Seeking to position himself as a national leader against climate change, Mayor Bill de Blasio on Wednesday announced a two-pronged attack against the fossil-fuel industry, including a vow that city pension funds would divest about $5 billion from companies involved in the fossil fuel business.I hate, have always hated, continue to hate this habit of blaming oil companies for our environmental problems. If you don't like what oil companies do, stop using their product. Get an electric car and an electric lawnmower and a solar panel array. Do something. But sitting back and fulminating against companies who just sell what people want to buy is nothing at all.
The mayor also announced a lawsuit against five major oil companies, seeking to collect billions of dollars in damages to pay for city efforts to cope with the effects of climate change.
“This city is standing up and saying, ‘We’re going to take our own actions to protect our own people,’” the mayor said, wearing a green necktie and sitting in front of large green sign that said “NYC: Leading the Fight Against Climate Change.” He added, “We’re not waiting.”
The reason we have massive CO2 emissions is not that the oil companies are evil. It is because all of us love driving cars and flying in planes and turning on the air conditioning. What, exactly, could the leaders of the oils companies do about our emissions even if they decided they wanted to? Invest in solar power? They're already doing that. Stop us from driving our cars? If they tried that, we would put them in jail.
If there were a massive verdict against the oil companies, what would the effect be? They would pass the cost onto their consumers, so the net effect (if any) would be to increase fuel costs. If that is your aim, why not just raise the tax? It's a much simpler, more elegant, and more efficient. But I suppose it doesn't serve the purpose of finding Bad People to blame, and punishing them.
Much of the wrath directed against the oil companies these days is about the climate change debate. Some of the oil companies have indeed funded studies by climate change skeptics. I don't care. First, it is an interesting fact that there are scientific climate change skeptics, despite the efforts of the alarmist faction to get them banned from publishing and so on. Second, I think question of belief is not very important here. By and large, European governments are on board with the threat of CO2 emissions and committed to reductions. But their emissions are not falling meaningfully faster than they are in the U.S. This is just a very hard problem, and the solutions have to be technological. Those solutions – other than nuclear power and hydroelectric dams, which most environmentalists oppose – are only now becoming available. As they do, our emissions will fall.
Suing the oil companies is a dumb sideshow.