Tag: Climate Change

The Private Sector & Climate Change: Holding Corporations Accountable

The future or our planet depends on us taking action against climate change. The United States of America needs to take a closer look at the economic policies that encourage and allow companies to contribute to climate change and global warming.

There are a number of actions that our country could be taking to reduce our carbon footprint and lessen the progress of climate change, however, there are significant barriers in place that hinder these efforts.

Many of these barriers stem from corporate action. Companies that benefit from the continued use of energy sources that contribute to climate change have a vested interest in hindering the progress of solutions that will move us away from the status quo. Below are a few examples of how corporations have done this:

In the six years prior to 2017, rooftop solar panel installations grew by as much as 900% in the United States. Each year, more and more Americans were taking steps to install solar panels on their roofs, lessen their carbon footprint, and contribute excess energy back into the grid to further diminish the carbon footprint of others who could not afford solar panels. The New York Times reports that in 2017, growth in solar panel installations came “to a shuttering stop.” This was largely because of “a concerted and well-funded lobbying campaign by traditional utilities, which have been working in state capitals across the country to reverse incentives for homeowners to install solar panels.”

In addition, Instead of cutting residents a break for helping solve the climate crisis, the utility companies —led by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the Edison Electric Institute (whose lobbying efforts ratepayers actually underwrite)—are lobbying for the end of “net-metering” laws that let customers sell excess power they generate back to the grid.

Moreover, lobbying is frequently combined with political contributions to, and coordination with politicians.  Arizona, whose capital lies in the “Valley of the Sun,” has incredible potential for solar power. However, according to Tuscon.com last year in May, “A federal grand jury has indicted a former state utility regulator and his wife for taking bribes.” The former regulator took those bribes for approving a rate hike for the areas utility company. Despite this indictment, coordination between politicians and utilities in Arizona has not stopped. For instance, environmental groups in Arizona have proposed a constitutional amendment to the Arizona ballot that would require that 50% of Arizona’s energy needs be met with renewable energy sources by 2030. Inside Climate News reports that “a senate committee passed a separate bill—which an APS spokeswoman said the utility had proposed—that would add a second ballot initiative with a nearly identical title” The most recent bill has similar language to the one proposed by environmentalists but includes a “safety valve” that would not allow full implementation of the bill. This approach is designed to confuse and halt progress toward renewable energy.

Arizona is not the only state that has experienced corporate lobbying against climate change solutions, nor is net metering the only issue where corporations have succeeded in moving forward with policies and activities that demonstratively harm the environment. For instance, fracking continues despite numerous studies that show significant damage to the environment and public health.

There are a number of ways that we can hold corporations accountable and stop actions that negatively affect the environment.

Get Money Out of Politics

Too frequently, our politicians are able to be swayed by campaign contributions that lead to decisions that harm the American people, and put the future of our planet in jeopardy.  It is all too easy to find the enormous contributions made by companies that contribute to our carbon footprint:

According to Open Secrets: Oil and gas companies have so far contributed over $14 million to all candidates in the 2018 election cycle, electric utilities have contributed over $11 million, natural gas pipeline companies have contributed almost $2 million, and coal mining companies have contributed over $800 thousand.

If we get money out of politics legislators might be more likely to vote for policies and ideas that benefit their constituents, the environment, and the world.

Taxes That Reflect The True Cost of Pollution 

A “Carbon Tax” is traditionally considered an “economist’s solution” to fighting climate change. In short, the Carbon Tax Center describes that “A carbon tax is a fee imposed on the burning of carbon-based fuels.” There are two strong arguments for why a carbon tax is both necessary and would work.

  • It holds carbon producers and consumers accountable for the damage that their actions have on the environment. To put that damage in perspective, National Geographic reports that “Extreme weather, made worse by climate change, along with the health impacts of burning fossil fuels, has cost the U.S. economy at least $240 billion a year over the past ten years.” Economics Help describes that “The idea of a tax is to make consumers and producers pay the full social cost of producing pollution.” Money raised by the government from this tax could be used to finance initiatives that will further reduce carbon emissions (e.g. subsidizing renewable energy or carbon capture.)
  • It creates incentives to for both consumers and producers to act in ways that will reduce their carbon footprint. Producers may invest in ideas that will reduce their carbon emissions to avoid paying as much in taxes. Price increases on items or utilities that include this carbon tax may result in consumers looking to alternative energy sources, or consuming less.

Economics Help describes that “the social marginal cost (SMC) of producing the good is greater than the private marginal cost (PMC) The difference is the external cost of the pollution. The tax shifts the supply curve to S2 and therefore, consumers are forced to pay the full social marginal cost. This reduces the quantity consumed to Q2, which is the socially efficient outcome (because the SMC=SMB)”  Therefore, the tax adjusts the price of good to take into account the harm that it is doing.

Carbon Taxes are also proven to have worked elsewhere in the world. British Columbia imposed a carbon tax of 10 Canadian dollars per ton of carbon dioxide in 2008 and then raised that tax to 30 Canadian dollars per ton by 2012. The New York Times reports that the tax “reduced emissions by 5 to 15 percent with ‘negligible effects on aggregate economic performance… It encouraged people to drive somewhat less and be more careful about heating and cooling their homes. Businesses invested in energy efficiency measures and switched to less polluting fuels.”

Get the Incentives Right

Each year, the U.S. government subsidizes a range of economic activities. It is important that those subsidies encourage economic activity that will help reduce our carbon footprint and climate change.

Unfortunately, many subsidies support industries that are contributing to climate change. Researchers at Oil Change International recently found that “Government giveaways in the form of permanent tax breaks to the fossil fuel industry – one of which is over a century old – are seven times larger than those to the renewable energy sector.” These fossil fuel subsidies, including both federal subsidies and state subsidies, total to $20 billion annually.

That said, the renewable energy industry has also received a number of subsidies through the years (varying though different administrations and not to the level of those for the fossil fuel industry). These subsidies have contributed to substantial growth in the renewable energy sector. Eighteen percent of the United States energy needs are now provided by renewable energy. The Environmental and Energy Study Institute states that the U.S. has reduced its emissions “by about 760 million metric tons since 2005.” The increase in renewable energy usage has contributed significantly to that reduction.

