Here are nine beautifully crafted blows to the fossil-fuel industry from New York’s new climate change lawsuit

Climate protesters in New York City. Image: Getty.

The mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio, has just upped the stakes in the race to tackle the global climate crisis.

Under his instructions, the City of New York has filed a historic, multi-billion dollar lawsuit against the world’s five largest, publicly traded, fossil fuel producers - BP, Chevron, Conocophillips, Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell- whom it claims are both “quantitatively and qualitatively” responsible for climate change’s vast existential threat.

The city is also looking for ways to divest about $5 billion from fossil-fuel linked companies. “We’re going to take our own actions to protect our own people,” the Mayor said in a speech on Wednesday.

It isn’t the first local government to do this: in California, numerous city and county governments are already suing the fossil fuel industry on similar grounds.

But New York’s status, as America’s financial capital and Trump’s home city, makes this suit iconic.

Below are 9 extracts from the searingly direct and beautifully earnest new lawsuit: 

1. This lawsuit is based upon the fundamental principle that a corporation that makes a product causing severe harm when used exactly as intended should shoulder the costs of abating that harm.

2. Defendants continue to this day to produce, market, and sell massive amounts of fossil fuels and plan to continue doing so for decades into the future; their past and ongoing conduct causes and continually exacerbates global warming and all of its impacts, including hotter temperatures, longer and more severe heat waves, extreme precipitation events including heavy downpours, rising sea levels, and other severe and irreversible harms.

3. Defendants are collectively responsible, through their production, marketing, and sale of fossil fuels, for over 11 per cent of all the carbon and methane pollution from industrial sources that has accumulated in the atmosphere since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution.

4. It is a myth that everyone is responsible for climate change and therefore that no one is responsible.

5. Defendants orchestrated a campaign of deception and denial regarding climate change. Defendants sponsored publicity campaigns using front groups and paid “scientific” mouthpieces—including some of the same scientists that the tobacco industry had used to downplay the risks of cigarettes—to discredit the mainstream scientific consensus on global warming and downplay the risks of climate change.

6. Defendants are not only quantitatively different from other contributors to climate change given their massive and dangerous levels of fossil fuel production over many years—they are also qualitatively different from other contributors to climate change because of their inhouse scientific resources, early knowledge of climate change impacts, commercial promotions of fossil fuels as beneficial despite their knowledge to the contrary, efforts to protect their fossilfuel market by downplaying the risks of climate change, and leadership roles in the API and other organizations that undertook a communications strategy for the fossil fuel industry.

7. Studies by the New York City Panel on Climate Change (“NPCC”), a body of more than a dozen independent leading climate and social scientists, 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.


8. The City must take many more resiliency actions to more fully protect the public and City property and services as the climate marches toward an overheated state that, according to all scientific data, will be unprecedented in the history of human civilization.

9. This egregious state of affairs is no accident. Defendants’ actions in producing, marketing, and selling fossil fuels for decades and at ever more dangerous levels while knowing of the harm that was substantially certain to result constitutes an unlawful public and private nuisance and an illegal trespass upon City property.

A spokesperson for Chevron has already told the New York Times that it believes that the lawsuit will “do nothing to address the serious issue of climate change.”

But a suprisingly conciliatory statement from President Trump about the Paris Climate Agreement yesterday afternoon suggests that he may already be feeling somewhat cowed; "Frankly, it's an agreement I have no problem with," he is reported to have said, according to an unofficial transcript of the news conference in Norway. 

These lawyers' carefully chosen and calmly delivered words may yet play the trump card in deciding the fossil fuel industry's fate.

India Bourke is editorial assistant and environment correspondent at the New Statesman, where this article first appeared.

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Covid-19 is highlighting cities' unequal access to green space

In the UK, Londoners are most likely to rely on their local park for green space, and have the best access to parks. (Leon Neal/Getty Images)

As coronavirus lockdowns ease, people are flooding back to parks – but not everyone has easy access to green space in their city.

Statistics from Google show that park attendance in countries across the globe has shot up as people have been allowed to move around their cities again.

This is especially true in urban areas, where densely populated neighbourhoods limit the size of private green space – meaning residents have to go to the park to get in touch with nature. Readers from England can use our interactive tool below to find out how much green space people have access to in their area, and how it compares to the rest of the country.

 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement Monday that people are allowed to mingle in parks and gardens with groups of up to six people was partially following what people were doing already.

Data from mobile phones show people have been returning to parks across the UK, and also across Europe, as weather improves and lockdown eases.

People have been returning to parks across the world

Stay-at-home requirements were eased in Italy on 4 May, which led to a flood of people returning to parks.

France eased restrictions on 1 May, and the UK eased up slightly on 13 May, allowing people to sit down in public places so long as they remain socially distanced.

Other countries have seen park attendance rise without major easing of lockdown – including Canada, Spain, and the US (although states there have individual rules and some have eased restrictions).

In some countries, people never really stopped going to parks.

Authorities in the Netherlands and Germany were not as strict as other countries about their citizens visiting local parks during lockdown, while Sweden has famously been avoiding placing many restrictions on people’s daily lives.


There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that access to green space has major benefits for public health.

A recent study by researchers at the University of Exeter found that spending time in the garden is linked to similar benefits for health and wellbeing as living in wealthy areas.

People with access to a private garden also had higher psychological wellbeing, and those with an outdoor space such as a yard were more likely to meet physical activity guidelines than those without access to outdoor space. 

Separate UK research has found that living with a regular view of a green space provides health benefits worth £300 per person per year.

Access is not shared equally, however, which has important implications for equality under lockdown, and the spread of disease.

Statistics from the UK show that one in eight households has no garden, making access to parks more important.

There is a geographic inequality here. Londoners, who have the least access to private gardens, are most likely to rely on their local park for green space, and have the best access to parks. 

However the high population in the capital means that on the whole, green space per person is lower – an issue for people living in densely populated cities everywhere.

There is also an occupational inequality.

Those on low pay – including in what are statistically classed as “semi-skilled” and “unskilled” manual occupations, casual workers and those who are unemployed – are almost three times as likely as those in managerial, administrative, professional occupations to be without a garden, meaning they rely more heavily on their local park.

Britain’s parks and fields are also at significant risk of development, according to new research by the Fields in Trust charity, which shows the number of people living further than a 10-minute walk from a public park rising by 5% over the next five years. That loss of green spaces is likely to impact disadvantaged communities the most, the researchers say.

This is borne out by looking at the parts of the country that have private gardens.

The least deprived areas have the largest gardens

Though the relationship is not crystal clear, it shows at the top end: Those living in the least deprived areas have the largest private green space.

Although the risk of catching coronavirus is lower outdoors, spending time in parks among other people is undoubtedly more risky when it comes to transmitting or catching the virus than spending time in your own outdoor space. 

Access to green space is therefore another example – along with the ability to work from home and death rates – of how the burden of the pandemic has not been equally shouldered by all.

Michael Goodier is a data reporter at New Statesman Media Group, and Josh Rayman is a graphics and data visualisation developer at New Statesman Media Group.