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A bold bid for climate justice

Americans are paying a fearsome price for global warming. The federal government's National Oceanographic and Atmosp...

Posted: Jan 12, 2018 8:50 AM
Updated: Jan 12, 2018 8:50 AM

Americans are paying a fearsome price for global warming. The federal government's National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration reported earlier this week that the three powerful Atlantic hurricanes of 2017 -- Harvey, Irma and Maria -- cost Americans $265 billion, and massive Western forest fires another $18 billion. Scientists have shown that human-induced climate change has greatly increased the frequency and intensity of such disasters

This week, New York City showed bold leadership with decisive action for climate safety and justice.

The oil companies have known for decades that their product is dangerous for the planet, but they relentlessly hid the evidence, stoking confusion rather than solutions. Through individual company efforts to support climate denialism and confusion, and through relentless and reckless lobbying by the US Chamber of Commerce and the American Petroleum Institute, the companies launched a full-blown assault on climate science to stop or delay the shift to renewable energy.

Big Oil bought the Republican Congress with massive campaign donations. Republican senators led the witless Donald Trump to pull out of the Paris Agreement.

There are alternatives to runaway climate change. North America has vast reserves of wind, solar, hydro, geothermal and other zero-carbon energy to power the United States, Canada, and Mexico. New York can go green and electric by midcentury through electric vehicles, electricity-powered public transit, and electric heat pumps for buildings, powered by electricity from wind, solar and hydroelectric power.

The city has produced a road map to reduce emissions by 80% by 2050. Based on the rapid progress of zero-carbon energy systems and smart cities, I believe that a 100% reduction -- full decarbonization -- is likely to be feasible and advisable, well before 2050.

Despite these effective and economical options, the retrograde coal, oil and gas producers are trying to stop the transition to clean and safe energy. They are willfully and knowingly imposing vast damages on the public to continue their destructive activities, by promoting more drilling for fossil energy, opposing climate change policies such as the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan, and pretending that natural gas is an "environmentally friendly" energy source when in fact the world urgently needs to move to zero-carbon energy.

New Yorkers alone are paying tens of billions of dollars to rebuild from Hurricane Sandy and to protect against rising sea levels. Mayor Bill de Blasio and other city leaders are saying that enough is enough: enough lies, enough CO2 and methane emissions, enough massive flooding, and enough corporate greed. It's time for the industry to clean up and pay up for the damages from its misdeeds.

The city announced two important steps this week. The first is divestment -- selling the investments in fossil fuel companies that are in the city's $189 billion pension funds.

Fossil fuel is a lousy investment in the 21st century. The scientific evidence is clear. To meet the limits on global warming set in Paris, we have to decarbonize the energy system by midcentury at the latest. Even if we do, we still will face high costs for generations to come from the climate change that has already occurred. Yet we still have the chance to head off a catastrophic rise in warming that could lead to several meters of sea level rise and other disasters to health and safety.

By divesting, New York joins other investors who have gotten rid of fossil fuel investments in sending a powerful message to the major oil companies: Transition out of your world-threatening activities. It's past time to stop drilling for more oil and gas when the world already has in proven reserves much more than could ever safely be used, and invest instead in wind, solar, hydro and other low-carbon energy sources. The world will have to "strand" some large portion of the coal, oil and gas reserves already discovered. There is certainly no need to develop new, high-cost oil and gas fields in Alaska, the Arctic or coastal waters.

The second step is a lawsuit calling for five major oil companies -- BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell -- to compensate New York for damages from climate change. By bringing the lawsuit, the city joins a growing wave of climate litigation that attempts to hold the fossil-fuel industry accountable in court. Two recent advances in knowledge make such lawsuits both timely and powerful.

First, careful researchers have collected data showing the contributions by specific oil companies to the world's overall CO2 and methane emissions. Those data demonstrate the large share of emissions due to oil and gas production by the major companies after 1980 -- that is, during the period when the companies already knew or should have known of the great dangers caused by their products.