These subsidies for renewable energy There are also other benefits to renewable energy subsidies. Quartz Media reported that “the fossil fuels not burnt because of wind and solar energy helped avoid between 3,000 and 12,700 premature deaths in the US between 2007 and 2015” and that “the US saved between $35 billion and $220 billion in that period because of avoided deaths, fewer sick days, and climate-change mitigation.” 

Incentives need to reflect economic activities that will help the environment, Americans, and the world, not harm them.

Get the Penalties Right

While incentives are important for companies that are working to help the environment, it is equally important to include penalties for companies that are harming the environment.

Most Americans are familiar with the largest oil spills in the United States like the BP oil spill, also called the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, in 2010. However, large spills that get covered in the news are only a portion of the problem. According to the latest data from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, excluding the BP oil spill, 287,416 barrels of oil (or 12 million gallons of oil) were spilled in the U.S. between 1964 and 2015. That equals over two hundred thousand gallons of oil a year. The BP oil spill added another 4.9 million barrels of oil spilled, totaling over two hundred million gallons of oil. (There are 42 gallons of oil in a barrel.)

A number of news organizations reported in 2015 that BP would pay more than $20 billion in settlement claims as punishment for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The Justice Department called the settlement historic and quoted Attorney General Loretta Lynch in saying “Building on prior actions against BP and its subsidiaries by the Department of Justice, this historic resolution is a strong and fitting response to the worst environmental disaster in American history…BP is receiving the punishment it deserves, while also providing critical compensation for the injuries it caused to the environment and the economy of the Gulf region.”

However, when you dig deeper into that settlement, that “historic” amount of money isn’t so large when you take into account U.S. tax laws that allow corporations to write off natural resource damage payments, restoration, and reimbursement of government costs. Forbes reports that ultimately “BP should be able to deduct the vast majority, a whopping $15.3 billion, on its U.S. tax return. That means American taxpayers are contributing quite a lot to this settlement, whether they know it or not.”

In other cases, companies are given penalties that can be considered negligible when their annual earnings are taken into account. The Real News reports that “In the last 12 years, Marathon Petroleum Corporation, who manage one of the largest petroleum pipeline networks in the U.S., has had 61 incidents… including recent spill of 42,000 gallons of diesel. In the same week they had to pay A fine of three hundred thousand dollars for another spill last year.” In reference to this three hundred thousand dollar fine, Sierra Club’s Jodi Perras pointed out that Marathon is “a 13.8 billion dollar company…. they will expect to have a 330 million dollar profit this year. And so they are paying $335,000 for that spill in 2016. That’s pennies to a company like that.” Ultimately, Marathon Petroleum Corporation is being fined 0.1% of their annual profits.

Penalties should be large enough to encourage constructive steps towards reducing future accidents and harm to the environment, and when they are large enough, the burden to pay them should be placed on the company, not taxpayers.

Renewable Energy Around The World

The United States is the wealthiest nation in the history of the world and we have been a leader in so many ways across different generations. However, when it comes to climate science and renewable energy we are falling behind other countries who have taken the leadership and initiative to move towards 100% renewable energy.

Achieving 100% renewable energy is possible and plausible for the United States of America.

Many other developed nations have almost completely incorporated renewable energy into their economies and have been able to power their entire countries for substantial amounts of time solely on these methods. Others are moving in that direction and achieving small steps – a day, a month, an industry, solely relying on renewable energy.

Here are some renewable energy leaders leaders around the world:

Costa Rica

Costa Rica has been a world leader in renewable energy for years. In 2015, Costa Rica ran on 100% renewable energy for 285 days, and on 100% renewable energy for 250 days in 2016. According to The Costa Rica News, in 2017, “Costa Rica achieved the admirable 300-day in a row mark in which its electric system operated with exclusively renewable sources, mainly [hydroelectric], besides the production of renewable energy covered 99.62% of the electricity needs of the country. A mark that also exceeds the records of 2015 and 2016.” Costa Rica does this through relying heavily on hydroelectric power, wind energy, geothermal energy, and small amounts of solar energy and biomass. This commitment to renewable energy has, according to the Costa Rica News “turned Costa Rica into the largest producer of clean energy from all of Central America and the Caribbean.”


Almost 100% of all energy consumed on Iceland is renewable energy. The UN describes that in addition, “9 out of every 10 houses are heated directly with geothermal energy.” Iceland meets it energy needs largely through hydroelectric and geothermal sources. The UN acknowledges that the only exception to Iceland’s pervasive use of renewable energy is its reliance on fossil fuels for transport. The UN describes that Iceland’s move from fossil fuels to renewable energy was not inspired by climate change, instead, “The drive behind this transition was simple—Iceland could not sustain oil price fluctuations occurring due to a number of crises affecting world energy markets. …[and] for its isolated location on the edge of the Arctic Circle.” To rectify this issue, Iceland hired local businesses and entrepreneurs to shift energy reliance from foreign providers to internal sources. The Icelandic government also creates policies to encourage this shift: “To further incentivize geothermal energy utilization, the Government of Iceland established a geothermal drilling mitigation fund in the late 1960s. The fund loaned money for geothermal research and test drilling, while providing cost recovery for failed projects. The established legal framework also made it attractive for households to connect to the new geothermal district-heating network rather than to continue using fossil fuels.” The UN describes that these projects also diversified the economy, created jobs, and established a nationwide power grid.


“In Norway, 98 percent of the electricity production come from renewable energy sources,” according to the Norwegian government. The vast majority of Norway’s renewable energy comes from hydropower, an industry that has been growing in Norway since the 1800s. However, wind and thermal energy also contribute. Unlike many other countries, the Norwegian government explains that 90 % Norwegian energy production is owned by the state, counties, and municipalities “to secure a role for the Norwegian state in the ongoing electrification of the country, and ensure that the hydropower resources would benefit the nation as a whole.”


In March of 2018, Portugal produced 103.6% of the energy required to meet the country’s electrical demand. According to NPR, “Fifty-five percent of that energy was produced through hydro power, while 42 percent came from wind.” Based on this success, Portugal expects that by the year 2040 that “the production of renewable electricity will be able to guarantee, in a cost-effective way, the total annual electricity consumption of Mainland Portugal.”


