The Chevron case may be most devastating for the plaintiffs in the Amazon, who never received their judgment despite being left with hundreds of unlined waste pits and contaminated water and soil from millions of gallons of spilled crude oil and billions of gallons of dumped toxic waste. Everything that’s happened to Donziger “is small potatoes compared to the fact that Kaplan has rendered the damage the company actually did as totally irrelevant,” said Nesson.

But the latest twists and turns in the Chevron case may also be particularly bad news for climate activists. A mere 20 companies are responsible for a third of the greenhouse gases emitted in the modern era; Chevron ranks second only to Saudi Aramco among them. And it’s increasingly clear that addressing the climate crisis will require confronting these mega-emitters, whose resources for litigation dwarf that of any individual.

Making Chevron and other companies clean up the messes created by their oil production will speed the transition away from fossil fuels, according to Rex Weyler, an environmental advocate who co-founded Greenpeace International and directed the original Greenpeace Foundation. “If hydrocarbon companies are forced to pay for the true costs of their product, which include these environmental costs, it will make the alternative energy systems more competitive,” said Weyler.

Accordingly, Weyler feels that the climate movement should focus on Chevron’s case — and Donziger’s legal battle. “One of the most effective things climate activists can do right now to change the system would be to not let Chevron get away with polluting in these countries, whether Ecuador, Nigeria, or anywhere” said Weyler. While some human rights and environmental advocates have tried to call attention to Donziger’s case and Chevron’s bullying of him, Weyler felt that the outcry should be louder.

After seeing what’s happened to Donziger, and some of his former allies, whom Chevron has gone after as “nonparty co-conspirators,” people may be afraid to stand up to the company. Donziger himself is living in fear. There is no set punishment when a judge files for criminal contempt of court, so he spends his days worrying over what will happen to him next. “It’s scary,” he told me. “I don’t know what they’re thinking.”

But Weyler pointed out that Chevron, which could still be forced to pay the multibillion-dollar judgment by courts in another country, is also afraid. “They are afraid of the precedent. Not only is Chevron afraid, the entire extraction industry is afraid of the precedent,” said Weyler. “They do not want to be held responsible for the pollution of their industry.”