As Texas and Louisiana cope with the destruction wrought by Hurricane Harvey and as Hurricane Irma continues to ravage Caribbean islands on its way to the United States, many are asking a pertinent question: Who should pay for the damage?
"We should be naming these hurricanes after Exxon and Chevron, not Harvey and Irma."
—May Boeve, 350.org
"We know that the costs of both hurricanes will be enormous and that climate change will have made them far larger than they would have been otherwise," write Peter Frumhoff and Myles Allen, two of the study's co-authors, in a piece for the Guardian.
The research also shows, they note, that massive oil companies have disproportionately contributed to rising sea levels and soaring levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide while deceiving the public about the costs of their business practices.
"Strikingly, nearly 30 percent of the rise in global sea level between 1880 and 2010 resulted from emissions traced to the 90 largest carbon producers," their study found. "More than six percent of the rise in global sea level resulted from emissions traced to ExxonMobil, Chevron, and BP, the three largest contributors."
The study also found that "the 90 largest carbon producers contributed approximately 57 percent of the observed rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide, nearly 50 percent of the rise in global average temperature."
May Boeve, executive director of 350.org, argued in a statement on Thursday that the study's findings demonstrate that due to their contributions to climate change, major polluters are partly responsible for the extreme weather events currently wreaking havoc across the globe.
"We should be naming these hurricanes after Exxon and Chevron, not Harvey and Irma," Boeve wrote.
"The time has come for the major carbon producers to face the reality of the unsafe products they persist in marketing."
—Henry Shue, University of OxfordYet, despite their outsized role in creating the conditions that produced storms as severe and intense as Harvey and Irma, major oil companies have committed relatively little to recovery efforts.
"It may take tens to hundreds of billions of dollars to support disaster relief and recovery among Gulf Coast communities affected by Hurricane Harvey. ExxonMobil, Chevron and BP have collectively pledged only $2.75 million," Frumhoff and Allen note.
Because these companies are never held to account, however, the public—low-income and minority communities in particular—is forced to pick up the costs.
"By continuing major contributions to harm, the major carbon producers have for decades knowingly and flagrantly persisted in violating the bedrock principle: do no harm," Shue wrote. "The time has come for the major carbon producers to face the reality of the unsafe products they persist in marketing and the safer world they could help to create. Otherwise, they risk turning themselves into enemies of humanity."
Boeve of 350.org agreed, writing: "Climate change isn't just a crisis, it's a crime. It's high time to hold the criminals accountable."
"Taxpayers, especially those living in vulnerable coastal communities, should not have to bear the high costs of these companies' irresponsible decisions by themselves," Frumhoff concluded.