In January of 2018, Germany briefly covered 100% of its energy demand through renewable energy. In addition, according to Clean Energy Wire, last year “In the whole of last year, the world’s fourth largest economy produced a record 36.1 percent of its total power needs with renewable sources.” Due to the growing presence of renewable energy in Germany, there are now days when Germany generates half of its power from the sun.

While powering a country with 90% to 100% renewable energy might seem a daunting task for larger economies, many other foreign governments have invested in making certain aspects of their economy run entirely on renewable energy, or have focused on specific areas of the country, setting reasonable (and achievable) goals that will serve as test cases for later expansion of renewable energy. Some of these countries include:


In July of 2017 the Chinese announced that Qinghai Province—a territory the size of Texas—had gone a week relying on 100% renewable energy including solar, wind, and hydropower. During that week, Business Insider reports that “the Qinghai province generated 1.1 billion kilowatt hours of energy for over 5.6 million residents. That’s equal to burning 535,000 tons of coal.” This week period was a test by the Chinese government to test the viability of relying on renewables long-term. Ultimately, “China hopes to produce 20% of its electricity from clean sources by 2030.”

About the same time the Chinese released aerial photos of their newest giant solar farm—which seen from above depicts a cheerful black-and-white panda. Business Insider reports that, “it will be able to produce 3.2 billion kilowatt-hours of solar energy in 25 years… reducing carbon emissions by 2.74 million tons.”


On April 21st2017, Great Britain managed to meet its power demands without burning a lump of coal for the first time since the launch of the Industrial Revolution. This is one small step towards a transition away from fossil fuels to meet Great Britain’s climate change commitments. The Guardian reports that, Hannah Martin, the head of energy at Greenpeace UK, described this milestone as part of a much larger movement: “The first day without coal in Britain since the Industrial Revolution marks a watershed in the energy transition. A decade ago, a day without coal would have been unimaginable, and in 10 years’ time our energy system will have radically transformed again.”


In 2015 Holland set a goal to power all Dutch electric trains with wind energy by 2018. By January of 2017, that goal had been met. According to The Guardian, Holland met their goal a year ahead of schedule due to, “an increase in the number of wind farms across the country and off the coast of the Netherlands.”


Solar production has grown six-fold since 2014 in Chile. In fact, the New York Times reported that “Chilean officials have an even more ambitious projection, saying the country is on track to rely on clean sources for 90 percent of its electricity needs by 2050, up from the current 45 percent.” The initial movement to renewable energy sources was largely due to the high cost and uncertainty of energy supply when that energy was provided by outside sources. In addition, due to severe weather events that have made hydropower plants less reliable in Chile, the government has turned to more varied sources including wind, solar, and geothermal energy sources.


The largest coal mining company in the world (which produces 82% of India’s coal), announced the closure of dozens of coal mines and the cancellation of plans for dozens of new coal-fired generation stations because the cost of solar power was significantly undercutting fossil fuel. The Independent describes that “India’s solar sector has received heavy international investment, and the plummeting price of solar electricity has increased pressure on fossil fuel companies in the country.” The Independent also reports that “The government has announced it will not build any more coal plants after 2022 and predicts renewables will generate 57 per cent of its power by 2027.”

The United States

Governmental steps taken to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and to move towards a clean and green future are not solely happening outside of the United States. Fortune reports that “Eighteen percent of all electricity in the United States was produced by renewable sources in 2017, including solar, wind, and hydroelectric dams. That’s up from 15% in 2016.” Since 2008, renewable share of energy consumption has doubled. This is largely due to market forces that are responding to the dropping price of solar and wind energy. Fortune also points out that “the solar and wind industries are creating jobs faster than the rest of the economy.”

Many cities and states are, in fact, far outpacing the rest of the United States and have taken even greater steps towards 100% renewable energy. Below are two examples:

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

In June of 2017, President Trump announced that he would pull the United States out of the Paris Climate Agreement citing that he was elected by the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris. In response, the Mayor of Pittsburgh, Bill Peduto responded in a press release that “Pittsburgh will not only heed the guidelines of the Paris Agreement — we will work to move towards 100 percent clean and renewable energy for our future, our economy, and our people.”

Since June of last year, Mayor Peduto have taken steps to make that goal a reality. On April 5th of 2018, 180 U.S. Mayors including Mayor Peduto signed a letter resolving to make solar power a key element in their renewable energy plans. A press release quoted Mayor Peduto: “Solar power is a key component of advancing Pittsburgh’s clean energy transition. We have numerous assets that can provide as the launching point for solar generation in Pittsburgh and southwestern Pennsylvania, from parking lots to rooftops. Increasing the amount of locally generated solar power helps reduce carbon pollution, clean our air and provide a resilient, sustainable and cost-effective electricity.”

The next month, Pittsburg released its Climate Action Plan that establishes a goal for 100% renewable energy, and 100% fossil fuel free by 2030 as well as complete divestment from the fossil fuel industry.


Cities are not the only entities in the United States that are working towards 100% renewable energy. Hawaii is an example of an entire state that is working toward that goal.

In 2008 Hawaii and the Department of Energy signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) “to collaborate on the reduction of Hawaii’s heavy dependence on imported fossil fuels.” The Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative was begun by that agreement.  In 2014, the initial goals were renewed and upgraded to include:

  • Achieving the nation’s first-ever 100 percent renewable portfolio standards (RPS) by the year 2045.
  • Reducing electricity consumption by 4,300 gigawatt-hours by 2030, enough electricity to power every home on Oahu, Maui, Molokai, Lanai and Hawaii Island for more than two years.
  • Reducing petroleum use in Hawaii’s transportation sector which accounts for two-thirds of the state’s overall energy usage.

In July of 2017, the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission approved an official plan put forward by Hawaiian Electric Companies that laid out exactly how Hawaii would achieve 100% renewable energy by 2040 (five years ahead of the goal.)

Hawaii serves as a reminder that states too can make significant headway towards the goal of 100% renewable energy. Progress is possible and is happening, if slowly.

If you would like to know more about how your state can move towards 100% renewables based on scientific studies that have analyzed the renewable energy potential in each area, visit The Solutions Project website.

