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Why Are More Cities Divesting From Big Oil? It’s Moral—and Practical


#1

Why Are More Cities Divesting From Big Oil? It’s Moral—and Practical

Sylvia Chi

In January, New York City announced that it would both divest its $189 billion pension fund from fossil fuel companies and sue the world’s five biggest oil companies for their contributions to catastrophic climate change. The city plans to move the $5 billion it now invests in fossil fuel companies into other investments within the next five years.


#2

“The lawsuit, in turn, cites climate change-caused damage, such as flooding and erosion and future threats, and asks BP, ExxonMobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and Shell to pay for it.”

How on earth could any reasonable court justify this?

  1. It is impossible to determine if x amount of CO2 emissions causes any particular weather event. Heat absorbed in the atmosphere does NOT directly cause storms or weather patterns. Such a claim illustrates a complete misunderstanding of meteorology.
  2. Flooding is not caused solely by temperature. In fact a large contributor to flooding is infrastructure and elevation, which has no relation to oil and gas development.
  3. Erosion has NOTHING to do GHG emissions. Why on earth is this included?
  4. You cannot settle a civil suit in which the defendant is charged for future damages. Not only does that go against burden of proof for basic civil law, but its also unconstitutional to make a company pay for damages that have not occurred yet.

"In September, San Francisco and Oakland filed separate lawsuits against the same five oil companies seeking payment for the construction of new seawalls and other infrastructure required to protect the cities from rising sea levels. Marin and San Mateo counties, and the city of Imperial Beach in San Diego County, sued dozens of fossil fuel firms, making similar arguments."
Yes this was done, but none of the cities won their case. Probably because the suit has legal or scientific basis for its claims that oil and gas companies are responsible for sea level rise.


#3

Dare to be stoopid!


#4

Sorry to rain on the parade but as long as profits are to be made, investment in fossil fuels will continue.

A recent article to demonstrate this

BP’s annual profits more than doubled in 2017, largely thanks to the global increase in oil prices. The oil giant made $6.2bn ($4.4bn), up from $2.6bn made during the previous 12 months. Chief executive Bob Dudley hailed it “as one of the strongest years in BP’s recent history”. BP opened seven new oil and gas fields during 2017 and its oil production rose 12% to 247 million barrels of oil per day…The company’s ability to generate cash remains prodigious. (my emphasis)


#5

Attempts to sue oil and gas companies for climate change are driven by greedy lawyers. They are the ones who stand to win whether the lawsuits succeed or fail. And divestiture is a fraud. Even once the energy sector goes carbon free the rest of the economy will need fossil fuels for the foreseeable future to create plastics and a range of synthetic products.

Everyone who heated or cooled their home, drove a car, used electric lights, worked in steel frame building, etc., etc., is responsible for global warming.


#6

We’ll find out how much protectionism $420 million in Koch political bribes can buy.

Why gamble in Big Oil stocks when solar is winning in every department?


#7

One need only prove by a preponderance of the evidence that CO2 emissions are causing these changes in the weather in the aggregate, not that any given single storm is caused by it.

When your property, which used to be above sea level is now below on account of GHG emissions, then your case is proven. Flooding is, in fact, caused by global warming which melts ice shelves and glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica.

When forests dies, erosion is not far behind. In addition, some places are likely to experienced increased rainfall, which also causes erosion.

This is just flat wrong. Future damages are often included in civil litigation. For example, in personal injury cases, where the injury has a permanent impact on the victim, lost future earnings are recovered in virtually every case. There is no constitutional issue here.


#8

Why is it we are allowed to divest from oil companies but laws are being enacted to prevent us from divesting from companies aiding Israel in expanding into Gaza and the West Bank?


#9

"One need only prove by a preponderance of the evidence that CO2 emissions are causing these changes in the weather in the aggregate, not that any given single storm is caused by it."
The state of New York is suing these companies on the claim that their emissions were responsible for the creation of storms (they mention hurricane sandy damages) that damaged the state. You need more evidence than the greenhouse effect to prove that specific emissions caused specific damages. Additionally emissions are not the only factor nor the major factor for why hurricanes exist or hit a specific location. You don’t have enough evidence.

"When your property, which used to be above sea level is now below on account of GHG emissions, then your case is proven."
Unfortunately US building standards already take sea level increase into effect. This is why you cannot build beach houses directly on the beach where it meets the ocean. Again it is ridiculous to claim that their externalized cost had a direct effect when their emissions are a percentage of net emissions accumulated over the last 200 years, and emissions play an indirect role in increasing sea level.

