What If Fossil Fuel Companies Had to Pay for Global Warming?

Oct 31 2013 Published by under Phaseout Profit Theory

Ryan Cooper discusses the recent “carbon bubble” ideas at the Washtington Post, with the headline “How the carbon bubble will pop”. Thanks to this tweet by Justin Guay for the link.

Cooper points out that the damages from global warming are $1.2 trillion per year, or about 1.6 % of global GDP, citing the same Guardian article I blogged about last year. Cooper doesn’t mention that there are 400.000 people per year killed by global warming already in 2012, according to the same article, plus 4.5 million dead from fossil fuel air pollution.

What if people start to come after the fossil fuel companies and ask for compensation?

Might that have an impact on their balance sheets?

I believe that this is actually a substantial risk for any fossil fuel company. Look what happened to TEPCO, and they only have to pay for pollution in the immediate vicinity of their Fukushima nuclear power plant.

In contrast, as I have said before (Al Gore Completely Wrong), the risk that fossil fuel companies would become unable to sell most of their assets is much less severe. For one, they will still be able to sell fossil fuel for non-fuel use (something Al Gore, Jeremy Leggett, and Bill McKibben still have not addressed in any way). And if they are forced to put two thirds of their oil fields under a big “off limits” sign, prices will of course explode faster than Bitcoin prices. They will come off way ahead in such a development.

If anything, the oil companies should welcome any regulation forcing them to go much slower. Again, it is good business for them to have higher prices.

But having to pay $1.2 trillion per year, and rising?

Just like TEPCO, they would only be able to pay a small part of that sum, and they would be bankrupt.

Also, in such a scenario, they would get very much interested in limiting the damage (for example limit global warming under 2 degrees Celsius), since that would reduce the amount of their liability.

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