A list of cities, counties, and states committed to, or that have achieved 100% renewable energy can also be found here.

3 Strategies To Get To A Fossil-Free America

When the next phase of the US climate movement launches with a nationally streamed rally at the end of the month, the wound-licking will be over. Yes, the Trump administration has upset any hope of a smooth and orderly transition to a new energy world. Yes, it’s pulled the United States out of the Paris climate agreement and opened up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling. Yes, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and Energy Secretary Rick Perry have made a mockery of hurricane victims and fire victims and flood victims, from San Juan to Montecito to Houston.

But the fossil-fuel industry doesn’t hold all the high cards. We’ll start playing our own aces for a Fossil-Free United States on January 31, when Bernie Sanders and an all-star lineup brought together by 350.org that includes everyone from indigenous activist Dallas Goldtooth to NAACP organizer Jacqui Patterson to star youth climate organizer Varshini Prakash lay out a coordinated plan for the year ahead.



The basic outlines are pretty simple. None of the strategies rely on Washington’s doing anything useful. In fact, because DC has emerged as the fossil-fuel industry’s impregnable fortress, our strategies look everywhere else for progress. In every case, real momentum has emerged, even in the last few weeks.

Job 1: Push for a fast and just transition to renewable energy in cities and states. The Trump administration has done what it can to slow down sun and wind power, even recently raising tariffs on imported solar panels, but it has not been able to change the basic underlying math. With each passing month, the technology that powers renewable energy gets cheaper and cheaper. It’s already generating massive quantities of electrons at prices cheaper than any other technology has ever managed in the past. A recent report by the International Renewable Energy Agency reports that renewables will be consistently cheaper than fossil fuels by 2020. That’s why mayors and governors have felt free to make ambitious pledges about the future. So far, 51 cities have joined a campaign led by the Sierra Club promising to convert to 100 percent renewable energy; five are already there.

Of course, that leaves tens of thousands of cities and towns that can make a similar pledge—and activists will be fanning out to their councils and selectboards and mayors in the months ahead. They’ll do it knowing this is a movement with real breadth: It’s not just the San Franciscos and Madisons that are on board, but the San Diegos, the Atlantas, the Fayettevilles. I mean, Salt Lake City is signed up. You know those blue dots on the election-night maps, the ones that contain most of the country’s innovation? They’re making the commitment, and those commitments will push the engineers to keep innovating.

During the Bush years, when Dick Cheney effectively ran energy policy, Washington was similarly closed to real progress. So state governments adopted Renewable Portfolio Standards, which went on to spur much of the spread of sun and wind power. The same thing is happening now, except at an even faster pace.

Job 2: Stop new fossil-fuel projects. The welter of pipelines and fracking wells and coal terminals that the industry is attempting to build will, if completed, lock us into decades more of spewing of carbon and methane. But many of these are vulnerable to citizen action.

Take, for instance, the Keystone Pipeline, where the infrastructure fights really began more than half a decade ago. Donald Trump doubtless believes that it’s been built. In a treacly paean titled “This Thanksgiving, Thank Donald J. Trump” the right-wing National Review announced that “after languishing under Obama,” Keystone XL was “under construction.” In fact, great organizers in Nebraska and Dakota have the thing tied up in endless knots; they’ve even installed fields of solar panels in the proposed path. The Cornhusker State approved a route for Keystone XL in November, but it’s not the path that pipeline developers TransCanada Corporation preferred. Now the surveyors—and the lawyers—have seasons of work ahead before a shovel will hit the ground. Even if TransCanada decides to push ahead, 20,000 people have pledged to travel to the upper Midwest to protest. The lessons of Standing Rock have not been forgotten.

Meanwhile, in the Pacific Northwest, the thin green line against massive fossil-fuel projects has continued to hold. Five years ago it seemed almost certain that a massive terminal for oil trains from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale would be built along the Columbia River in Vancouver, Washington. Six giant ports had also been proposed along the coast for shipping coal from the Powder River basin of Montana and Wyoming off to China. There was no way to stop the drilling or mining back in the interior, since the fossil-fuel industry holds sway in those states. But the carbon had to pass through Washington and Oregon, and savvy organizers there—led in several cases by environmental-justice and indigenous groups, like the Lummi Indians near Bellingham—have managed to beat every single plan. In Portland, these activists even passed a law banning any new fossil-fuel infrastructure, period, end of story.

Many of these heroes also took to the water a couple of years ago—they were the kayaktivists who did such harm to Shell’s brand that the company backed away from drilling in the Arctic. A variant of that same strategy may help blunt Trump’s ugly plan for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, or off the Atlantic and Pacific coastlines. Yes, this land is now open for leasing—but any oil company that steps through that door is going to be the target of an endless onslaught. You really want to be known as the company that digs up wildlife refuges? Okay, go for it.

Job 3: Cut off the flow of money to the fossil-fuel industry. Sometimes that means one bank customer at a time. One remarkable spinoff of the Standing Rock movement has been the Mazaska Talks campaign, led by indigenous organizers who have persuaded cities, towns, and individuals to pull their cash from banks that won’t stop lending the money that fuels climate destruction. On a memorable October morning, activists protested outside dozens of Bank of America branches in Seattle, shutting down several. The city government had already sworn off Wells Fargo because the bank couldn’t break its pipeline habit.

Pressure keeps building on investors as well. The fossil-fuel-divestment movement, for instance, has become the biggest corporate campaign of its kind in history, with endowments and portfolios worth a combined $6 trillion having sworn off coal and gas and oil in part or in whole. In the fall, a pair of studies summed up its success. One demonstrated that the campaign had catalyzed the rest of the climate movement, driving the debate towards grappling with the harsh reality that we had far more carbon than we could ever burn. The other pinpointed the falls in share values that divestment had caused, helping dry up the capital needed for more exploration and drilling.

But the divestment movement’s greatest successes actually came a bit later, around the holidays. First, the managers of Norway’s $1 trillion sovereign wealth fund—the largest pool of investment capital on planet earth—recommended divesting from oil and gas. Since Norway made its money in North Sea crude, the pledge was especially profound. Clearly, the country’s economic leaders have decided that the future lies in renewables, and so they’re getting out while the getting is good. Shortly after, the World Bank announced it would no longer fund oil and gas exploration—that’s another striking signal for the world’s financial industry.

