123: Melissa Sims, Senior Counsel
Guest Name(s): Melissa Sims
Listen in to a chat with dynamic attorney, Melissa Sims, who is taking on big oil. This riveting interview about Melissa’s literal “mission from God” to courageously and effectively confront the existential crisis that threatens us all: climate change.
Episode Audio Links:
ACC #123 – Melissa K. Sims – A Climate Change with Matt Matern
You’re listening to A Climate Change. This is Matt Matern, your host, and I’ve got a great guest coming on the program today – Melissa Sims. She’s counsel at Milberg, a very international plaintiffs firm that has done work all over the country. And a lot of big cases, Melissa has an amazing kind of story to tell about how she has brought a case against a lot of the major oil companies for causing or exacerbating the hurricane that devastated Puerto Rico a few years back. And she’s done a lot of great work in the environmental field kind of working our way up the chain, to to get to this point in time.
And I think it’s a great story to tell. And it’s also really timely, because in the news today, there was the Montana case that the young people of Montana had brought for violating their constitutional right under the state Montana Constitution, to have a healthy environment that various fossil fuel companies there were essentially violating those rights, and they got a positive ruling or judgment in that case, so great to have you on the program. Melissa, thanks for joining us.
Well, thank you. Thanks for having me.
So, tell us a little bit about your origin story. It’s kind of fascinating caught one of the things that caught my eyes that you were from a small town in Illinois, and, and my mom’s family comes from Jacksonville, which is also a small town in central Illinois. So I could kind of relate to that. And I also could kind of relate to starting off on not the highest rung in the legal community when I started my career, doing kind of small cases, but then working your way up to working on some bigger cases. So tell us a little bit about how you got to become a lawyer and working on environmental cases.
Hey, that’s great. Well, thank you. I bet my My hometown is smaller than your hometown.
Oh, it’s possible.
Yeah, so I was born fifth of six kids in a very large, very poor working class family in North Central Illinois, but halfway between Purion and Rockford. I still live in the area, five minutes from where I was born, which is probably why I can’t be on video today because I have to choose between audio and video. Depending on if I’m home or not so.
So, um, you know, I guess I always knew I wanted to be a professional. You know, education was really important to the family, although neither of my parents went to college. And so what we put ourselves the children in our family that went to college, we put ourselves through school because we didn’t have the ability for our parents to pay for it and, and I worked three jobs put myself through college and law school. I worked at the local Sheriff’s Department, I was a deputy radio operator at the midnight shift. I was a local legal advocate for domestic violence sexual assault program. And I also worked construction for my dad’s construction business.
So I hard work. You know, that’s just how we were raised to work as hard as we can. So I did that. I went to law school in North Central Illinois at Northern Illinois University. And then I wanted to be a prosecutor. It’s kind of like that was, I guess, my work at the Sheriff’s Department. I really wanted to help out victims of crime victims of sexual assault, trafficking, domestic violence, and I was kind of waiting for a prosecutor position to come open and there just weren’t any open. So when I was in law school, I volunteered what we call our 711 license to practice criminal law and I did traffic’s and misdemeanors, all volunteer at the State’s Attorney’s Office. So I was in front of the sitting judge one day and he goes, Hey, he said, you know, why don’t why don’t you go work for my brother who’s a lawyer in Spring Valley, Illinois, 10 minutes from where I, where I live.
And I said, I don’t want to do private practice. You know, I really want to do criminal law. And he goes, I said, he really needs somebody and I wanted to stay local. I’m kind of a local girl family is really important to me. And so I went to work for Bill Wimbiscus in 1995. And he was probably outside of Chicago, the preeminent municipal lawyer for the state of Illinois. He represented a lots of little cities. And he started practicing law when he came home from World War Two like in 1945.
