Today, New York City took the climate advocacy fight to the fossil fuel industry's doorstep.
NYC mayor Bill de Blasio officially announced that the city will be the first to divest all its pension funds – a total of $191 billion – from fossil fuels. That means roughly $5 billion in fossil fuel investments will be taken away from fossil fuel companies, which is reportedly the largest of any municipality to date.
At the same time, the city has launched legal action against five major oil organizations: ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP, Royal Dutch Shell, and ConocoPhillips. Arguing that they played a key role in anthropogenic climate change, New York City is asking that they pay for the defensive measures the metropolis is having to put in place in order to stave off climate-associated damage.
“If there were any deniers before Hurricane Sandy, I don’t think there were any more afterwards,” the mayor explained at a press conference earlier today.
The mayor also emphasized that the city has empathy for Puerto Rico after being devastated by Hurricane Maria last year – a part of the US that has largely been ignored by the Trump administration as it struggles to recover from the catastrophe.
“Today, we are talking about breaking the cycle,” de Blasio stressed. “It’s time that things change. It’s time to change how we do business.”
“We are going after those who have profited – and what a horrible, disgusting way to profit.”
The former announcement was partly driven by a campaign spearheaded by environmental groups, something that gained the support of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, a co-founder of the pro-Paris agreement Climate Alliance. As it happens, de Blasio – a Democrat – has long been known for his climate advocacy too, so this welcome announcement comes as no huge surprise.
Although much of the media’s focus on climate change mitigation focuses on the political intrigue and the push toward clean energy, divestment is arguably just as important a tool.
Individuals and organizations can make investments in stocks, bonds of funds linked to fossil fuels. By removing these investments – by divesting – it takes away both the moral and financial backing fossil fuel companies receive from those members of society.
The fossil fuel divestment movement – something backed by the UN itself – is arguably the fastest growing of its kind in history. With NYC’s new pension-based divestment, the global total fossil fuel divestment value is now more than $6 trillion.
The latter decision comes hot on the heels of a controversial move by Exxon.
The company recently claimed that it would submit to its shareholders and become more transparent when dealing with climate change threats to their portfolios. Now, the world’s largest publicly traded oil conglomerate is planning to sue cities that sue them on climate change, citing contradictory arguments.
Exxon was well aware of what it was doing to accelerate climate change for several decades. This knowledge, however, was smeared over by a powerful PR campaign that spread damaging misinformation instead.
With that in mind, one can see how de Blasio has concluded that obfuscating fossil fuel companies should pay the city for its climate resilience measures, particularly those linked to increased flood risks associated with hurricanes.
The Trump administration may be putting its head in the sand when it comes to climate change, but at least it’s completely alone in this regard. Every other country in the world appears to want to do something about climate change, and they’ll be happy to know that much of the United States is actually on their side.
One notable coalition represents 130 million Americans, and includes plenty of mayors and governors – both Democrats and Republicans – as well as hundreds of cities and thousands of businesses. They are all part of a nationwide effort to transition to a low-carbon economy.
This latest move, then, adds fuel to the fire. Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org, told reporters that these actions made New York City “a capital in the fight against climate change.”