But the biggest win of all came just after the new year, when New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced two things. First, the city would be divesting its massive pension funds—nearly $200 billion dollars, one of the 20 largest pension funds on earth—from fossil fuels. And second, the city would be suing ExxonMobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Royal Dutch Shell, and BP for the damages caused by climate change. Their legal theory, he said, was simple: “They tried very intently to cover up the information about climate change and to project a propaganda campaign suggesting that climate change wasn’t real and go ahead and keep using your fossil fuels.” In other words, ExxonMobil=Philip Morris. Everyone remembers how that one ended.

Following years of relentless work from local activists, perhaps the most important part of de Blasio’s divestment announcement was the flat rejection of the idea that “engaging” with the fossil-fuel companies was a viable strategy. Many timid politicians have taken that approach, arguing that it was fine to keep investing in these companies as long as “dialogue” was underway. ExxonMobil, for instance, responded to pressure last year by promising “climate risk disclosure” about new projects. That’s not nothing, but it’s pretty close to nothing—especially since, at the same time, the companies were busy in Washington making sure they opened up the US coastline to new drilling. New Yorkers aren’t chumps, de Blasio pointed out. “Today, we are saying ‘No more.’”

All this financial pressure is made easier by the fact that the fossil-fuel industry is no longer minting money. It’s been underperforming the rest of the economy—and no wonder. Sun and wind are ultimately free, and that puts remarkable price pressure on the stuff you have to dig up and burn. Every single day, the electric car moves further along the path from novelty to normal. That means every single day Chevron’s position erodes a little further. The question now is not whether big oil is going down; the question is how fast—and how we make sure the transition is a just one. The answer to that question will determine exactly how far down the road to climate ruin we actually travel.

The political saliency of the climate issue grows stronger too, especially as it becomes clear that it’s not some niche concern of affluent suburbanites with a weekend home in the country. Polling makes clear that African Americans and Latinos are the two groups most concerned about climate change, which makes sense since they’ve borne the brunt of the effects so far. (All it takes is a record rainstorm to find out who lives at the bottom of the hill.) These are also the groups taking the lead in climate organizing, giving it a new and vital energy. Vice, the CNN of the young, reported this month that “the next millennial trend is suing big oil for destructive climate change,” apparently replacing avocado toast.

None of which means that the fight is won. Big Oil has had a big year, and they hold most of the levers in Washington. But they’re beginning to lose in a lot of other places—including in people’s hearts and minds. Destruction like that wrought by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma and Maria; tragedy like that wrought by California’s fires and mudslides—it takes a toll. No lie lives forever, and 2018 may be the year that the most dangerous deceit in the planet’s history finally unravels for good.

A Bold Bid For Climate Justice

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.

How Is Today’s Warming Different From The Past?

Earth has experienced climate change in the past without help from humanity. We know about past climates because of evidence left in tree rings, layers of ice in glaciers, ocean sediments, coral reefs, and layers of sedimentary rocks. For example, bubbles of air in glacial ice trap tiny samples of Earth’s atmosphere, giving scientists a history of greenhouse gases that stretches back more than 800,000 years. The chemical make-up of the ice provides clues to the average global temperature.



Earth has cycled between ice ages (low points, large negative anomalies) and warm interglacials (peaks). (NASA graph by Robert Simmon, based on data from Jouzel et al., 2007.)

Using this ancient evidence, scientists have built a record of Earth’s past climates, or “paleoclimates.” The paleoclimate record combined with global models shows past ice ages as well as periods even warmer than today. But the paleoclimate record also reveals that the current climatic warming is occurring much more rapidly than past warming events.

As the Earth moved out of ice ages over the past million years, the global temperature rose a total of 4 to 7 degrees Celsius over about 5,000 years. In the past century alone, the temperature has climbed 0.7 degrees Celsius, roughly ten times faster than the average rate of ice-age-recovery warming.



Temperature histories from paleoclimate data (green line) compared to the history based on modern instruments (blue line) suggest that global temperature is warmer now than it has been in the past 1,000 years, and possibly longer. (Graph adapted from Mann et al., 2008.)

Models predict that Earth will warm between 2 and 6 degrees Celsius in the next century. When global warming has happened at various times in the past two million years, it has taken the planet about 5,000 years to warm 5 degrees. The predicted rate of warming for the next century is at least 20 times faster. This rate of change is extremely unusual.

The Movement To Divest From Fossil Fuels Is Gaining Momentum

Tuesday should have been a day of unmitigated joy for America’s oil and gas executives. The new G.O.P. tax bill treats their companies with great tenderness, reducing even further their federal tax burden. And the bill gave them something else they’ve sought for decades: permission to go a-drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

But, around four in the afternoon, something utterly unexpected began to happen. A news release went out from Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office, saying that New York was going to divest its vast pension-fund investments in fossil fuels. The state, Cuomo said, would be “ceasing all new investments in entities with significant fossil-fuel-related activities,” and he would set up a committee with Thomas DiNapoli, the state comptroller, to figure out how to “decarbonize” the existing portfolio. Cuomo’s office even provided a handy little Twitter meme of the type that activists often create: it showed three smoke-belching stacks and the legend “New York Is Divesting from Fossil Fuels.” The pension fund under Albany’s control totals two hundred billion dollars, making it one of the twenty largest pools of money on Earth.

Not to be outdone, half an hour later the comptroller of the city of New York, Scott Stringer, sent out a similar statement: he, too, was now actively investigating methods for “ceasing additional investments in fossil fuels, divesting current holdings in fossil-fuel companies, and increasing investments in clean energy.” Stringer’s pension funds add up to a hundred and ninety billion dollars—that’s in the top twenty, too.