"When forests dies, erosion is not far behind. In addition, some places are likely to experienced increased rainfall, which also causes erosion."
Again the problem is that you are suggesting that their specific emissions were responsible for forest reduction. This seems extremely unlikely or at least with a much lower probability when compared with other considerations like infrastructure growth removing forests. It seems rather hypocritical for an oil and gas company to pay for damages to forests, when the cities developed by the state play a much greater role.

". For example, in personal injury cases, where the injury has a permanent impact on the victim, lost future earnings are recovered in virtually every case"
Ok heres the probems:

  1. How are you going to prove personal injury from CO2 emissions based on damages from a single hurricane? You can prove that their emissions were actually responsible, all you know is that CO2 in genera can increase warming that can have the probability of increasing risk. That’s extremely different than someone getting sued for personal injury.
  2. How do you prove lost future earnings related to CO2 emissions from a specific source? There isn’t any data to indicate the loss of earnings from New York from specific emissions, nor do we have any data that emissions released today will actually play a role in weather conditions today. Plus there isn’t a law for holding companies responsible for future emissions. My claim that is was unconstitutional was based on the issue that the only way to actually place direct blame on the company is to introduce a law. However suing a company for law that doesn’t exist yet makes that law a de post facto law, which is unconstitutional.

#10

This is a good starting place for you to understand this better:

https://www.theverge.com/2018/2/20/17031676/climate-change-lawsuits-fossil-fuel-new-york-santa-cruz


#11

I think there are some parts of that article that you should read, and I also think you should evaluate the arguments made by this article a little more closely.