Second, climate science can now offer an assessment of the damages that can reasonably be attributed to the companies' products. The attribution is generally stated in the form of a probability or a frequency, for example, that a particular massive flood surge was twice as likely, or 10 times as likely, because of global warming.

This is the same kind of assessment we make when we say that a particular case of lung cancer was most likely caused by smoking even though the cancer may have occurred without smoking. Courts often assess liability on the basis of such probabilities.

No doubt the oil companies will fight back with huge teams of lawyers and lobbyists. The lawsuits are an uphill battle. But the world's people will be rooting for New York and other plaintiffs in this important effort. How much better it would be if the companies honestly acknowledged their wrongs and declared to the world that they are prepared to work for, and partly pay for, realistic solutions for climate safety.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 51079

Reported Deaths: 2756
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion12019693
Lake5588248
Elkhart353959
Allen2939134
St. Joseph210669
Hamilton1691101
Cass16449
Hendricks1454100
Johnson1340118
Porter82638
Tippecanoe7709
Vanderburgh7276
Clark69544
Madison67464
LaPorte61628
Howard59858
Bartholomew59745
Kosciusko5754
Marshall5449
Noble51328
LaGrange4849
Boone48244
Jackson4783
Delaware47152
Hancock46736
Shelby45425
Floyd40644
Morgan34231
Monroe34028
Grant31826
Dubois3046
Henry30018
Montgomery29720
Clinton2903
White27410
Dearborn25823
Decatur25632
Lawrence25225
Vigo2528
Warrick25029
Harrison21722
Greene19432
Miami1932
Jennings17912
Putnam1738
DeKalb1694
Scott1649
Wayne1546
Daviess15017
Perry14710
Orange13723
Steuben1362
Jasper1352
Ripley1307
Franklin1278
Gibson1202
Wabash1162
Carroll1142
Fayette1067
Whitley1066
Starke1043
Newton10010
Huntington942
Jefferson862
Wells821
Randolph794
Fulton731
Knox710
Jay700
Washington681
Pulaski661
Clay645
Rush613
Posey570
Spencer541
Owen521
Benton510
Sullivan501
Adams491
Brown431
Blackford402
Fountain352
Crawford330
Switzerland320
Tipton321
Parke270
Martin260
Ohio230
Vermillion200
Warren151
Union140
Pike110
Unassigned0193

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 64214

Reported Deaths: 3036
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Franklin11724445
Cuyahoga8979393
Hamilton6781207
Lucas2952305
Marion274539
Montgomery244035
Summit2327209
Pickaway222241
Mahoning1928239
Butler182147
Columbiana137860
Stark1214114
Lorain112069
Trumbull104578
Warren97725
Clark80010
Delaware69815
Fairfield66717
Tuscarawas60410
Lake58923
Medina58232
Belmont56922
Licking56812
Miami50631
Portage49259
Wood48851
Clermont4737
Ashtabula44744
Geauga42543
Wayne37253
Richland3715
Allen35641
Greene3439
Mercer29910
Erie27122
Holmes2595
Darke25626
Huron2402
Madison2169
Ottawa17324
Sandusky16015
Washington14620
Ross1443
Coshocton1423
Athens1391
Crawford1385
Putnam13715
Hardin12312
Morrow1201
Auglaize1094
Jefferson1092
Muskingum1001
Union931
Preble901
Monroe8917
Hancock861
Lawrence830
Guernsey823
Clinton811
Hocking809
Williams762
Shelby744
Logan711
Ashland672
Carroll673
Fulton670
Scioto670
Wyandot635
Brown611
Fayette550
Defiance533
Knox531
Champaign511
Highland501
Van Wert471
Perry441
Seneca412
Henry330
Paulding300
Jackson280
Pike280
Adams261
Vinton232
Gallia201
Noble140
Harrison131
Meigs130
Morgan110
Unassigned00
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