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Charging Big Oil with Climate Homicide

Preliminary Prosecution Memo for July 2023 Heat Wave

By Aaron Regunberg, Cindy Cho, David Arkush, Donald Braman

Download the full memo here

Executive Summary

This preliminary “prosecution memorandum” draws from publicly available material to assess potential criminal charges that local or state prosecutors could bring against major fossil fuel companies (“FFCs”) for lives lost in a climate disaster. To ground this assessment in real-world analysis, it focuses on one specific factual scenario: the lethal heat wave that struck the American Southwest in July 2023, causing hundreds of deaths in Maricopa County.

Though this memo asks a particular question—how officials in Maricopa County could pursue reckless manslaughter or second degree murder prosecutions for deaths caused by the July 2023 wave—its analysis is relevant in most jurisdictions where prosecutors might seek justice for climate victims. Some jurisdictions define homicide or their causation requirements slightly differently, but the charges discussed and reasoning employed in this memorandum could be investigated in practically any jurisdiction that has experienced climate-related deaths. Indeed, the authors hope this public memo can serve as a starting point for any prosecutor who wants to build a case to protect their constituents from the lethal climate disasters that are threatening public safety in communities across the country.

Download the full memo here.