I’ve, so I really got to learn from the best municipal lawyer. And so but I was the one who went to all the board meetings and, you know, handled all the traffic offenses, and DUIs and ordinance violations, just like I did at the State’s Attorney’s Office. So I got a little bit of that prosecutor experience, you know, in real life, working for an actual firm, rather than just volunteering my license.
So it was there that I really got to learn the power of a municipality. And I don’t think a lot of people realize that they’re starting to now because of all the litigation that we filed all over the country for opioids. And, you know, you saw the pee fast litigation that was just settled for $12 billion.
So I think now we’re starting to wake up to the fact that municipalities have this power, but I always knew that they did. Because we always want, you know, you can’t fight city hall came from a from real life experience, you know, the laws that are passed, really are skewed towards municipalities.
And so a municipality can can declare almost anything of a public nuisance, right, a blue house in Santa Fe can be a public nuisance, because you can only paint your house to certain colors in Santa Fe, you know, so municipalities have this almost unfettered ability to to declare something a public nuisance.
So, you know, I was raised Catholic and not to be a bully, you know, we were raised to help people every chance we could get when, when we would go to bed at night, my mother would say to us, what did you do to help other people today?
So really, as a prosecutor, sometimes you feel like you’re just a bully, you know, because you’re, you’re fining people for having three dogs in town when they should only have to, or you’re finding someone for, you know, owning, you know, a goat or something like that. You think, “well, that’s not a real crime.”
But really, municipalities have these laws for a reason, right? So I just kind of felt a little ick, you know, being the face of these laws. And one of the towns I represented was the village of DePew, which was the 14th worst environmental disaster in the country. Exxon, CBS, and Viacom had made film for the film industry. And when everything went digital in the 80s, they left town, and left blue mud puddles as blue as the sky from the nickel, cadmium, chromium. And we had the highest M.S rate in the country.
All the white people left, which I think if you start looking at who is disproportionately affected by pollution, it is it is African American and Hispanic communities. And so this was a hispanic community, and no one cared. No one was, you know, trying to increase the level of cleanup. In fact, there is a section of the federal code that looks to the value of the property in terms of how much they clean up the property. And to me that’s institutionalized racism.
So I just thought, you know, if, if this if this little town if these mud puddles were in Winnetka, which is 99%, white, it would be cleaned up, you know, and so it just got a fire in my belly about it. And I was at a board meeting in August of ‘06. And the mayor, who I’ve known since I was a little girl, we were just exasperated by everybody’s inability to do something about the Superfund site. And he said, Missy, what can we do? And I said, No, we’ll just sue him. And he said, Can we I was I don’t know, right?
And I went on that night, I took a run. And that’s where I get alone with God. And I talked to the Holy Spirit, and I just say, “help me.” Help me help these people. And he said, find them. And I thought, you know, I find people every day for dog poop in their yard, tall weeds, broken windows, having a duck in town.
Why can’t I find Exxon, CBS, and Viacom for pollution? These other people, they’re not doing anything that hurts anyone. You know, this is killing people. This is hurting people. And so I call up a friend of mine who does environmental work for the big companies, not these companies, but other big companies.
And I said, if I do this, well, I look stupid. And she said, nobody’s ever tried to before why not? So with her guidance, and the Holy Spirit’s, I talked to my boss, and he’s like, Yep, we’re in. So here he is this very conservative Republican, a Christian lawyer, and people would not have expected us to take this very aggressive step towards some of the biggest corporations in the world.
And so we fined them in traffic court for littering for something they did 60 years ago. And municipalities, at least in Illinois don’t have statute of limitations. It’s called nullum tempus occurrit reggi. And it means “no time runs against the king,” and we borrowed it from English common law, so we went ahead and find them in local traffic court, they remove us to federal court, we get dismissed out, we go to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled for the first time that there was no federal preemption on a municipality’s ability to use its local ordinances against polluters. So that’s how long answer, but that’s how I got to working in this mass tort world.