  1. “Though scientists still warn that it’s inaccurate to speak of weather events being “caused” by climate change — weather always has multiple causes — better climate models, more powerful computers, and refined methodologies now allow researchers to quantify how climate change has increased the likelihood or severity of heat waves, droughts, deluges, and other extreme events”
  • We understand today that climate change plays a role in affecting weather by increasing the probability of events, however it is still impossible to determine if climate change is responsible for a specific event at a specific point in time
  • This lawsuit by New York city is claiming that BP, ExxonMobil, Shell etc are responsible for flooding, erosion and future events that affect New York City. They are claiming that these companies bare sole responsibility for weather events that effect a particular place at a particular time.
  1. “Meanwhile, new research is quantifying the amount of carbon dioxide that energy companies have added to the atmosphere over the course of their entire existence. Combined with attribution science, the two fields form a sort of climate forensics, enabling communities to point to an ostensibly natural disaster, find the fingerprints of climate change, and trace them back to an Exxon or BP.”
  • This is the claim made by the plaintiffs that they have evidence that supports these companies are responsible, but unfortunately attributions studies are not this direct:
    “Weather varies drastically by the day, season, and year before you even get to large-scale shifts like El Niño. It’s one thing to take all that data and find the trend of rising average temperature, and another to figure out how late June heat waves in the Mediterranean have changed and why.”
  • The attribution study can determine that emissions have increased the probability of events, but it is still not possible to use attribution studies as evidence that a particular storm affected a particular area at a particular time. Yes the world is warming, but you cant say that because CO2 holds more heat in the atmosphere that CO2 is fully responsible for drought fro 2010-2012 in California. There are many other factors that play a role in droughts like soil conditions, changes in jet stream, agriculture use, consumer water use, increase of infrastructure etc. Also these companies are not the only source of CO2, but rather are a percentage of emission. So your claim is that they are a percentage of a percentage of a percentage without any evidence that their emissions are likely the major cause of a particular disaster.
  1. “But when it comes to large-scale events, attribution research can be a useful tool for measuring how risk has changed. After Hurricane Harvey swamped Houston, two independent studies found that climate change had made the storm’s Earth-bending rainfall more likely and more intense.”
  • Again as another example you can use attribution studies to define climate change as a factor of increasing the probability of events, but these studies did not find specific data that emissions from Exxon Mobil from 1970-2000 played a primary role in increasing the heat in the atmosphere to cause Hurricane Harvey in 2017 for two weeks at Houston Texas.
  1. “Exxon in particular, conducted their own research in the 1970s and ‘80s confirming the risks posed by greenhouse gasses. Internally, companies prepared their own infrastructure for climate change, raising the decks of drilling platforms and designing pipelines for predicted rising seas and melting permafrost.”
  • This can be used as evidence in a counterargument that Exxon knew of the dangers. Yes it is true that Exxon knew of the risks, but this is no evidence that Exxon knew of the dangers as it would impact a particular place in a particular time. Their research simply showed that the probability would increase. Changing the requirements of structure company wide is one thing, but it is not the same as making adjustments to particular rigs off the coast of California, because based on data the company knew in advance that the next year would see a larger increase in sea level rise for this area. That’s not the same conclusion of data.
  • Furthermore this is a private company, so as private company they do not have any responsibility to the public in a particular area that may be affected unless they have a contract with those people. You could argue that they have a fiduciary responsibility to investors, but this gets a little more complicated as just because their is increased societal risk from climate change does not indicate that demand for oil and gas will decrease.
  1. “In a 2014 study published in Climatic Change and cited in the lawsuits, he found that two-thirds of the CO2 and methane pumped into the atmosphere since 1751 could be traced back to just 90 companies — from investor-owned entities like Chevron and Exxon to state-owned concerns like Gazprom and Saudi Aramco — through their own emissions and the burning of the fuel they sold. Half of those emissions occurred after 1988 — well after companies knew climate change was a problem.”
  • This starts to get into a separate issue as it relates to oil and gas that is if companies or society knows of a better solution. Ok so oil and gas companies know that they are releasing a lot of emissions that has an externalized cost- they are selling poison that consumers demand.
  • First do consumers actually need these products? Unlike cigarettes, without oil and gas society would not be able to function on a developed level. Millions of commodities require petrochemicals to exist which translates into trillions of dollars in GDP. Furthermore many of these products enable the entire existence of industries like agriculture. Agriculture is reliant on the production of fertilizer to grow crops and this fertilizer is made from hydrogen and nitrogen, which is produced from oil and gas products of methane and naphtha. If the oil and gas industry stopped producing these materials then crop production would significantly decline. I would argue that this decline is greater in value than the externalized cost of CO2 and CH4 emissions. The same can be said of gasoline and diesel production in 1988. At that time electric vehicle components were too expensive for consumers to afford, so realistically their only option was to purchase cheap gas. If they didn’t produce gasoline then the only option would be to pursue electric vehicles that most consumers wouldn’t be able to afford, thus creating a massive decline in transportation of goods and services. Again the value of transportation is greater than the externalized cost of emissions.
  • Second, electric vehicles existed as a potential substitute to ICVs in 1988, but what about oil and gas products that exist in a market without any substitutes? If we stop producing ethylene today, we don’t have the technology on a commercial level to replace ethylene consumption, which would result in a massive decline in productivity and cost on society. Sure oil and gas can look into developing solutions, which guess what- they have been doing! However, most of these technologies have showed little promise to be developed on the scale of petrochemical products, so there isn’t necessarily a solution.
  • Onto the lawsuit: If you are going to claim that the oil and gas companies knew that there was a problem and did nothing to find a solution, this is not accurate. Additionally, it seems unreasonable to sue a company for not discovering a new technology to replace their own products, when it is impossible to determine that solution would be able to function as well as their product and doesn’t have an externalized cost associated with it as well.
  1. “. Furthermore, the government licensed their actions, utilities burned the fuel, car companies built cars for it, and individuals around the world used their products.”
  • This argument is perhaps the most damaging to governments who are suing these companies, after all in order to operate in the state the company has to sign contracts with the state government. If you sign a partnership with a company to develop and sell a product- YOU are also liable for damages.

There are many issues these lawsuits even with attribution evidence. The attribution studies have a very limited scope and cannot place blame on a single entity bearing responsibility for a global pollutant having a specific effect on specific weather formation in a specific location. In other words, you actually don’t have any evidence that directly links a company to any specific event that caused damages.

Furthermore these attribution studies open the door to a very strange argument in that modern science is able to prove fault for past transgressions when technology was not as advanced. There is no evidence that Exxon Mobil knew that their emissions would cause specific events in the future, only that there was a higher probability of risk for the entire globe for an undetermined time.

Lastly it is also problematic for governments to sue specific companies for the total amount of damages that a particular event had on a specific location at a particular point in time. First of all these governments make decisions that enable storms to become more severe. The largest case in point is in infrastructure, where a city is largely responsible to increasing the growth of their area as they make all the building codes, all the zoning laws, and make all the contracts with construction firms to increase the amount of concrete and asphalt in the city. The city is also solely responsible for making laws in regards to consumer behavior in regards to water use, land use, power use etc. Oil and gas companies have zero control over this, so why on earth would they be liable to pay for the percentage of damages that the city is ultimately responsible for? Second and even more damaging is the fact that these same governments contracted these companies to supply services, so how is it that the companies are solely responsible for damages?