Climate advocates—many of them at 350.org, the nonprofit that I founded—have been working for years to spur divestment from fossil-fuel stocks, and this was perhaps the biggest single day of that campaign, which in turn is the largest divestment campaign in history. With Tuesday’s announcements, the endowments and portfolios engaged in the process collectively manage more than six trillion dollars in assets. More important, Cuomo and Stringer sent the signal that, in the very center of world finance, sentiment is turning sharply against fossil-fuel investing. Activists have urged divestment for what you might call moral reasons: if it’s wrong to wreck the planet, it’s wrong to profit from the wreckage. But pension funds are willing to divest because they’ve come to believe that the future is not about coal and oil and gas—that these are now on the decline. The future lies elsewhere.

These divestments won’t happen overnight; Cuomo will have to persuade DiNapoli to coöperate, and in any event no one wants a fire sale of stocks at depressed prices. But the announcements offered an encouraging echo of other recent developments. Norway, for instance, last month began work to divest its giant sovereign-wealth fund, which is bigger even than New York’s combined pensions. The World Bank, last week, said it would no longer be lending money for oil and gas exploration. It’s not that the fossil-fuel industry will go bankrupt overnight; its supporters, including Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, will give it all the love they can. But the shift in the Zeitgeist has been dramatic. The same day that Cuomo was pumping out divestment memes, the President of France, Emmanuel Macron, sent out a tweet announcing that his country would no longer grant any licenses for oil and gas exploration in its various territories. He concluded with “#keepitintheground,” a hashtag until now confined to campaigners.

Tuesday’s news is also a reminder that, as thoroughly as Trump and the G.O.P. have captured D.C., there are other arenas in which to fight them. New York State is, obviously, smaller than the federal government, but it’s not that small. Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, for instance, has been using state statutes to bedevil ExxonMobil, investigating the company’s sordid coverup of our climate peril. It’s likely that the actions of the pension funds will prove contagious to some degree. Other states and cities will begin to wonder whether they’re going to be left holding the bag.

It would make the most sense, of course, to have a concerted global battle against climate change—it is, after all, the first truly global problem we’ve ever faced. But this Administration will not fight it, as Trump’s recent pullout from the Paris climate accords showed. So if the battle, instead, is going to be local, three hundred and ninety billion dollars is a pretty good haul for one day. New York may be an empire in name only, but on Tuesday it demonstrated a global reach.

We’re Not Even Close To Being Prepared For The Rising Waters

Some of humanity’s most primordial stories involve flooding: The tales of Noah, and before that Gilgamesh, tell what happens when the water starts to rise and doesn’t stop. But for the 10,000 years of human civilization, we’ve been blessed with a relatively stable climate, and hence flooding has been an exceptional terror.

As that blessing comes to an end with our reckless heating of the planet, the exceptional is becoming all too normal, as residents of Houston and South Florida and Puerto Rico found out already this fall.

Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria provide a dramatic backdrop for the story Jeff Goodell tells in “The Water Will Come”: If there was ever a moment when Americans might focus on drainage, this is it. But this fine volume (which expands on his reporting in Rolling Stone) concentrates on the slower and more relentless toll that water will take on our cities and our psyches in the years to come. Those who pay attention to global warming have long considered that its effects on hydrology — the way water moves around the planet — may be even more dramatic than the straightforward increases in temperature.

To review the basic physics: Warm air holds more water vapor than cold air does, which means you get more evaporation and hence drought in arid areas, and more rainfall and hence floods in wet ones. (Harvey, for example, was the greatest rainfall event in American history, the kind of deluge possible only in a warmer world.) Meanwhile, heat melts ice: Greenland and the Antarctic are vast stores of what would otherwise be ocean, and now they’re beginning to surrender that water back to the sea.

These effects were somewhat harder to calculate than other impacts of climate change. In particular, scientists were slow to understand how aggressively the poles would melt, and hence the main international assessments, until recently, forecast relatively modest rises in sea level: three feet, perhaps, by century’s end. That’s enough to cause major problems, but perhaps not insuperable ones — richer cities could probably build seawalls and other barriers to keep themselves above the surface. Yet new assessments of the disintegration of glaciers, and more data from deep in the Earth’s past, have convinced many scientists that we could be looking at double or triple that rate of sea level rise in the course of the century. Which may take what would have been a major problem and turn it into a largely insoluble new reality.

Consider Miami and Miami Beach, where Goodell has concentrated much of his reporting. Built on porous limestone or simply mounds of mud dredged from the surrounding sea, low-lying South Florida streets already flood regularly at especially high tides. The simple facts, however, haven’t stopped the Miami real estate boom: When Irma hit, more than 20 huge cranes were at work building high-rises (and two of them toppled). Goodell manages to track down the city’s biggest real estate developer, Jorge Perez, at a museum opening. He was not, he said, worried about the rising sea because “I believe that in twenty or thirty years, someone is going to find a solution for this. If it is a problem for Miami, it will also be a problem for New York and Boston — so where are people going to go?” (He added, with shameless narcissism, “Besides, by that time I’ll be dead, so what does it matter?”)

Goodell dutifully tracks down the people who are working on those “solutions” — the Miami Beach engineers who are raising city streets and buildings; their Venetian counterparts who are building a multibillion-dollar series of inflatable booms that can hold back storm tides. In every case, the engineering is dubious, not to mention hideously expensive. And more to the point, it’s all designed for the relatively mild two- or three-foot rises in sea level that used to constitute the worst-case scenarios. Such tech is essentially useless against the higher totals we now think are coming, a fact that boggles most of the relevant minds. When a University of Miami geologist explains to some Florida real estate agents that he thinks sea level rise may top 15 feet by 2100, Goodell describes one “expensively dressed broker who was seated near me” who sounded “like a six-year-old on the verge of a temper tantrum. . . . ‘This can’t be a fear-fest,’ she protested. ‘Why is everyone picking on Miami?’ ”

No one is picking on Miami. But the developed world is definitely picking on the low-lying islands of the Pacific and Indian oceans. (Goodell gives sharp descriptions of the imperiled Marshalls and the outsize role the nation played in international climate negotiations.) The vast majority of people at risk live in places such as Bangladesh and Burma, where rising seas are already swamping farmland and forcing internal migration, mostly of people who have burned so little fossil fuel that they have played no serious part in causing the crisis we now face.

