In January, New York City’s authorities made a historic legal step: They announced that they planned to sue five of the world’s largest oil companies over climate change. Now the former Governor of California has set out his ambitions for similar action using some characteristically bold phrasing.
Speaking at SXSW in Austin for Politico's Off Message live podcast recording, Arnold Schwarzenegger declared that he’s going to prosecute various oil companies for “knowingly killing people all over the world” through global warming.
He compared the oil industry to the tobacco industry, both in terms of the harm they’ve dealt out to society and their attempts to obfuscate the truth of the matter from the public. “To me it’s absolutely irresponsible to know that your product is killing people and not have a warning label on it, like tobacco,” he told Politico.
There are small signs that oil companies are beginning to at least acknowledge climate change exists, and that they are positioning themselves as part of the solution, but it’s too little too late for the Governator.
Schwarzenegger added that “if you walk into a room and you know you’re going to kill someone, it’s first degree murder. I think it’s the same thing with oil companies.”
It’s indisputable that fossil fuel companies have been doing all they can to muddy the waters relating to the dangers of their products, whether that be through their associated greenhouse gas emissions and any associated pollutants or the secondary environmental damage produced via their extraction.
One landmark study concluded in 2017 that one of the most powerful conglomerates, ExxonMobil, “misled the public” by suppressing the findings of their own scientists, while simultaneously churning out editorials that dismissed anthropogenic connections to climate change.
Comparing the actions of oil companies to first degree murder is a little trickier though. In legal terms, this refers to a deliberate, pre-meditated act of slaughter, and it’s unclear if ignoring the fact – and it is, to be very clear, a fact – that the climate change you’re driving is connected in varying, complex ways to a plethora of deaths qualifies.
Perhaps the best hope at this stage, as referenced by Schwarzenegger himself, is forcing fossil fuel companies to acknowledge the dangers of oil and coal, in the same way tobacco companies must legally do so now for their own products. Even then, though, the tobacco industry still keeps trying to muddy the waters of the scientific consensus, and it’s probably naïve of anyone to expect the oil conglomerates to simply give up their misdirection and lobbying campaigns.
There isn’t any more information regarding the specifics of Schwarzenegger’s legal case just yet. We’re sure he’ll be back with more details soon.