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Climate Activists File Involuntary Manslaughter Claim Against Big Oil

In a dramatic move sure to attract attention, environmental activists have launched an unprecedented legal action against oil giant TotalEnergies and its major shareholders, including BlackRock and Norges Bank. The case, filed in a French court, seeks to hold these entities criminally responsible for extreme weather events attributed to climate change, with charges as serious as involuntary manslaughter.

Individuals affected by disasters like Greek wildfires, Storm Alex, and Cyclone Idai, supported by the environmental group Bloom, argue that the science linking climate change to fossil fuel emissions justifies these severe charges. This theatrical legal approach targets TotalEnergies’ CEO, Patrick Pouyanné, and the company’s directors, right before the company’s annual meeting, potentially setting the stage for a heated debate.

Traditionally, environmental lawsuits against major corporations have focused on specific, tangible incidents such as oil spills. This case, however, attempts to connect broader climate impacts to corporate activities. Previous legal challenges against TotalEnergies have involved accusations of greenwashing and environmental concerns about its projects in Tanzania and Uganda, but none have attempted to impose criminal liability on this scale.

The Paris criminal prosecutor now has three months to decide whether to initiate an investigation. Should they proceed, it could set a significant precedent with substantial implications for the industry. The potential penalties are serious: France’s maximum sentence for involuntary manslaughter is five years in prison, with additional charges for damaging biodiversity and endangering lives carrying similarly severe punishments.

The stakes are high for TotalEnergies and the broader oil and gas industry. Legal experts, such as Donald Braman from George Washington University, suggest that criminal prosecutions could exert more pressure on companies than civil lawsuits. "It’s not murder because they’re not intending to kill people, but climate change is killing more than you typically see in a homicide case," Braman remarked.

Bloom aims to create a legal framework where the consequences of climate crimes are concrete and severe, hoping to slow the expansion of oil and gas operations and accelerate the energy transition. Whether this case will set a new legal precedent or be seen as an overreach remains to be seen.

TotalEnergies, BlackRock, and Norges Bank have yet to comment on the allegations.

By Julianne Geiger for Oilprice.com


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  • Mamdouh Salameh on May 21 2024 said:
    Environmental activists are losing the climate change arguments globally and becoming so desperate that they are now going to the ridiculous extent of filing involuntary manslaughter claim against Big Oil.

    In an unprecedented legal action against French oil giant TotalEnergies and its major shareholders, environmental activists are seeking to hold these entities criminally responsible for extreme weather events attributed to climate change, with charges as serious as involuntary manslaughter.

    TotalEnergies should launch a case against these militant activists claiming that they disrupting the vital operations of Big Oil which keeps the global economy ticking and in so doing they are causing misery to people, unemployment and in some cases starvation and deaths.

    Dr Mamdouh G Salameh
    International Oil Economist
    Global Energy Expert


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