There are precisely two answers that give some hope to a world facing this greatest of all challenges. The first is to stop burning fossil fuels. If we moved with great speed toward 100 percent renewable energy, we might still hold sea level rise to a meter or two. And this is now a realistic possibility: The rapid fall in the price of wind and solar power over the past few years means we could conceivably make the transition in time. That’s precisely what President Trump is now preventing (and to be fair, it’s more than President Barack Obama wanted to do, either — Goodell’s extensive interviews with the former president capture both his fine rhetoric and his sad policy waffling). At this point, the world seems more likely to stumble along a path of slow conversion to clean energy, guaranteeing that the great ice sheets will crumble.

The other way forward is to adapt to the unpreventable rise in sea level. Goodell describes a few of the plans for floating buildings and such, but if you want a real sense of what this option looks like, you’re better off reading Kim Stanley Robinson’s massive and massively enjoyable novel “New York 2140,” published this year. Robinson is described as a science fiction writer, but in this case he’s more like a political scientist, describing a New York a century from now that’s been largely inundated but where people inhabit (often with surprising good cheer) the ever-shifting intertidal zone. Of course, this metro-size version of the Swiss Family Robinson happens only after two great pulses of sea level rise have killed off a huge percentage of the human population, so it’s not the ideal scenario.

Or we could take the path laid out by Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine at the 100th anniversary of the founding of Miami Beach. “If, thirty or forty years ago, I’d told you you were going to be able to communicate with your friends around the world with a phone you carried around in your pocket,” he said in 2015, “you would think I was out of my mind.” Thirty or 40 years from now, he promised, “we’re going to have innovative solutions to fight back against sea-level rise that we cannot even imagine today.” Forget building the ark, Noah — we’ve got an app for that.

Just Say ‘No’ To Arctic Refuge Drilling

The high Arctic is almost unbearably beautiful. The plains that turn tawny gold and rust red come autumn, the flat tundra that rises sharply into icy peaks, the vast herds of caribou. For decades these images have been enough to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from oil drilling — it is, after all, a wildlife refuge, and people who’ve never been there can nonetheless deduce simply from that name that it is no place for oil rigs.

But we are in a season of wreckage right now in Washington, and so there is real risk that the budget now under consideration will allow oilmen into that refuge. In fact, the final decision may come down to a small group of House Republicans who have announced that they’re interested in “climate solutions.” With the heroic help of the Citizens Climate Lobby, which turns 10 this fall, 60 members of Congress — 30 from each party — have been persuaded to join a caucus that aims “to educate members on economically viable options to reduce climate risk and protect our nation’s economy.”

If they take that mandate seriously, saying “no” to Arctic Refuge drilling should be the ultimate no-brainer. For one thing, it’s not going to make the government any money. Proponents have been claiming that there’s $1.8 billion, with a “B,” in it for the government; a new analysis puts revenues closer to $37.5 million, with an “M.” And that, of course, is the revenue before you count up the losses.

Which would be enormous. The refuge is not only a beautiful, wild, serene place, it is a safe storage container for something very dangerous. That something very dangerous is the carbon that the oil will produce if it’s ever burned. The possible 7.7 billion recoverable barrels of oil the refuge may contain, if piped down to civilization, would release carbon equivalent to opening 820 new coal-fired power plants and running them for a year, which is something even our coal-crazed president has not proposed. It would be like putting 23 million new cars on the road and operating them for the next three decades. This is precisely the opposite of what politicians who say they’re interested in “climate solutions” should be doing, as absurd as solving the opioid epidemic by building a pipeline to carry millions of pills an hour into rural America.

There’s no great mystery about the price that our climate negligence carries, and there’s no argument that we’re insulated from it here in North America. We’ve watched Harvey, Irma and Maria slam into our shores in recent weeks, and economists say that beyond the lives lost and the homes ruined, the cost will run into the hundreds of billions of dollars. California’s wildfires aren’t even out yet, but the recovery work could well be the most expensive in modern world history.

“The Arctic Refuge is not only a beautiful, wild, serene place, it is a safe storage container for something very dangerous.”

Some cynics have suggested that the Climate Solutions Caucus is just a convenient way for vulnerable Republicans to signal their concern about climate change to interested voters without actually, you know, solving anything. And in truth, there’s reason for skepticism. The caucus includes members such as Rep. Barbara Comstock of Virginia, who has a 3% lifetime voting record from the League of Conservation Voters. In the last few months, she’s voted to eliminate the Stream Protection Rule against coal ash pollution of drinking water, to allow offshore oil drilling along the Atlantic Seaboard and even to overturn U.S. Fish and Wildlife protection for Alaska’s bears and wolves.

But people can change — I have no doubt that the valiant folks who set up the Climate Solutions Caucus will be working hard with people such as Comstock to help them understand.

Because some climate solutions are not actually that complicated. Basically we need to keep coal and oil and gas in the ground. Right now the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is performing that job admirably, and all Congress needs to do is leave it alone. What could be simpler?

New York, Divest Pensions From The Fossil Fuel Companies That Are Accelerating Global Warming

Forget the bizarre tweets and insults from the White House, or the images of the President touring San Juan: What’s happened in Puerto Rico will change life there for many years after all the news has faded from your feed.

Early estimates put the economic damage from Hurricane Maria at $30 billion, a third of the island’s annual economic output. Eighty percent of its crops have been destroyed — “there is no agriculture on Puerto Rico, and there won’t be for at least another year,” said one official. It may be a year before power returns, and even that won’t solve the deeper problems. As one official said, the devastation had set back the island “20 or 30 years” — that is, an entire human generation’s worth of progress lost in a few hours.

The response from New Yorkers has been generous, which makes sense because of the close ties between these two parts of our nation. Gov. Cuomo set up a statewide collection program for aid, gathering the donations in the Javits Center, where Jet Blue has offered to fly them to San Juan. Two members of Congress — Nydia Velasquez and Jose Serrano — were in the first Congressional delegation ashore on Puerto Rico. Mayor De Blasio immediately ordered the public schools to prepare for an influx of students coming from the island.

“It’s the sheer breadth and magnitude of this that’s so shocking,” Hizzoner insisted. “I mean its just total. Our folks have said, very clearly, there’s endless need.”

But there is one curious missing piece: as New York scrambles to help, it continues to invest billions of dollars in the fossil fuel companies that caused — and may have covered up — the global warming that makes such events more devastating.

