An Oxford physicist says global warming could soon have a legal component — energy companies could be sued for deaths and damage resulting from climate change, he theorizes.

"We are starting to get to the point that when an adverse weather event occurs we can quantify how much more likely it was made by human activity," Myles Allen tells the Guardian in a report published Tuesday. "People adversely affected by climate change today are in a position to document and quantify their losses. This is going to be hugely important."

His team of researchers has developed a computer-modeling technique to calculate how much of recent natural disasters was due to man-made global warming.

For example, Allen says human activity more than doubled the severity of heat waves such as the one that killed thousands in France in the summer of 2003. Only the impenetrability of the French legal system prevented lawsuits in that occurrence, he says.

"We can work out whether climate change has loaded the dice and made extreme weather more likely," says Allen. "And once the risk is doubled, then lawyers get interested."

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