Study says human activity raises risk of heat waves; lawsuits possible

Human activity is raising the risk of another heat wave like the one that ravaged Europe in the summer of 2003, says a new study in the journal Nature — and the link may open the way for lawsuits against polluters. Using computer models, researchers were able to quantify the degree of risk for which human activity is responsible, which climatologists Christoph Schar and Gerd Jendritzky call “the first successful attempt to detect man-made influence on a specific extreme climate event.” Lead researcher Myles Allen took the unusual step of coauthoring a second article in the journal with a senior U.K. attorney, asserting that “the fraction of risk due to human events is starting to reach the level where a court might find the emitters responsible.” While no individual climate event can be tied directly to human activity, the fact that such activity measurably raises the risk may serve as the basis for class-action lawsuits, modeled on successful suits filed against tobacco companies in the U.S. in the 1990s.

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