More than five years after New York City was pummeled by Superstorm Sandy, killing dozens of people and causing billions of dollars in damages, Mayor Bill de Blasio is demanding retribution. In an overly dramatic press event on Wednesday (undoubtedly arriving courtesy of his fossil fuel-powered motorcade), de Blasio announced the city will sue five oil companies—BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch Shell—for producing and selling a “lethal product” responsible for climate change. The lawsuit, filed in federal court on January 9, claims:
Climate change is here and is harming New York City. The temperature in the City is rapidly increasing, sea levels are rapidly rising, coastal storms are causing increased flooding, and extreme precipitation events are increasing throughout the Northeastern United States. Studies by the New York City Panel on Climate Change demonstrate that global warming is already causing the City to suffer increased hot days, flooding of low-lying areas, increased shoreline erosion, and higher threats of catastrophic storm surge flooding even more severe than the flooding from Hurricane Sandy.
The complaint further alleges that the five companies are accountable for “over 11% of all the carbon and methane pollution from industrial sources that has accumulated in the atmosphere since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution.” De Blasio said during the presser that he wants the companies to cough up “billions of dollars to protect us against extreme weather and rising seas and fortify New York City against future storms.”
The mayor repeatedly cited Sandy as his justification for pursuing legal action: “Sandy was a tragedy that was wrought by the actions of the fossil fuel companies, let’s be clear here. That’s where it came from. If there were any deniers in New York City before Sandy, I don’t think there were any deniers after Sandy because it was abundantly clear what climate change was doing to this city.”
And lest anyone suggest either Mother Nature or the Big Guy Upstairs had more to do with Sandy than a handful of oil companies, de Blasio quickly crushed those heretics: “Sandy might have been seen as an act of God, but let’s be clear. It didn’t happen by accident.” The mayor was joined by climate propagandists Bill McKibben and Naomi Klein, who called the move “a collective victory for the amazing climate justice movement around the world and in this city.” De Blasio is also directing the city’s five pension funds to divest roughly $5 billion in fossil fuel assets by the end of 2022, following a similar diktat announced late last year by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.
Celebrity climate-activists cheered the news. Leonardo DiCaprio congratulated New York for being the first big city to sue and divest from Big Oil. Mark Ruffalo thanked de Blasio for his leadership then tweeted this:
Folks. See this is a turning point. The fossil fuel industry knew #ExxonKnew about the destruction of your lives and homes. They knew about extreme weather events floods, fires, droughts and devastating storms. They knew and not only did nothing but hid and deflected the truth. https://t.co/AfpHfHhuxT
— Mark Ruffalo (@MarkRuffalo) January 11, 2018
To celebrate his own bravery, de Blasio had the lights atop the Empire State Building shine green. (Pause to soak in all the hypocrisy.)
Well, I hate to spoil this back-patting party with a little science, but let’s break this down, shall we?
First, there is no overwhelming body of scientific evidence to support de Blasio’s accusation that Sandy was caused by man-made climate change. While some researchers insist the intensity of the storm might have been exacerbated by global warming (and much of it is vague hindcasting), there is no proof that human activity was responsible for the storm.
A summary by NOAA is equally ambiguous:
There is low scientific confidence that overall storminess has changed, however, it is likely that there has been a human-induced increase in coastal extreme sea level events due to overall sea level rise. Near Sandy’s landfall, sea level has risen over one foot since the mid-19 Century, mostly (but not solely) due to the increase in volume of the ocean attributable to its warming resulting from climate change.
What about those “rapidly increasing” temperatures? According to the 2013 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the estimated rise in New York City’s temperature has been less than 1 degree Celcius between 1901 to 2012. A separate study from the New York City Panel on Climate Change in 2015 showed essentially no temperature rise between the late 1990s and early 2010s (consistent with the observed “pause” in global warming.) It also found a one-inch per decade rise in the city’s sea level since 1900.
And, I hate to point out the obvious here, but no more Sandys have hit New York City since 2012. If extreme storms are what to “expect” from man-made climate change, shouldn’t they occur more than once every several years? Before Hurricanes Harvey and Irma hit the mainland last year, the United States had just enjoyed a 12-year drought in major hurricane activity. Not exactly the kind of dire weather pattern the de Blasio climate claque wants us to believe.
You also don’t have to look much further into the past than say, oh, last week, to see that fossil fuels save lives. Millions of them. Natural gas use—and prices—hit all-time highs last week in the Northeast as freezing temperatures and blizzard conditions pounded the area. It is not overreach or hyperbole to say that millions of people living in those states would have died from hypothermia but for fossil fuel availability.
Natural gas is by far New York’s largest source of electricity, with renewables (including biomass) providing about 25 percent of the state’s energy. But the extreme cold also resulted in a record-drop in natural gas reserves, according to report out today by Bloomberg News; residents bracing for another blizzard later this week should hope and pray those five evil fossil fuel companies replenish their inventory real quick.
OK, all scientific nit-picking aside, if this is so serious, why stop at a toothless lawsuit and some minor stock-trading? De Blasio filed the lawsuit to show “how we…eight and a half million strong….will no longer participate in a system that endangers our very own people. It’s time to do something different in New York City, isn’t it? We are going after those who profit. And what a horrible, disgusting way to profit, the way this puts so many people’s lives in danger.” De Blasio said it’s time for New Yorkers to lead the fight against climate change “as if our lives depend on it, because they do.”
Since climate change poses a bigger risk to the future of New Yorkers than say, a terrorist attack or disease outbreak or just the fact they live in that city, shouldn’t these tough talkers do more than talk? I realize it’s a little juvenile to just say, “Stop using fossil fuels if you’re so damn worried about it!” so let’s get a little more specific:
- Both de Blasio and Cuomo should immediately surrender their motorcades and curtail any air travel. Since they still need to travel around the city and state, at least be eco-wise and use public transportation. (Walking to Davos next week really isn’t an option as far as I can tell.)
- Shutter LaGuardia and JFK airports. Since the transportation sector is one of the top users of energy in the state, this seems like a logical move to stop all the death-by-fossil-fuels.
- Close down all filling stations in New York City that are supplied by the Evil Five. After all, they are just the dealers who, as de Blasio said, have “spent a lot of time hooking society on that lethal product.” Cut off the supply to the addicted users and, voila, problem solved.
- Build more wind farms, require residential and commercial owners to install solar systems: Wind power only supplies about three percent of the state’s total energy, and there are no major wind farms in New York City. Time to level some neighborhoods and make room for wind turbines to replace gas and oil resources. Same with solar. It only costs between $20,000 to $50,000 to install solar panels on a single-panel home, and surely all those corporations getting big tax breaks from Congress this year can finally afford solar systems. A small price to pay to save lives from rising sea levels.
If New Yorkers really want to “do something different” to stave off a death sentence, then execute the executor. That, as de Blasio said, would show how New York is indeed a “beacon to the world.”