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9 beautifully crafted blows to the fossil-fuel industry from NYC's new climate change lawsuit

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

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 an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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Tackling tuition fees may not be the vote-winner the government is hoping for

In theory, Theresa May is right to try to match Labour’s policy. But could it work?

Part of the art of politics is to increase the importance of the issues you win on and to decrease or neutralise the importance of the issues your opponent wins on. That's part of why Labour will continue to major on police cuts, as a device to make the usually Labour-unfriendly territory of security more perilous for the Tories.

One of the advantages the Conservatives have is that they are in government – I know it doesn't always look like it – and so they can do a lot more to decrease the importance of Labour's issues than the Opposition can do to theirs.

So the theory of Theresa May's big speech today on higher education funding and her announcement of a government review into the future of the university system is sound. Tuition fees are an area that Labour win on, so it makes sense to find a way to neutralise the issue.

Except there are a couple of problems with May's approach. The first is that she has managed to find a way to make a simple political question incredibly difficult for herself. The Labour offer is “no tuition fees”, so the Conservatives essentially either need to match that or move on. But the one option that has been left off the table is abolition, the only policy lever that could match Labour electorally.

The second, even bigger problem is that it it turns out that tuition fees might not have been the big election-moving event that we initially thought they were. The British Electoral Survey caused an earthquake of their own by finding that the “youthquake” – the increase in turn-out among 18-24-year-olds – never happened. Younger voters were decisive, both in how they switched to Labour and in the overall increase in turnout among younger voters, but it was in that slightly older 25-35 bracket (and indeed the 35-45 one as well) that the big action occurred.

There is an astonishingly powerful belief among the Conservative grassroots, such as it is, that Jeremy Corbyn's NME interview in which the he said that existing tuition fee debt would be “dealt with” was decisive. That belief, I'm told, extends all the way up to May's press chief, Robbie Gibb. Gibb is the subject of increasing concern among Tory MPs and ministers, who regularly ask journalists what they make of Robbie, if Robbie is doing alright, before revealing that they find his preoccupations – Venezuela, Corbyn's supposed pledge to abolish tuition fee debt – troublingly marginal.

Because the third problem is that any policy action on tuition fees comes at a huge cost to the Treasury, a cost that could be spent easing the pressures on the NHS, which could neutralise a Labour strength, or the financial strains on schools, another area of Labour strength. Both of which are of far greater concern to the average thirtysomething than what anyone says or does about tuition fees.

Small wonder that Team Corbyn are in an ebullient mood as Parliament returns from recess.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman and the PSA's Journalist of the Year. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.