We have come to a crossroads on climate change. How we choose to address this crisis will define our generation and those who come after us.
There is only one meaningful way to achieve the changes we need, and it happens to be what America has always excelled at: innovation. We need our elected and business leaders to focus like a laser on developing the technologies needed to protect people and our planet.
Innovation, along with the entrepreneurism it inspires, defines America. It is what has given us our quality of life, taken us to the moon, and spurred the internet and technological revolution, among so much more.
Now, innovation is the ticket to winning the fight against climate change. The good news is that it is working. The cost of wind and solar farms has fallen dramatically in the past decade while output has soared. Cars, airplanes, and factories have all become more efficient. Manufacturers in America, which need energy to make products, have reduced the carbon footprint of the things they make by 21% over the past decade while contributing 18% more value to the American economy, according to the National Association of Manufacturers.
This thoughtful, collaborative approach is working. It is also appropriate.
Climate change is a byproduct of modern society. Energy production allows us all to turn on our lights, heat our homes, power our workplaces, and produce the goods we rely upon for our daily lives. Most major companies — including traditional energy manufacturers — understand these facts and are now actively driving climate solutions.
The wrong path honors another uniquely American tradition: litigation. Rather than join this effective and inclusive approach, some prefer to make this issue political, look backward, and point fingers. They advocate lawsuits against energy manufacturers for “causing” climate change.
Unfortunately, Minnesota has decided to join this litigation campaign, filing a lawsuit in 2020 against several energy manufacturers and a national trade association ("Ellison files lawsuit against fossil fuel giants for 'campaign of deception' on climate change," June 24).
This litigation blame game is a counterproductive distraction. It is also expensive for every person, family, and business. If these lawsuits are successful, each person’s energy bills will go up by hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars each year. Many people cannot afford these costs, particularly when even the lawyers and politicians behind these lawsuits fully acknowledge the litigation will do nothing to solve climate change.
The truth is that these types of climate lawsuits have always failed and for good reason. The first climate suits targeting utilities, auto manufacturers and energy producers were filed in the early 2000s. The courts dismissed those cases, with the case against utilities going up to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2011.
In a unanimous ruling authored by the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Supreme Court said that setting national energy policy to account for climate change is not a liability issue for the courts but a complex matter of “national legislative” concern. Congress and the EPA are “better equipped to do (this) job than individual district judges issuing ad hoc, case-by-case” decisions.
Today’s lawsuits are no different. They are not really about legal theories but political tactics. In fact, some of the political interests behind the litigation are actually paying the salaries of the two lawyers they placed in the Minnesota Attorney General’s office that filed the state’s lawsuit.
Our planet is too important to be a pawn in the politics of division. Lawsuits brought on behalf of the public must truly advance the public good and make a real, positive difference in everyone’s lives — not be paid for by private-interest groups as part of a national campaign that one court has already dismissed, another termed “lawfare,” and yet another called “hyperbolic.”
Passing the blame is also not how to get things done.
America must unite behind today’s critical climate mission. This is no time for political score-settling. Climate change is a global issue that everyone contributes to; we must all come together in search of meaningful solutions if we want to make progress and protect our communities.
We simply cannot sue our way out of climate change.
Innovation is the right, only, and proven path forward.
Phil Goldberg is special counsel to the Manufacturers’ Accountability Project (mfgaccountabilityproject.org/); is the managing partner of the Shook Hardy & Bacon, LLP office in Washington, D.C.; and is a fellow for the Center for Civil Justice, which is associated with the Washington, D.C.,-based Progressive Policy Institute (progressivepolicy.org). He wrote this in response to commentaries in the News Tribune in support of climate litigation, including one Dec. 2, headlined, “Minnesota's suit against Big Oil a prudent, necessary first step,” and one Oct. 20, headlined, “Local View: Big Oil must stop funding climate deception.”