Why Are More Cities Divesting From Big Oil? It’s Moral — and Practical

Thousands of New Yorkers came together for the #Sandy5 march on October 28, 2017, to commemorate the fifth anniversary of Superstorm Sandy. Participants demanded powerful climate action from New York's elected officials. (Photo: Erik McGregor / Pacific Press / LightRocket via Getty Images)Thousands of New Yorkers came together for the #Sandy5 march on October 28, 2017, to commemorate the fifth anniversary of Superstorm Sandy. Participants demanded powerful climate action from New York’s elected officials. (Photo: Erik McGregor / Pacific Press / LightRocket via Getty Images)

In January, New York City announced that it would both divest its $189 billion pension fund from fossil fuel companies and sue the world’s five biggest oil companies for their contributions to catastrophic climate change. The city plans to move the $5 billion it now invests in fossil fuel companies into other investments within the next five years. The lawsuit, in turn, cites climate change-caused damage, such as flooding and erosion and future threats, and asks BP, ExxonMobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and Shell to pay for it.

This playbook was written on the West Coast. In September, San Francisco and Oakland filed separate lawsuits against the same five oil companies seeking payment for the construction of new seawalls and other infrastructure required to protect the cities from rising sea levels. Marin and San Mateo counties, and the city of Imperial Beach in San Diego County, sued dozens of fossil fuel firms, making similar arguments.

These actions are accelerating under the Trump administration’s multipronged effort to undercut environmental protections and boost fossil fuel production and use, which would exacerbate climate change. States, cities, and the people retain considerable power to effectively challenge the administration’s reckless quest to pump more and more greenhouse gas into the rapidly warming atmosphere.

They’re using that power: Direct divestment programs and lawsuits are products of people power — activists organizing in coalitions of aligned interest groups and working with like-minded elected officials — and they are not the only tools available to us.

Activists around the world are effectively pressuring the fossil fuel industry by taking on the financial…

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