New York City's Mayor de Blasio to divest from big oil and sue the companies

de blasio
via New York City Mayor's office

Changes closer to home would be nice too.

The city of New York's pension funds hold about $5 billion in investments in fossil fuel companies, which are going gangbusters these days. But last week the mayor, Bill de Blasio, announced a goal to divest City funds from fossil fuel reserve owners within five years, which is a great move. TreeHugger has noted for years that fossil fuel divestment is key to climate progress.

But wait, there's more in the Mayor's press release:

The Mayor also announced that the City has filed a lawsuit against the five largest investor-owned fossil fuel companies as measured by their contributions to global warming. The City will be seeking damages from BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil, and Royal Dutch Shell for the billions of dollars the City will spend to protect New Yorkers from the effects of climate change. This includes damages to pay for harm that we’ve already seen and damages that are necessary to address harm we expect to happen over the course of this century.

This is also a great and positive thing, but the initiative caused a massive eye-roll that could be felt right across the political spectrum, from New York to London. I would start by pointing out that transportation is now the biggest source of CO2 emissions in the USA, yet the Mayor is doing his best to avoid doing anything about that.

suvLloyd Alter/ Suv on street/CC BY 2.0

Whenever I am in New York I am shocked by the huge number of giant SUVs parked everywhere, often with big pedestrian-crunching push bars mounted on front to make them even heavier and more intimidating. Surely he could do something about that.

56 leaonardLloyd Alter/ 56 Leonard/CC BY 2.0

Or the giant fancy buildings that seem to be designed to waste energy through the increased surface area and floor to ceiling glass. Surely he could do something about that.

As Brad Aaron notes on Streetsblog, "Publicity stunts like today’s, designed to burnish his bona fides for a perceived national audience, are completely out of sync with the mayor’s own transportation policies."


Aaron notes that de Blasio is against congestion pricing and hands out tens of thousands of placards so that people can park free in crosswalks and bike lanes with impunity. Aaron doesn't take the cheap shot against de Blasio's driving 11 miles to the gym and the fleet of big SUVs that takes him everywhere; he leaves that to the New York Times.


I get particularly upset with the campaign against e-bikes, especially when they peddle it as Vision Zero, which it most definitely isn't. E-bikes could be a real solution, a real help in reducing emissions, but the Mayor would rather have food delivered by car.

On the other end of the political spectrum, the Financial Times makes many of the same points (and takes the cheap gym shot too):

It is true that fossil fuel interests have had a generally toxic effect on the debate over climate change in the US, corrupting the Republican party in particular into a reckless refusal to acknowledge climate science and its implications.

But rather than looking for easy scapegoats in Texas or Europe, Mr de Blasio and Mr Cuomo should acknowledge their own responsibilities closer to home. Mr de Blasio has opposed a congestion charge for New York City, which would both improve traffic and raise revenue. Mr Cuomo, who controls the Metropolitan Transportation Authority that runs the city’s subway, has presided over mismanagement and under-investment that are bringing the system to its knees. It has been far too slow to adopt technology such as electric buses already used in cities around the world, with the first pilot launched only this week.

There is much to admire in what de Blasio has done as Mayor, but in this case I have to agree with the conclusion in the Times:

If the mayor and the governor want their rhetoric on climate change to be taken seriously, they have to show that they can start to make a difference to those problems. Leadership on climate is a fine ideal, but it means leading on the tough decisions, not just the easy ones.

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