#12

Yes, we know these are your opinions. The rules of evidence will govern what can be admitted to the record for consideration. The merits of the evidence admitted will determine whether the plaintiffs can meet a preponderance of the evidence standard.

You may see these things as black and white. The law and the rules of evidence don’t work that way. Instead the judicial process is meant to weigh the evidence submitted by opposing parties, reach a set of factual conclusions and apply the law to those conclusions. Unfortunately, your world view is not the approach taken by the judicial system.

As for your assertion that:

[quote=“PaulSwanee1, post:11, topic:49317”]
There is no evidence that Exxon Mobil knew that their emissions would cause specific events in the future, only that there was a higher probability of risk for the entire globe for an undetermined time.
[/quote], this is somewhat of a red herring, as the connection of their cognizance to specific events is largely irrelevant, especially where their conduct might reach the wilful disregard standard of gross negligence. But to understand more about what they did know see:

Harvard Study Finds Exxon Misled Public about Climate Change

and

Assessing ExxonMobil’s climate change communications (1977–2014)

and

ExxonMobil Vs. The World, which has this telling quote from a 1979 Exxon memo:

“Models predict that the present trend of fossil fuel use will lead to dramatic climatic changes within the next 75 years…”

While they were saying this at the same time:

In 1997, for instance, in an ad titled “Reset the Alarm,” the company argued: “Let’s face it: The science of climate change is too uncertain to mandate a plan of action that could plunge economies into turmoil.” The company added, “We still don’t know what role man-made greenhouse gases might play in warming the planet.”

My guess is they are going to have problems overcoming the weight of the admissible evidence to make their case. The parallels to the tobacco industry are striking and compelling. Exxon and their cohorts are going down one way or another. The facts will catch up to them, no matter their obfuscation and denials.


#13

“The law and the rules of evidence don’t work that way. Instead the judicial process is meant to weigh the evidence submitted by opposing parties, reach a set of factual conclusions and apply the law to those conclusions. Unfortunately, your world view is not the approach taken by the judicial system”

This is an interesting opinion considering the fact that NONE of these lawsuits have ever been won.


#14

Neither have they been lost, these lawsuits are still pending.


#15

Except that they have:
http://blogs.law.columbia.edu/climatechange/2012/09/26/9th-circuit-affirms-dismissal-in-kivalina-v-exxonmobil/

Additionally from your article:
“No climate lawsuit has made it to trial in the US before.”


#16

I stand corrected. tally one for the environmental criminals!

Meanwhile, the Children are still in court!

JULIANA v. U.S.

and NYC is on the attack…

Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Schneiderman

and the City of Richmond, California…

https://www.sheredling.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/1.22.18-NEWS-RELEASE-City-Sues-Fossil-Fuel-Companies-for-Climate-Change-Damages.pdf

and the Conservation Law Foundation in Massachusetts

There are more but we shouldn’t bore everyone with the litany of lawsuits pending and coming.
Exxon will eventually lose. The facts and the law are against it.


#17

"this is somewhat of a red herring, as the connection of their cognizance to specific events is largely irrelevant, especially where their conduct might reach the wilful disregard standard of gross negligence."
I find it very relevant, considering the fact that the New York City lawsuit names that Exxon Mobil and other companies are liable for damages caused by Hurricane Sandy specifically. Nothing in any internal documents cites that the company would know that hurricanes would hit New York City and cause major damages. I guess you think they had magic fortune tellers back in the 1980s working at that company, otherwise how on earth is the company personally liable for a hurricane in the 2010s?


#18

"Exxon will eventually lose. The facts and the law are against it"
You keep saying this without producing any evidence of how exactly they will be found guilty. In order to be found guilty you have to prove that their emissions in the past are responsible for specific weather conditions in the last 10 years, which attribution studies have yet to be able to do. Increased risk of any event does not mean knew it was going to happen and did nothing to stop it. Risk itself is a probability.

Additionally if you sue these companies for their production how are these cities not liable themselves for continuing contracts with these companies for decades and still today despite their knowledge of externalized costs? If I lived in New York city I should sue the city government for gross negligence for continuing to contract oil and gas companies. The city did not pay the damages for citizens that lost their houses.