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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 7:50 AM
Updated: Jan 12, 2018 7:50 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.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 13260

Reported Deaths: 625
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds89324
Lauderdale67855
Madison65421
Scott58910
Neshoba51231
Forrest48034
Jones46713
DeSoto4616
Leake38410
Holmes36523
Rankin3496
Jackson29613
Copiah2784
Attala27014
Lincoln24320
Monroe24224
Leflore24025
Harrison2346
Newton2243
Lamar2194
Yazoo2152
Pearl River20327
Pike19611
Adams18615
Lowndes1607
Noxubee1586
Washington1535
Warren1506
Bolivar14010
Jasper1393
Oktibbeha13410
Smith13110
Covington1271
Chickasaw12612
Clarke12616
Kemper12510
Lafayette1233
Carroll11310
Wayne1090
Marion1088
Lee1045
Clay993
Winston981
Coahoma983
Lawrence901
Hancock8711
Simpson850
Itawamba857
Yalobusha824
Wilkinson829
Montgomery781
Sunflower773
Grenada752
Jefferson Davis712
Union715
Tippah7011
Marshall693
Panola622
Calhoun604
Tate591
Claiborne581
Humphreys537
Amite521
Walthall510
Tunica483
Perry462
Jefferson400
Prentiss383
Stone300
Choctaw292
Webster271
Pontotoc263
Franklin252
Tishomingo250
Quitman240
Tallahatchie241
George191
Alcorn151
Benton140
Greene71
Sharkey70
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 14478

Reported Deaths: 551
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Mobile1996109
Jefferson161488
Montgomery118630
Marshall6499
Tuscaloosa50512
Lee49832
Franklin4476
Shelby43319
Tallapoosa39662
Butler34411
Chambers33623
Madison2964
Baldwin2749
Elmore2637
Etowah23610
DeKalb2213
Coffee2001
Walker1981
Dallas1973
Sumter1916
Lowndes18610
Houston1644
Morgan1621
Autauga1593
Calhoun1413
Choctaw1414
Pike1360
Colbert1362
Marengo1336
Hale1293
Russell1280
Lauderdale1282
Randolph1257
Wilcox1187
Marion11310
Bullock1111
Barbour1101
Clarke1022
St. Clair1021
Pickens934
Talladega912
Greene894
Chilton871
Dale830
Cullman760
Limestone740
Jackson692
Covington651
Washington645
Winston620
Macon602
Bibb591
Crenshaw582
Henry562
Blount491
Escambia433
Lawrence420
Coosa331
Geneva330
Cherokee332
Perry310
Monroe282
Clay272
Conecuh251
Lamar200
Cleburne131
Fayette110
Unassigned00
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