No Tanks! The Problem with Arnold’s Impractical Campaign Against Oil Producers

Declaring “This is no different from the smoking issue,” Arnold Schwarzenegger—the Cigar Aficionado cover model whose car collection includes a 41-ton tank—has vowed to take oil companies to court “for knowingly killing people all over the world.”


Where to begin?

First, let’s dispense with the smoking comparison, which is an often-repeated falsehood that was concocted at the now infamous 2012 La Jolla conference.

The conference—which was attended by two dozen of the nation’s leading environmental activists and trial lawyers—sought to “compare legal strategies related to tobacco control with those related to anthropogenic climate change.” But their plan had a fatal flaw—oil is not tobacco.

“The activities that contribute to climate change are highly beneficial to us,” said one La Jolla participant. “We love them.”

None other than Stanton Glantz, the nation’s leading anti-tobacco activist and one of the conference attendees, pointed out that there is “a fundamental difference between tobacco and climate change.”

“The fact is,” he said, “we do need some form of energy,” and it “seems unlikely” that “alternative energy forms [can] replace the current carbon producers.”

The other problem with Arnold’s planned lawsuit is that he is focusing exclusively on carbon producers while ignoring carbon emitters.

This isn’t surprising, really. The La Jolla activists were adamant that oil and natural gas producers should be held solely liable for climate change. In fact, one of their five “Workshop Goals” was to “consider … the legal merits of targeting carbon producers—as opposed to carbon emitters—for U.S.-focused climate mitigation.”

Arnold was simply following the script.

And by ignoring the billions of us carbon “emitters” who benefit greatly from oil and natural gas products, anti-industry activists like Arnold—who literally commuted from L.A. to Sacramento on his private Gulfstream jet every day for years—can accuse the industry of “first degree murder” without a hint of irony.

Now, if Arnold really does act on his threat to go after the oil and gas industries “like an Alabama tick” for the costs they have allegedly imposed on society, you can bet his lawyers will be bombarded by overwhelming evidence of the benefits the world has derived from oil and natural gas and the countless products that are made from them. Because unlike tobacco, which imposes great costs on society, oil and natural gas have benefitted the world in immeasurable ways.

And that is the inherent flaw in all of the La Jolla-inspired assaults against the oil and natural gas industries, and the Keep It in the Ground movement in general. From the municipal climate-change lawsuits, to the eco-terrorist necessity-defense court cases, to Arnold’s high-profile effort to regain relevance, the activists always fail to take into account the tremendous benefits that we all get from oil and natural gas. And as a result, their campaigns ultimately collapse.

Here’s a simple cost-benefit analogy that Arnold should appreciate, given his love of expensive gas-guzzling cars (and tanks). Every year, more than one million people are killed in traffic accidents around the globe. Some 40,000 people are killed on our nation’s highways alone.

And every single one of those fatalities is preventable by simply banning the use of cars.

But no one is threatening to sue car manufacturers for first-degree murder. And there are no “Keep It in the Garage” activists sabotaging automobile assembly lines, because the benefits of automotive technology far outweigh the costs. And people are simply unwilling to pay such an extreme price to address the problem.

Instead, car manufacturers and policymakers relentlessly work to make automobiles and highways safer, just as oil producers and policymakers relentlessly work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

This solution may not be as exciting as “Suing Big Oil for First Degree Murder,” but it is much more practical. Then again, the notion of practicality might be lost on a guy who owns a tank.