What a fascinating story I had so much to, to unpack from that. You know, I was the fourth of five kids. So you know, kind of similar in not quite the baby, but close. And grew up Catholic as well. So though, I’m kind of more of a Taoist now. But you know, the Tao Te Ching, we follow the spirit too. So I think there’s only one spirit would just wherever it leads us to help serve other people, that’s, that’s a great thing. So I love I love that part of the story, too.
And the legal piece of it is, is also fascinating in terms of finding a way to, that’s that’s kind of been my guiding principle in the law is that if something is wrong, there’s usually some way to remedy it. And so I, I love the fact that you got creative and found a way to get a remedy there.
So tell us a little bit about the that fight? And how did you? You know, how did you go about doing it from you know, you told the first part of the story and kind of skipped to the Seventh Circuit, I imagined there was a few, a few bits in between, and how did how did that go?
Well, you know, the interesting part about it is when you represent a municipality, you don’t have the same burdens that you do like in a class action litigation. So in class actions, you have to spend a lot of money on experts, you have to value property, you have to, you know, find experts, filing fees there. It’s very expensive, do depositions. But the beauty of representing a municipality is that if we say it’s a public nuisance, it’s a public nuisance. And all it needs to be is rationally related to a reasonable public purpose.
So it really is very simple. Even though it sounds like this, it’s this big case, it’s very simple. It’s littering. Is it your property? Is it did you put your property on somebody else’s property? That’s really what it boils down to? And so the beauty of it is in its simplicity, and it’s not, you know, a brilliant mind on my behalf. I didn’t think of it the Holy Spirit that, but it really isn’t a difficult concept.
You know, I talked to municipal lawyers all the time. And, you know, for us that of practice municipal, I’ve been doing it almost 30 years, those of us that have been practicing municipal law, we just say, Well, yeah, of course, like we don’t even think that, you know, it’s an issue. And then you talk to people that don’t, and they just can’t wrap their heads around municipal law.
But it’s an entirely different animal than regular tort law. You know, when you represent a municipality, you’re in the driver’s seat. And so really, when we filed the case, they removed us to federal court, they filed a motion to dismiss. We lost, we took the appeal, the Seventh Circuit, the Seventh Circuit said, yeah, there’s no such thing as preemption under 96 or 9316 H of Superfund act. And so then, we went back to the trial court and this…
I hate to cut you off there. But we’re gonna go to break. Everybody, you’re listening to A Climate Change. I’ve got Melissa Sims, counsel at Milberg on the line with me, and she’s telling a fascinating story about how she got some justice for her clients in Illinois for an environmental disaster there. So we’ll be right back in just one minute.
You’re listening to A Climate Change. This is Matt Matern. And I’ve got Melissa Sims, who’s an environmental attorney who’s had some amazing wins. Melissa, you were just telling us kind of midstream as to what happened to you on that first big case that you brought against Exxon, CBS and Viacom for polluting a small town in Illinois. If you can, you know, finish that story up. That’d be great.
Yeah, so we went back to the trial court, and this time we did a new action where we find them only because the Seventh Circuit did so say that we could not have an abatement action, which means an injunction. So we could not seek an injunction, but there was no reason why we couldn’t just seek a fine only. And my thought was fine. If we can’t dictate the level of cleanup, then we will find you until it’s cleaned up to our, to our, you know, standards.
And so we filed a new action and then then the case was settled. I can’t talk about settlement terms, but that was settled, but But it caught the eye of a very large firm in St. Louis, who called me up to have me help them with the village of Roxanna, which is a little tiny town in near St. Louis. So it’s near Edwardsville, that area, the Illinois side of St. Louis, and it was for the Shell and ConocoPhillips refinery.
So we use the DePew precedent and we find them under a 1932 ordinance for littering. Every city has this ordinance. Every city has an ordinance passed early on in the 1900s that find someone for putting their property on somebody else’s, it’s basically that simple.