Make no mistake, Maria is precisely what climate change looks like. September 2017 saw more hurricane activity in the Atlantic than in any month since record-keeping began in 1851. Of all the Category 5 storms to hit U.S. territory, a quarter have come this year.

The deluges in the Puerto Rican mountains may have set new global records for most rain in an hour; when they finally cleared, Puerto Ricans without air-conditioning or even fans faced a record-breaking heat wave. The island has spent the last year trying to deal with an outbreak of Zika virus, a classic climate-change disease. Imagine what the mosquitoes are like today.

These are precisely the kind of effects climate scientists have predicted. Warm air holds more water vapor than cold; hence, bigger rains. Hurricanes draw their strength from the ocean’s heat; hence, higher winds. As we learned during Sandy, the higher ocean can surge farther inland.

And we are learning more every day about how the oil companies knew all this was coming. Great investigative reporting from places like the Columbia Journalism School have shown that, for instance, Exxon knew everything there was to know about climate change 40 years ago. But instead of telling the rest of us, they spent a fortune covering it up, purchasing the politicians who would make sure change came slowly if at all.

New York’s courageous attorney general, Eric Schneiderman, has been in the forefront of chasing Exxon and its ilk, uncovering many of the documents that make clear their complicity. And some municipalities have risen to the challenge: San Francisco and Oakland announced last month that they were suing oil companies for the damages caused by ongoing climate havoc.

But not New York City. So far, the Big Apple is content to keep investing its money in these companies. Its pension funds have billions sunk in the stock of the corporations who’ve done, and keep doing, the damage. This is not only maddening in any moral sense, it’s crazy economically: These sectors have been among the weakest parts of the economy for years, underperforming other investments. If New York had divested when campaigners started asking after Sandy, its retirees would be on much more solid financial ground.

But better late than never. On Oct. 28, thousands of New Yorkers will march across the Brooklyn Bridge into the parts of the Lower East Side still rebuilding from Sandy. They’re demanding the city commit to 100% renewables, and get people back in their homes who are still adrift long after the storm.

But the #Sandy5 effort also demands divestment, and it knows who is accountable. New York’s elected officials — the borough presidents, the public advocate, the comptroller and the mayor — along with city unions all have a say in where pension money gets invested. They should speak with conviction and force. It’s one more way to express our solidarity with people in Puerto Rico. We can’t take back Maria, but we can make sure we’re not funding the next one.

Big Oil Will Have To Pay Up, Like Big Tobacco

Here is a message to investors in the oil industry, whether pension and insurance funds, university endowments, hedge funds or other asset managers: Your investments are going to sour. The growing devastation caused by climate change, as seen this month in Texas, Florida and the Caribbean, are going to blow a hole in your fossil-fuel portfolio.

Not only will the companies you own suffer as society begins to abandon fossil fuels in earnest, they will also be dragged through the courts here and abroad for their long-standing malfeasance and denial of what they have done to the world.

Climate change deniers, mainly politicians in the pay of the oil industry, protest that there is no proof that destructive storms and floods are the result of human-induced global warming. Who can say that a Hurricane Harvey or Irma wouldn’t have occurred in the past? Such a defense – the cynical shrug – will not play for much longer, either in the court of public opinion or in courts of law in the United States and abroad. The risks of climate-related disasters are real and rising, and soon it won’t matter politically or legally that any particular event might have occurred even without human-induced global warming.

The issue is of probability, not certainty. Of course, there have been weather-related disasters in the past. But global warming makes us more vulnerable to these events. Scientists emphasize that hurricane damage, for example, may rise for three reasons: higher sea levels (due to warming) cause larger storm surges; warmer oceans add energy to hurricanes; and warmer air holds more water vapor that can cause torrential downpours.

Insurance companies know that climate risks are rising, scientists know it, and an increasing number of investors know it. And more of the general public knows it, too. In climate science, the link between specific events like Harvey and Irma and the general rise in risk due to global warming is called “attribution.” It’s a problem we grapple with in many contexts. When a miner gets lung disease, a homeowner with asbestos insulation develops a rare cancer, or a smoker succumbs to lung cancer, we can never be sure that the particular case was linked to coal dust, asbestos or cigarettes.

But the courts have been ready to read the probabilities, and hold companies liable for damages when the likelihood of causation is high enough. The courts have also linked liability with the standard of care exercised by the defendant. When a company understands the risks but ignores them, or even worse, lies about them, the court or jury is far more likely to agree to a large claim.

The tobacco companies relentlessly misled the public about their products. Some oil companies have done the same about climate change. ExxonMobil, for example, knew internally for decades that its products contribute to global warming, according to a peer-reviewed Harvard University study published last month, but publicly downplayed the linkages and the resulting risks (Exxon denies this).

The Koch brothers, owners of refineries and oil pipelines, have manufactured doubts about climate science and spent vast sums to oppose decarbonization policies and to elect politicians to do the same.

But the science of climate attribution is rapidly becoming more sophisticated, leaving the oil industry more exposed than ever.

Consider, for example, the World Weather Attribution (WWA) project. This is an effort by a consortium of scientific institutions, including the University of Oxford Environmental Change Institute, the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute, the University of Melbourne and the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre. This project has recently shown, that human-induced climate change dramatically raised the likelihood of the record-breaking heat wave in western Europe this summer. The team found that climate change “made the intensity and frequency of such extreme heat at least twice as likely in Belgium, at least four times as likely in France, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and central England and at least 10 times as likely in Portugal and Spain.”

The project is now analyzing whether human-induced global warming raised the likelihood of the rainfall brought by Harvey.

American politics has long been manipulated by Big Oil, with massive campaign financing as well as backroom lobbying not seen by the public. The federal government and oil states like Texas have been as derelict as the companies, and could well find themselves also as defendants in cases brought by Americans and others who are hit by climate disaster.

Many Caribbean islands were devastated by Irma, and their leaders are appealing for aid. Soon, the cries around the world will change to a call for “compensation” or “civil damages” instead of just aid.

When climate justice comes — and it will — those who have been in denial will pay a heavy price. And those who have invested in companies that behaved recklessly and irresponsibly will share the heavy losses on that day of reckoning.