Thursday, 2 September 2010

Will the lawyers save the Earth?

Unlikely, I know, but let's not underestimate the sheer tenacity of a lawyer in search of someone to sue!

We know that climate change is due to human activity and that it's made extreme weather events more likely. Recent extreme events include Hurricanes Katrina and Catarina, the European 2003 heatwave, the Kenyan drought and the current Pakistani floods. (So that's five continents covered.)

So far judges have ruled the connection between specific human actions and losses due to extreme weather to be too uncertain to support legal action. That's partly a matter of science - the science hasn't been sufficiently clear - but a recent workshop in Colorado shows that that's changing. According to Anil Ananthaswamy in New Scientist last week scientists at the meeting felt that it is now practical to determine how large a contribution climate change has made to a given extreme event.

There have already been several attempts to sue for extreme weather losses. Though none has succeeded improvements in the science are bound to encourage more lawyers and it seems only a matter of time before one of them finds the winning formula.

America's rigidity was one reason for the failure of the Copenhagen conference. Will lawyers bring change that the scientists cannot?

And if so, what will bring the Chinese - the other cause of failure in Copenhagen - on board?

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