And so we found a 1932 ordinance, and we find Shell and ConocoPhillips for every lat Street and alley that benzene existed under the they’re in on the plume around their refinery. And so we did the same thing. Again, we used the DePew precedent, we find them under the local ordinance and traffic court, they removed us to federal court.
And then they filed a motion to dismiss. That motion dismiss was denied. And if the judge had called me up to have me draft the order, I couldn’t have drafted it any better. So he took DePew, the DePew precedent where it needed to go, which was fining polluters for every day for every lot, street, and alley that their products were were on, and that there was no statute of limitations for a municipality to do. So that case was settled as well.
Wow, that’s powerful. So then from there, have you seen a lot of other municipalities kind of roll this out? Or have you continued to roll it out with other municipalities there in Illinois?
I have done that. And other with other municipalities, we have a current case going with local law firm against Monsanto, for PCBs. And we did use it and not exactly in pollution, but we did use it in the opioid litigation. So we were able to parlay that into different types of nuisance actions.
Oh, how did you deal with the opioid litigation?
So when the opioid were first when I first saw it filed because I am like Svengali, I sit there and watch all the litigations as they develop to decide when we want to weigh in on things or, or not. And so, at the time, I think it was in 2016, there were only three cases on file. And those were two counties in California and the city of Chicago.
And so the two counties in California were dismissed. And the city of Chicago, the only count that survived the motion to dismiss was the city of Chicago’s ordinance violation. And so I thought, Okay, I want in on this litigation. So then I joined Milberg, it was Sanders, Phillips, Grossman at the time. And then I worked with them on representing municipalities throughout the country and also in Puerto Rico, in the opioid litigation.
Okay, and then I think that then, has you, you know, visit Puerto Rico. And where did your journey take you there?
Now, we have an office there in San Juan, we have about 40 employees there, and I was there right before and right after Maria, while we were, you know, working on the opioid and other litigations, I go there once a month for about a week. And I saw it before and after and, and when I went there after it literally looked, you know, you’ve seen the pictures of the hyena. I mean, it was literally apocalyptic, you would not look like an atomic bomb went off in the island.
And at that point in time, again, there was only a few climate change lawsuits that were on file, but none of them had alleged a single event, none of them that alleged “okay, the all the talk about future damages rising sea level,” but there was none that attributed a single event to the defendants wrongful conduct. And so that was what I talked again to the Holy Spirit, and said, Help me help these people. And so we came up with a plan to use racketeering against the fossil fuel industry on behalf of the municipalities of Puerto Rico.
So then, where did that take you in terms of going and filing a case against the fossil fuel companies for their role in exacerbating or creating hurricane Maria.
So we had to, you know, the science had to catch up with with our thought process, right. And it didn’t take long for scientists to have those attribution studies that were necessary. So what we had to prove was that the defendant’s conduct was a substantial contributing factor to, to the damages that Puerto Rico suffered.
So what was the damage? You know, like, how did their conduct increase the risk for Puerto Rico. And unfortunately, for Puerto Rico, it’s most affected by climate change than any other area in the world. You know, and it’s a more than one study has come up with that decision. But it is precariously positioned in hurricane alley, like really at the nose of hurricane alley.
And what that is, is the winds from the southern Sahara come through Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. And the warmer waters around Puerto Rico, which have warmed because of climate change was rocket fuel for the rapid intensification of Maria. And the studies came out after Maria in the few years after me, not right away, but after Maria, and we learned a lot more about rapid intensification and climate change.
So then, what did you guys do in terms of going after the oil company?
Well, we already had our clients from from, you know, tobacco or from the opioid litigation. And it was just a matter of, you know, they, you know, we’re right for doing something, you know, they I don’t know if you saw the New York Times piece, but Lares, the city, has its cemetery literally floating into the river, you know, so they have to do something about this otherwise, it contaminates the water supply.
So cities were literally like, how are we going to handle this? And so we didn’t really have to convince anybody, you know, and so we were able to get our municipalities together, and file the racketeering complaint.
