A low-key case filed in a San Francisco court last August promises to be just the first ripple. The suit, now with the Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and the cities of Boulder, Colo., and Oakland, Calif., as plaintiffs, seeks to force two government agencies to assess the total impact on climate of the projects they finance. Rather than treaties and regulations, litigation may soon be the weapon of choice for those concerned about human-induced global warming.
In the San Francisco case, the plaintiffs charge that in the past decade, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) and the Export-Import Bank of the United States (ExIm) have provided $32 billion in loans, insurance and loan guarantees for oil pipelines, oil drilling and other fossil-fuel endeavors that will ultimately result in the emission of 32 billion tons of carbon dioxide over the life of the projects. (All human activity currently emits about 24 billion tons of CO2 a year.) In contrast, the agencies provided only $1.3 billion for renewable-energy projects during the same period. (A spokesperson for OPIC states in the agency's defense that OPIC-supported efforts are not "major contributors to global greenhouse gas emissions or climate change.")
This article was originally published with the title Greenhouse Suits.