The trial of the century

Jay Owen Reforming Global Finance, Beyond GDP

Big Oil has profited from the sale of fossil fuels for the better part of a century, helping poison the atmosphere and speed global warming. In recent years, U.S. cities, states and environmental groups have turned to the courts, hoping to punish these energy giants. Specifically, they allege that executives hid their knowledge of humanity’s role in climate change while casting doubt on those who raised the alarm. A major test of this strategy got under way this week in Manhattan, as New York squares off against Exxon Mobil. Environmentalists hail the case as the first of its kind, but that label comes with a caveat. Instead of seeking to lay blame for the planetary crisis at the feet of oil companies, the trial is instead focusing on something more mundane:

whether Exxon cooked its books. —Josh Petri

“The executive and legislative branches have largely abdicated their responsibility; that leaves the judiciary. The legal process is based on the discipline of evidence, and the evidence is extremely strong on climate change.”
—Dan Abbasi, managing director of private equity firm GameChange Capital, on the unusual charges faced by Exxon in New York.
Top stories
After years of decline, a spike in air pollution may have taken the lives of almost 10,000 additional Americans over two years.

United Nations scientists have a simple plan they say could stall emissions growth for up to 20 years, giving humanity desperately needed time to slow global warming. The cost? A mere $300 billion. That’s roughly the world’s military spending every 60 days.

The European Union’s climate plan, on the other hand, will not come that cheaply. Poland can veto the effort, and is driving a hard bargain for its support.

California is preparing for a solar boom. Starting in 2020, the state will become the first in the U.S. to require almost all new homes to draw some power from the sun.

The climate-conscious super-rich may soon be able to take a private plane that doesn’t burn fossil fuels. A growing number of startups are working on renewable energy aircraft.

What we’ve been reading
Automakers love to tout their big bets on electric vehicles, but consumers are still more in love with SUVs than saving the planet. There are 35 million more of these oversized toys on the road today than in 2010. When counted alone, the SUVs are now warming our planet more than heavy industry. Giant solar satellites, each capable of generating enough power for several large cities, were first proposed in 1968. Today, the cost of orbiting platforms that send down constant solar power may finally be cheaper than using fossil fuel and nuclear power on the surface. In 1995, the U.S. gave oil companies a temporary reprieve on paying royalties for drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. But some sloppy language made it permanent. As a result, for 24 years, energy giants have been given an $18 billion gift.