Okay, well, you’re listening to A Climate Change. This is Matt Matern, and I’ve got Melissa Sims on the program. Melissa is doing a number of important cases. And she’s going to tell us a little bit more about this case, since Puerto Rico when we get back.
You’re listening to A Climate Change. This is Matt Matern. And I’ve got Melissa Sims, who is an environmental attorney on the show.
Melissa, you were telling us about the case that you have against the oil companies for their causing and exacerbating the hurricane, Hurricane Maria that devastated Puerto Rico. I did read that New York Times article, and that’s kind of what led me to you. So it was a great article, very interesting. And tell us a little bit more about how that litigation got started. And then we’ll go from there.
Sure. So I’d like to explain a little bit about you know, why Maria was attributed climate change. So a man you know, if you’re, if you’re ever in the Caribbean, you know that tropical storms come and go. A lot, right? So what what makes one tropical storm though, what makes it a hurricane. And what makes it hurricane is the warmer water, that is an accelerant. That is rocket fuel for hurricane.
And so imagine her tropical storms are top spinning on a table, what makes one of them fall down and die and one makes the other one keep going and bounce around? But we don’t know necessarily what makes them bounce around. But when if it is a top spinning on a table, and if it hits that warmer water around Puerto Rico, then what that does is it gives the people of the island no forewarning about how bad the hurricane is going to be. We in the states can sit there and watch the guy in khakis on CNN talk about, you know the hurricane that’s developing where it’s going the path well, they don’t have that luxury.
They are at ground zero of these massive hurricanes that are being developed. And so the water around Puerto Rico has warmed faster than most waters and because of climate change, it is just precariously positioned in an area that makes that water warm faster. So when that tropical storm hit that warmer water, it it immediately went to category four, and then five and then went through the whole island.
And so the experts in the field are now where we, we, you know, had our hunch, we are had our hunch that, of course, hurricanes were contributed by climate change, the intensive hurricanes are contributed by climate change. And so with that, with that wind and water that came from Hurricane Maria, it really devastated the island. I mean, I don’t know if you remember seeing the videos and, and the pictures of what happened to the island, but 4,645 people died, okay.
Yeah, I do recall seeing those pictures. And the devastation was, as you said, apocalyptic it was unbelievable.
I mean, family members were having to bury their own family, they think about that. So they couldn’t make it to, you know, surfaces, surfaces were out, there was no roads, all the roads were washed away their money.
Everything was replaced by mud and sand. So there were no roads, there was no communication, families didn’t know if anybody in their family was alive for months. And so I remember I was with some public officials, and they had gotten a phone call about some people that had passed away. And they’re like, Well, you know, you’ll have to bury them.
And I just thought, oh, my gosh, these people have to bury their own. Think about that. You know, and then the people who were, you know, needing medical care, they couldn’t go to the hospital. So people died from lack of medical care, and people who are diabetic and you needed, you know, insulin who needed, you know, oxygen.
They, they, it was, you know, they were, you know, absolutely just terrorized, families were, I mean, there’s a lot of people today in Puerto Rico that have PTSD, because of what happened after Maria.
But, but juxtapose that with the people of Puerto Rico, though, and if you’ve ever if you haven’t been to Puerto Rico, you have to go the people there. Islands, beautiful, but the people are more beautiful. They were without power for months, and yet, they still helped each other out, they still, when power did come back, they threw big parades for FEMA, when they came to town, you know, they were very helpful helping community.
And so I think that they became somewhat of the, of the beacon of hope in climate change, too. And that is to help each other out when these disasters happen. So I was actually more impressed. You know, by the way, the people reacted to climate change, and to this horrible, horrifying, devastating event, then, then anything else, it really made me want to help them out even more?
