But as we explained in our preview of the trial in New York State Supreme Court, what was originally advertised as a frontal assault on Big Oil for fueling the planetary climate crisis has—over the years—been transformed into the kind of hair-hurting corporate accounting lawsuit more common to the courthouses just a few subway stops north of Wall Street.
Not exactly a final reckoning for global warming. So how did this happen? How did New York’s legal broadsword turn into a scalpel?
Back in late 2015, when then-New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced his unprecedented investigation of Exxon, he sold it as a general attack on one of the alleged perpetrators of climate change. He said he wanted to find out if Exxon and other oil companies hid early knowledge of fossil fuel’s role in global warming and then tried to undermine climate science—allegations laid out in reporting by two news organizations. The energy giant has denied any such wrongdoing.
Proving the explosive claims turned out to be harder than Schneiderman thought. After years of legal battles with Exxon, which fought the investigation at every step, the attorney general’s office was left with a very different case to make.
But when New York state finally got its hands on some 4 million pages of documents, they weren’t enough to make the bigger case: that Exxon lied about climate science or the future value of its yet untapped assets.
Really makes you think.