UCLA law professor Ann Carlson is thankful for the role wealthy plaintiffs’ attorneys play in advancing climate change litigation across the country. She is also grateful for the significant funding her UCLA law clinic receives to focus on climate litigation efforts. But what’s not always clear is Carlson’s own position and her ties to lawyers and donors pressing forward with a climate litigation agenda.
Earlier this fall, I had a chance to hear directly from Carlson at the 27th Annual Environmental Law Conference at Yosemite. The event had everything one might expect, including plenty of talk about the recent Supreme Court confirmation and California’s role in pushing back against President Trump.
What caught my attention, however, was the panel on climate change litigation featuring Carlson and Victor Sher of Sher Edling, LLP in San Francisco, one of the primary plaintiffs’ attorneys working to file climate liability lawsuits across the country. The panel discussion centered on the question, “Is Climate Change the next Big Tobacco?” and analyzed complaints filed against three dozen companies under public nuisance, design defect, and negligence claims.
Carlson noted in her presentation that she was “highly skeptical” of the climate cases first brought in the early 2000s. The most recent round of cases are “different,” she argued, because they are being filed in state courts, where she believes they stand a better chance than previous cases. Her talking points included mention of the often-cited Rockefeller-funded 2015 investigations by InsideClimate News and the Columbia School of Journalism as well as the Rockefeller-funded science conducted by the Climate Accountability Institute on climate change attribution.
But the biggest difference in this round of climate litigation according to Carlson? Sher Edling, the plaintiffs attorneys, leading the climate litigation vanguard. As Carlson argued, it’s “because Sher Edling really knows how to plot against these defendants and knows what it takes in terms of resources, they know what to expect, there will be mud flung in every direction, hoping something will stick to the wall.”