I can relate to that. And certainly in clients that I’ve had, that we’re kind of rose to the occasion, and we’re just amazing people, it does inspire me to fight even harder to do whatever I can to help help those folks. So tell us, when did you file the case? And what’s the status of the case? And what’s going to happen next to the best that you can discern?
Yeah, it was filed in November of 22. And I believe the defendants have some time in September to file we’ve given them time, you know, just because you have to get service on everybody and things like that. And so they have until September a date in September to file their responsive pleadings, which will be a motion to dismiss, then we have the option within 20 days after that, to file an amended complaint, and then they will file another motion to dismiss.
Once that is fully briefed, I would say, you know, in, you know, the spring or summer of next year, we would be in the position to have a hearing on that dispositive motion, which I expect to be a motion dismiss saying that we never alleged a racketeering enterprise. But you know, we’re, we allege racketeering. This is not that novel.
You know, I think a lot of people have acted like, oh, it’s not well, it’s really not racketeering cases are filed all the time. We didn’t know opioids. In the admission cheat cases, we filed racketeering, so they’re done a lot. And all racketeering is, is that more than one person conspired with somebody else and committed predicate offenses and those predicate offenses are listed in the federal statute, and that that further the enterprise and that the enterprise damage the plaintiff, so really, it’s It’s a it’s, you know, not that novel of a of a claim.
And those are filed all the time. In effect the oil industry files them against the protesters, you know, you see them file and racketeering cases, they filed it against Steve Danziger. You know, so, so racketeering cases or are commonly filed. And so we expect, you know, the typical motion to dismiss of racketeering saying that we have an alleged a, an enterprise.
Okay. Have, so is this the first kind of racketeering case that you have filed against oil companies? Or, or has anybody else filed similar cases to this?
Not in climate change. I don’t know if there have been another, maybe price fixing? Or I don’t know, there might have been others? I haven’t filed any of them. But they’re, they were filed quite frequently in the emission cases. And I’m not for sure if any of the oil companies were part of that. I don’t think they were they were basically auto manufacturers and the developers of the software. So I’m not I don’t think I’ve seen any against them for emission problems.
When you say the emissions cases, you’re talking about the Volkswagen cases?
Yeah. The cheat the emission cheat cases. Yes.
Right. So what sounds like you’ve bitten off a big, a big challenge here. But I think it’s it’s great that you’re, you know, moving forward with this case, and quite frankly, kind of setting the precedent or setting the template for others to follow. So have you been talking to other firms or looking at other potential cases, for other localities that have been damaged by climate change?
Well, I get phone calls every day, you know, because climate change takes different forms, as we’ve seen in the news, as a recent, but, you know, it’s really important to have the studies. So the studies take a while to catch up to our, our thoughts, you know, we think it’s related to climate change, but you really have to have experts that will go on record saying that the single event was made bigger, stronger, faster, wetter, because of climate change.
And then you have to point, as we did in our complaint, that these defendants became racketeers and colluded with one another, to hide what they internally knew. So it’s a matter of proving that their conduct was a substantial contributing factor to the damages. And so that doesn’t happen overnight.
But I have my eye on him. I’m watching.
I guess the question is the science. And, you know, I know there’s a lot of great scientific work that’s being done around the world, regarding, you know, just all kinds of different pieces of this puzzle. And as you said, there, there seems to be evolving science on this front. Who do you think is, is doing the best science in this area? And do you see a lack of kind of research into this area that would help kind of prove the basis of liability against the fossil fuel companies?
I think there’s an overabundance of scientists wanting, taking that initiative. These are not scientists initiated by lawyers in in this litigation, this is natural occurring. These are these are scientists who, who say, hey, we want to know, did climate change and climate change have a factors that are exacerbating this? And so they’re not telling they’re not in their, you know, article saying, yes, these defendants caused it.
They’re just saying climate change is a factor, then what you do with that is then you look at the defendants conduct, which what we have here is that, at least in our case, this defendants that we have alleged are 40% of carbon in the atmosphere are attributed to them. So then you turn to the experts and say, okay, it was 40% of carbon in the atmosphere. Did that make this? You know, did that exacerbate this, yes or no.
