Judge William Alsup in San Francisco is presiding over a case in which California cities are suing the big oil companies over the climate-related disasters they're experiencing; Judge Alsup asked for a "tutorial" session in which experts for both sides would be asked to explain the underlying science, something he's done in earlier cases that turned on technical questions, including a DACA case and a case on lidar and self-driving cars.
The Verge sent Sarah Jeong, a cyberlawyer/journalist (previously) and science reporter Rachel Becker to the courtroom, and their writeup of the hearing is nothing short of brilliant.
The plaintiffs sent a string of eminent climate scientists, while Chevron sent an eminent litigator, Theodore Boutrous, who had really crammed on the 2013 IPCC report, but who knew nothing about climate science in the past five years and wasn't able to answer any of the judge's questions. Judge Alsup had clearly been doing a lot of homework on climate change, and is also refreshingly -- even puckishly -- willing to ask questions about anything that crosses his mind, without worrying about sounding dumb.
Speaking for Chevron, Boutrous concedes that everything in the IPCC is correct, that climate change is real, and that humans caused it. But Boutrous carefully parses out why none of that means that the oil companies did anything wrong, drawing heavily on the denial and doubt playbook created by Big Tobacco during the fight to establish a link between smoking and cancer.
Jeong and Becker really capture the flavor of the exchange -- and the potential tactical blunder from Chevron is refusing to pony up their own experts. They also note that a bunch of anti-climate-science shills asked for leave to file as amici or to testify, seemingly without luck.
It became swiftly apparent that the judge was taking the opportunity to satisfy his curiosity on absolutely anything that had occurred to him, prompting Allen at one point to spread his arms out in a wobbling motion to describe the motion of carbon dioxide molecules when they absorb infrared radiation. At another point, Judge Alsup and Allen went on a long, wandering detour about whether the relationship between two variables was logarithmic or linear.
The wide range of questions put Boutrous at a disadvantage. At one point, the judge interrupted him with a question about undersea lava flows and ocean temperatures, citing an interesting “geology show” he had seen on television a few weeks ago. Because this fell far outside the scope of any of the presentations or the IPCC report, his question went unanswered.
The unnamed geology show wasn’t the only kind of preparation that Alsup had made. He also mentioned that he had rewatched An Inconvenient Truth, and acknowledged that he had been reading several books on climate science and its history, even challenging Boutrous at one point about a scientist that he had left out in his rundown of the history of climate science.
“You jumped over 1938. Who was in 1938?” he asked the lawyer.
“... 1938?” Boutrous asked.
“There was a guy named Callendar,” Alsup prompted. “The Callendar effect is named after him.”
Chevron’s lawyer, speaking for major oil companies, says climate change is real and it’s your fault [Sarah Jeong and Rachel Becker/The Verge]