Greens Go After ExxonMobil for Expressing Opinions on Climate Change
Acton Institute Powerblog

Greens Go After ExxonMobil for Expressing Opinions on Climate Change

Green AmericaEnvironmental activists representing some 50 seemingly disparate groups are calling on U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch to conduct a criminal investigation of ExxonMobil for allegedly misleading the public on climate change. Boy howdy, when a representative from The Foundation of Women in Hip Hop aligns her agenda with Green America, the Natural Resources Defense Council and a whole bunch of clergy and religious you can bet the farm there’s an open-and-shut federal case against any company foolish enough to stand in their way.

Here’s the text of the letter:

Dear Attorney General Lynch,

As leaders of some of the nation’s environmental, indigenous peoples and civil rights groups, we’re writing to ask that you initiate a federal probe into the conduct of ExxonMobil. New revelations in the Los Angeles Times and the Pulitzer-prize-winning InsideClimate News strongly suggest that the corporation knew about the dangers of climate change even as it funded efforts at climate denial and systematically misled the public.

Given the damage that has already occurred from climate change—particularly in the poorest communities of our nation and our planet—and that will certainly occur going forward, these revelations should be viewed with the utmost apprehension. They are reminiscent—though potentially much greater in scale—than similar revelations about the tobacco industry.

These journalists have provided a remarkable roadmap to this corporation’s potential misconduct. We would ask that you follow that map wherever it may lead, employing all the tools at your disposal to uncover the truth.
Because, don’t you know, the future of gender-equality in hip hop rests on fossil-fuel divestment, climate-change mitigation and federal prosecution of companies trafficking in that sweet, sweet crude and natural gas. Except, of course, it doesn’t … after all, hip hop ladies rely just as much as their rhyming brethren on fossil fuels to record, disseminate and tour their product. Also on board with this nonsense are presidential candidates Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton and Martin O’Malley. (New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has launched a separate investigation of ExxonMobil.) Good luck nailing them down on their logical inconsistencies and hypocrisy, however, as they’re busy campaigning twixt hither and yon via bus, limousine and airplane much like the jet-setting pilgrims set to alight on Paris for the Conference of Parties (COP21) next month.

As correctly noted by left-of-center economist Robert Samuelson in the Washington Post, this campaign is rooted in stifling free speech:

If you care about free speech, you should pay attention to the campaign now being waged against Exxon Mobil. More than 50 environmental and civil rights groups have written Attorney General Loretta Lynch urging her to open a “federal probe” of the giant energy firm. Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have also joined the chorus. The charge is that Exxon Mobil “systematically misled the public” on climate change, even as its executives recognized the dangers. New York’s attorney general has already launched an investigation….

The feuding between Exxon Mobil and environmentalists is long-standing. In a 2007 report, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) accused the company of financing “a sophisticated disinformation campaign . . . to deceive the public” about global warming. From 1998 to 2005, the UCS said, Exxon Mobil gave $16 million to 43 groups that preached climate change skepticism. (The company says it has since halted many of these grants.)

For many environmentalists, it’s gospel that Exxon Mobil’s campaign stymied remedial policies. Americans were unsure of global warming’s reality. “We’ve had 20 years of delay because of the doubt and confusion sowed by Exxon Mobil and [climate] deniers,” says Eric Pooley of the Environmental Defense Fund.

This is questionable. For starters, millions of Americans revile big oil companies; they’re not uncritical consumers of industry propaganda. The larger problem is the inherent difficulty of doing something significant about global warming. Fossil fuels supply four-fifths of primary global energy. To stabilize atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations, fossil fuel emissions need to go to about zero. How is that going to happen?…

To crystallize this complex problem into a conspiracy controlled by Exxon Mobil is to engage in political make-believe. This is a dangerous and self-serving exercise that brings us back to free speech. Genuinely free speech transcends accepted and respected beliefs. It includes viewpoints that are wrong, offensive and ignorant. We take pride in the marketplace of ideas — a dividend of free speech — to sort the worthy from the unworthy. If government assumes that function, you no longer have free speech.

To this, Green America responds like Otter in Animal House after Bluto’s famous rant [warning: offensive language] beginning with the claim the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor: “Forget it, he’s on a roll.” Yup, Green America doubles-down, or “all-out,” in Otter’s words: “I think this situation absolutely requires a really futile and stupid gesture be done on somebody’s part, and we’re just the guys to do it.” Green America, an organization that counts religious shareholder activist groups among its members, last week blasted an email championing a DOJ Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) investigation of ExxonMobil:

A game-changing investigation by InsideClimate News has revealed that Exxon’s own research as far back as 1978 confirmed the role of fossil fuels in climate change. This is a major revelation in light of what is obvious about Exxon: The company later spent two decades and millions of dollars defrauding the public about climate science, in an effort to slow action against climate change.

We can’t get those years back. But there is precedent for holding ExxonMobil accountable: The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), the same law that played a crucial role in taking down the tobacco companies’ misinformation campaign….

It’s always “a game-changing” thing with this crowd, isn’t it? I’ll grant Mr. Samuelson the last word, which is a fitting response to Green America, the Ladies of Hip Hop and their posse:

The advocates of a probe into Exxon Mobil are essentially proposing that the company be punished for expressing its opinions. These opinions may be smart or stupid, constructive or destructive, sensible or self-interested. Whatever, they deserve protection. An investigation would, at the least, constitute a form of harassment that would warn other companies to be circumspect in airing their views. Matters could be worse if the government somehow imposes monetary penalties or opens the floodgates to suits by plaintiffs’ attorneys, a la the tobacco industry. Significantly, the letter to Attorney General Lynch does not allege any violation of law. [Highlights added]

Bruce Edward Walker

has more than 30 years’ writing and editing experience in a variety of publishing areas, including reference books, newspapers, magazines, media relations and corporate speeches. Much of this material involved research on water rights, land use, alternative-technology vehicles and other environmental issues, but Walker has also written extensively on nonscientific subjects, having produced six titles in Wiley Publishing’s CliffsNotes series, including study guides for "Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland" and "One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest." He has also authored more than 100 critical biographies of authors and musicians for Gale Research's Contemporary Literary Criticism and Contemporary Musicians reference-book series. He was managing editor of The Heartland Institute's InfoTech & Telecom News from 2010-2012. Prior to that, he was manager of communications for the Mackinac Center's Property Rights Network. He also served from 2006-2011 as editor of Michigan Science, a quarterly Mackinac Center publication. Walker has served as an adjunct professor of literature and academic writing at University of Detroit Mercy. For the past five years, he has authored a weekly column for the mid-Michigan Morning Sun newspaper. Walker holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Michigan State University. He is the father of two daughters and currently lives in Flint, Mich., with his wife Katherine.