Well, you’re listening to A Climate Change. This is Matt Matern, and I’ve got Melissa Sims on the program, noted environmental attorney. We’ll be right back. And we’re going to talk about some of these studies and what Exxon knew and their own internal studies that they knew about this type of thing, and yet they just kind of buried it. So stay tuned, and we’ll be right back in just one minute.
You’re listening to A Climate Change. This is Matt Matern. And I’ve got Melissa Sims noted environmental attorney back on the program. And, Melissa, you were just we were just talking about the science related to this.
And my understanding is that Exxon had internal studies going back to the 80s, approximately 40 years ago, in which they had had predicted that we would get up to about 420 or 430 parts per million, right about now 2020s, and that it would have really horrible effects on the environment, and that it would get worse.
And instead of sharing that with everybody, they buried it, and then tried to tell us that climate change wasn’t a problem. And are you relying upon that Exxon internal study as part of your case?
Yeah, it’s not just Exxon. You know, it’s these, the every defendant that we’ve sued took part in this racketeering scheme. So but the API, the American Petroleum Institute, and shell, and Exxon, had been studying the carbon problem is what they call it since the 50s.
So it’s not since the 80s, the 80s is when they had a intern. And they brought in this intern in 1978. And they said, Hey, can you summarize, you know, what we’ve been studying for the last 30 years? Let us know what you think.
So they had it summarized. And that’s when the board started looking at it, but they had been studying it in earnest. Without a foregone conclusion, just wanting to know what is the effect. What is the greenhouse effect. “Greenhouse” the, the term has been around since the 1800s, when we started having the Industrial Revolution. And so they’ve known about the greenhouse effects since the 1800s.
So in in the 50s, Charles Keeling started studying how much carbon was in the atmosphere. And how he did that as he went to the roof or the top of Mauna Loa in Hawaii, and put a needle really high up in the air and then started tracking where the carbon was in the atmosphere and saw that it went up and down just a little bit, but it kept increasing, but it would go up and down a little bit for the seasons. In other words, you know, when when the leaves started to decay, then the carbon would go up higher, and then when the leaves were green, then that would soak up some carbon in the atmosphere.
So we got to see the effect of of trees and and how much it was increasing. And he noticed that it was a pattern that it was increasing. And so that’s important to also what Exxon was studying. So all the companies were studying climate change, and what’s going to happen and how bad is it going to get and when is it going to get bad?
And so in the ‘70s, when they had this intern, kind of compile their findings, he had even suggested that the world go on a carbon budget. And he had predicted in this memo, a graph and we have that graph in the complaint, but it has on one side, the year it has on the other side, the other axis, it has the how much the world was going to warm and then plotted in the middle was carbon in the atmosphere from the Keeling Curve, which had been in existence for 20 years at that point in time.
But he had projected out how much carbon was going to be in the atmosphere at the same time the earth was going to warm and by what year, and that is accurate today. So they had particularized internal knowledge of carbon in the atmosphere, what year and how much it was going to warm.
So then, you know, the companies decided, okay, what are we going to do with this information? You had the real conference, you had people starting to look at this. And they got together in March of 1998, a bunch of representatives from these companies, and we have a detailed in our complaint. And they came up with the victory memo.
And its victory for them not for the world, but on how they were going to change public opinion or how they were going to make it to where they could continue to sell their fossil fuel related products, consumer products, and how they were going to change the narrative flip the script, and they were successful.
I mean, still to this day, there’s people out there some of my relatives who say climate change isn’t real, that shows you how effective they were at this marketing campaign. So the defendants that we have sued, took a took a role in that victory memo that either they either paid for these studies, these counter studies that were against the weight of scientific consensus, or they somehow actively participated in the effect of that victory memo, and that is the key to the racketeering enterprise.
