During a live taping with Politico’s “Off Message” podcast at South by Southwest Conference and Festivals in Austin, Texas, the retired politician and current environmental activist said he is speaking with several law firms about launching the lawsuit.
He compared the impact of oil companies, which he said are “knowingly killing people all over the world,” with that of the tobacco industry.
“This is no different from the smoking issue,” he said. “The tobacco industry knew for years and years and years and decades that smoking would kill people, would harm people and create cancer, and were hiding that fact from the people and denied it. Then eventually they were taken to court and had to pay hundreds of millions of dollars because of that. The oil companies knew from 1959 on, they did their own study that there would be global warming happening because of fossil fuels, and on top of it that it would be risky for people’s lives, that it would kill.”
He later said, “I don’t think there’s any difference: If you walk into a room and you know you’re going to kill someone, it’s first-degree murder. I think it’s the same thing with the oil companies.”
The activist said he hoped the lawsuit would at least force people to look at global reliance on fossil fuels and promote clean energy.
Global oil extraction has been accompanied by environmental degradation, and Schwarzenegger’s case, whether or not eventually successful, represents a bold and polarizing move to publicize the widespread impacts of the world’s reliance on fossil fuels.
Oil organizations possess powerful legal teams and will certainly fight any allegations levied by the former governor. The public response to Schwarzenegger’s campaign is a more unknown variable. How the American populace —which, despite being the world’s second-highest greenhouse gas emitter, has not fully accepted climate science — reacts to a movement directly exposing the global footprint of the oil industry will be a useful indicator of how willing the country is to combat climate change.