Last week, New York City followed the lead of several California jurisdictions and sued five major oil companies for damages caused by fossil-fuel-induced climate change. The lawsuit accuses the oil industry of contributing in significant part to the $19 billion in damages the city suffered in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
The lawsuit is in the spirit of the Big Tobacco litigation of the late 1980s and early 1990s -- litigation in which the tobacco industry prevailed for decades until it fell under the weight of incriminating internal documents about the health effects of smoking.
As such, even if the oil industry were to evade financial liability in the short term, the mere fact of the litigation will require the industry to divulge what it knew about the effects of fossil fuels on the global climate, when it knew it, and what steps it took in response to the threats.
Early indications are that such discovery will reflect poorly on the fossil fuel industry.