What they did is they hired tobacco strategists who came up with the tobacco plan to let people think that smoking didn’t cause cancer, and they use those same strike just in trying to dupe the world that their products did not increase carbon in the atmosphere would not have a detrimental effect on our world.
So now those tobacco strategist had not yet been indicted for racketeering, remember. So that racketeering case came out in 1998. So this victory memo was in early 1998. So Shell also had 1988 was a pivotal year, Shell also had an internal memo called the Tina memo. And what Tina means is there is no alternative. And it’s a term of art in investment. Like when you have a business, you know, you can’t go back, right?
It’s Margaret Thatcher actually made it a popular term. But it just means Hey, this is where we’re at, we can’t go back. And in this memo, they predicted so predicted that there would be Amazon there would be online shopping, people would be driving more they people would need these carbon related traffic or transportation needs.
And so in other words, there was no going back in the memo, they also describe that and by 2010, there would be a series of violent storms that would affect the eastern coast of the United States. And that it would spark a group of environmentalists to file a class action lawsuit against the fossil fuel industry for hiding information that they knew about climate change. And so our Puerto Rico complaint came seven years after they predicted that they would be sued.
That’s just remarkable. I mean, and, you know, it’s remarkable how evil they are. And there was a Yellow Dot Studios little video, YouTube video, and it shows Darth Vader saying something to the effect of, you know, “Exxon, I am kind of embarrassed and ashamed” or something like that “about how evil you guys are it kind of out does even me.” I mean, “I have to give you guys props for your evilness.”
One of the things I’m thinking about as you’re talking is, have there been any shareholder cases against Exxon and the other petroleum companies for lying to their shareholders about the potential devastating effect of to their finances and to their investments for being sued, and being held responsible for their causing the climate crisis?
So there was one case by the New York Attorney General, it wasn’t exactly climate change, it was basically that they had made some allegation about manipulating their numbers, okay. It was kind of related to climate change with that case was dismissed. Shareholder derivative suits are really, really difficult, really difficult to file. I know, it sounds easy, but it’s really not. So there, there have not been there has not been any that I’ve known yet.
But the very important part about this, the reason why there is no alternative is very important here is because had the fossil fuel companies notified the world and said, hey, the gig is up, our products cause this, that those reserves that they have those assets that they have would no longer be in the black side of their, of their balance sheet, it would be in the red side. Okay. So it was very important to the business model to make sure that their products stayed in the black side of the balance sheet.
Well, it’s a fascinating situation and obviously a appreciate your great work in bringing these polluters to justice. One of the things that we talked about is that you have a lot of this material, the sciences at the Saban school at Columbia University in New York. And so if anybody wants to check out their website to find out all the science that’s behind it, please do.
And you can follow us on our social media channels on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Also go to our website at aclimatechange.com, leave us some comments and feedback. Tell us topics, guests, questions you would like us to ask our future guests, as well as go to Apple Music or Spotify – give us a review.
And in the coming weeks, go out and take some action to improve our environment. Talk to your elected officials, volunteer, and most importantly, be the change that you want to see in the world.
So, Melissa, it’s been a pleasure having you on the program. And we’d love to keep in touch with you going forward to see how the work that you’re doing. And if we can collaborate with you. That’d be great.
Great, I appreciate it. Thank you for your time.
Yeah, thank you, and you’re listening to A Climate Change, everybody tune back in next week, where we’re going to have, you know, great guests going forward talking to talking with us about the issues that affect us most, and our climate, and how we can help and where we can take action because that’s important. It’s it’s important that all of us have a role in this process.
And I think one of the things that’s most inspiring about Melissa’s story is how she found a way to address these issues in a very creative, very creative fashion so we can all go out and do our best.
(Note: this is an automatic transcription and may have errors in formatting and grammar.)
Help Us Combat Climate Change by Subscribing to our Newsletter!