As Earth Warms, Legal Threats Abound for Scientists Studying Climate Change

Thus far, 2022 has been the busiest year in CSLDF history. From January through April, CSLDF attorneys have helped 22 scientists, researchers, and professors with urgent legal issues ranging from defamation concerns and invasive open records requests to scientific integrity threats and scientific advocacy engagement. This puts us on track to nearly double the number of scientists we would typically serve in one year.

While CSLDF’s early work focused on helping scientists who were being targeted over the scientific validity of their research, we are more and more frequently providing legal assistance to scientists who are engaged in public education and advocacy around climate change. Since January, we have helped five scientists with this type of engagement—from concerns around serving as an expert witness to legal risks from taking public action on climate change. We have also helped six scientists navigate various First Amendment issues, another six scientists targeted with invasive open records lawsuits, and three scientists facing censorship of their work.

Despite Trump’s presidency coming to an end and President Biden’s slow but steady efforts to improve scientific integrity at the federal level, the well-funded anti-science movement has ramped up its attempts to distract, deny, and intimidate. As policymakers begin to take more action to address climate change, CSLDF attorneys have seen fossil fuel-funded special interests becoming bolder in trying to silence a wide range of climate researchers: physicists, atmospheric scientists, glaciologists, sociologists studying climate misinformation, and physicians studying the health impacts of a hotter planet with more frequent and extreme disasters. We have been busy helping scientists tackle issues of industry and government censorship, and advising researchers who want to be more engaged in scientific advocacy efforts even in the face of increasing risks.

As the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest report reveals, the window for avoiding disastrous consequences is rapidly closing. Thus, it is simultaneously more vital and more precarious than ever for scientists to carry their voices into the public sphere.

Our attorneys continue to engage in educational efforts – such as our recent joint “know your rights” event with March for Science – empowering scientists to take action. We also remain diligent in our direct representation of clients in what is shaping up to be a year of increasing industry-led efforts to silence scientists. In some of the hottest years on record, scientific research and advocacy should not be viewed as politically controversial. Climate change is truly an existential issue and its mitigation depends on the unfettered work of climate researchers. So long as pro-fossil fuel groups continue to be emboldened in their efforts to silence and derail these scientists, and the government continues to fall short in providing sufficient protections for them, CSLDF will be there to defend, educate, and resist.

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