Let's Make Big Oil Help Pay for Hurricane Sandy Relief

10/30/2012 02:08 pm ET | Updated Dec 30, 2012

Here's an idea: instead of spending hundreds of millions of dollars to corrupt our political process, what if the fossil fuel industry took all that money and put it towards Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts instead?

After all, while the fossil fuel industry didn't directly cause Hurricane Sandy, they did help lay the foundation for it. By pumping massive amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and blocking any serious political action to address the problem, the industry has already succeeded in heating the planet 1°C. That's resulted in an atmosphere that is 4% wetter than it was in the 1970s, since warm air holds more water vapor than cold, a mid-Atlantic that is 5°F warmer than average, and sea levels off the coast of New York City that are a foot-higher than they were a century ago. Yesterday, those factors combined to turn what could have been manageable-Hurricane-Sandy into devastating Frankenstorm-Sandy.

The industry isn't just juicing up the weather on carbon steroids, they're blocking any attempts to put the planet into rehab. According to the New York Times, the industry has spent over $150 million on lobbying and political donations during this election alone. Just last week, Chevron gave the singest biggest corporate political donation since Citizens United to a pro-GOP Super PAC.

To understand why fossil fuel corporations are so committed to defeating any climate action, you just need to do some simple math. In order to keep global warming below 2°C, a target even the most conservative world governments have signed onto, we can only emit about 565 more gigatonnes of carbon dioxide. But here's the kicker: the fossil fuel industry has 2795 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide in their reserves, and everyday they spend millions of dollars looking for more. Just those current reserves are worth around $20 trillion -- money that would have to be written off as a loss if governments get serious about meeting that 2°C target and put a price on carbon.

But in the meantime, the fossil fuel industry continues to make record profits. Just today, BP (you may remember them from that nasty little spill in the Gulf) boasted to the UK Guardian that it would bring in over $5 billion in profit this quarter. Last year, as Bill McKibben is fond of saying, ExxonMobil made more money than any corporation in "the history of money."

Surely, an industry whose business model depends on all of us taking on "externalities" like droughts, wildfires, floods, and hurricanes, could chip in a few extra bucks for disaster relief? At the very least, maybe they could stop spending tens of millions of dollars to elect politicians who deny that the climate crisis even exists (or use it as a laugh line in their convention speeches)?

We've started a petition at to help get the idea going (you can add your voice here, as well as make your own donation to the Red Cross) and we'll make sure to get it into the hands of some fossil fuel company representatives soon.

The day after the election, Bill and will be hitting the road for this "Do the Math" tour to connect the dots between extreme weather, climate change, and the fossil fuel industry. The tour will help kick off a new campaign to push colleges and universities to divest their endowments from fossil fuels, because we shouldn't be funding our education by investing in companies that are destroying our future. We hope that like the anti-apartheid divestment movement of the 1980s, this effort will help wake up our politicians and reveal the immorality of letting the fossil fuel companies pollute for free. It's time for them to pay for the right to trash our common atmosphere and, ideally, stop doing it all together.

In the meantime, they could at least help pay for the mess they're making.