attorneys for the city tried to argue that their complaint was covered by federal common law and the courts, Judge Keenan found otherwise—that in the end they were suing over emissions, and so the Clean Air Act took over. Which is to say, what New York wanted to do in a lawsuit is covered by the regulatory powers of the president and Congress. “Climate change is a fact of life, as is not contested by Defendants,” Keenan writes. “But the serious problems caused thereby are not for the judiciary to ameliorate. Global warming and solutions thereto must be addressed by the two other branches of government.”