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ExxonMobil, Climate Change And Free Speech: Down from Climategate

By -- July 27, 2016

“The Spanish Inquisition and the McCarthy Era are two examples of dark periods in history when silencing freedom of thought and association were punished. History is replete with periods of repression of personal freedoms. Society has never been advanced by these efforts to control the populace’s thoughts and actions.”

Recently, 19 Democratic Senators have “called out” conservative organizations that have produced research and policy papers questioning the orthodoxy of climate change–using their privilege of making claims from the floor of the Senate where a politician cannot be legally attacked for his speech (Article I, Section 6, Clause 1, United States Constitution).

These legislators wasted taxpayer money (the Senate had to be in session, so that meant staffers had to be paid) in attacking the free-speech rights of those companies, individuals, and organizations questioning the “settled” science of climate change. This three-day affair, “Web of Denial,” was led by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), a career politician representing a state with barely over one million in population that ranks at the bottom of most economic measures and places considered attractive to do business.

Britain/EU Rethink

Despite attempts to promote/scare the public about the impact of climate change, survey results show the issue ranks at the bottom of the public’s concern about social issues.

The climate change movement also took a blow following the change in the UK’s government leadership following the nation’s Brexit vote to secede from the 28-nation European Union.  The country installed a new prime minister, Theresa May, who promptly eliminated the Department of Energy and Climate Change, shifting its duties to the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

Post-Brexit, climate activists attempted to put the best face on this situation by saying it was more appropriate that climate policy be moved to the business department that would be implementing policies to promote actions to deal with the issue.  But that argument doesn’t square with the recent decisions to back away from adding more wind energy projects and the country’s need to reactivate mothballed coal-fired power plants to meet winter energy demands.

What happened in Britain was just the latest example of the re-examination of the role of renewables in European economies such as Germany and Denmark.  Both countries are being forced to back away from the embrace of renewables because of what the cost of these renewables’ fuel subsidies have done to power prices, their impact on the operation of the power grid, and the countries’ economies.  Questions are now being raised over what will happen to the Paris Climate Change Agreement negotiated last fall as European countries challenge the renewables mandate.

Target Exxon-Mobil

The centerpiece of the latest climate change dustup is Exxon Mobil Corporation. The company has become the target of the Progressive, climate-change movement, which has seized on the concept of targeting the fossil fuel industry with the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).

This law was used against the tobacco industry and has become the popular way to attack fossil fuel companies and their “supporters.”  The Democrats have enlisted the help of a handful of state attorneys general, mostly from states led by Democratic governors, to sue ExxonMobil for “fraud” over its supposed efforts to promote the continued use of fossil fuels while “secretly” hiding the knowledge that the carbon dioxide emissions from burning these fossil fuels would create a climate Armageddon.

ExxonMobil has been at the center of these attacks. But several think-tanks, and a handful of climate scientists holding contrary views about the potential damage from climate change (formerly known as global warming until we entered a one-to-two decade hiatus in rising temperatures) have also been targeted for holding their views.

The absurdity of the attacks was highlighted when the attorney general from Puerto Rico subpoenaed ExxonMobil for documents to build its case against the company.  ExxonMobil has no offices in Puerto Rico, nor does it do any business there, raising the question of what legal standing the AG had.

Despite his bluster that it was all about the common good, he later withdrew his subpoena.  That episode shined a spotlight on what this campaign is truly about – another cog in a broader Progressive movement to suppress the freedom of speech of conservative political groups or of anyone who openly questions the views of Progressives.

Strassel’s The Intimidation Game

I have just finished reading Kimberley Strassel’s recently published book, The Intimidation Game: How The Left is Silencing Free Speech.  It is a book people should read.

Ms. Strassel is the Washington-based writer of the weekly column “Potomac Watch” for The Wall Street Journal.  She has an interesting background, having been educated at Princeton University (often cited as a locus of the Progressive movement, because it was once led by Woodrow Wilson, a champion of the Progressive movement) and is a 22-year veteran of the newspaper.

She began working for the WSJ in Brussels and subsequently moved to London to cover technology. She joined the Journal’s editorial page shortly after moving to the U.S. in 1999. She continues in this role along with writing her column, which started in 2005, twice per week.

Ms. Strassel’s book analyzes the moves of the President and carried out by ideologically-in-step agency bureaucrats at the Internal Revenue Service, the Federal Election Commission, the Environmental Protection Administration, the Housing and Urban Development Department, and even in the halls of Congress, to silence opposition speech.

This entire effort, of which Sen. Whitehead’s effort is a part, emerged from the Supreme Court’s ruling in the 2008 Citizens United case holding that corporations were entitled to the same freedom of speech rights flowing from political campaign funding that union organizations and individuals possess. You may remember that President Barack Obama attacked this decision during his 2009 State of the Union speech with the members of the court sitting immediately in front of him.

Of course, the facts and the interpretation of the decision were twisted in his speech for political purposes, to the point that Associate Justice Samuel Alito mouthed the words “You’re wrong.”

The Citizens United case involved the makers of a movie critical of 2008 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. The film-makers wanted to show the film during the campaign but they were restrained by a law suit, which was finally overturned by the Supreme Court.

On September 11, 2014, fifty-four members of the Senate Democratic caucus voted to approve a bill to begin the legal process for amending the First Amendment that henceforth, “Congress and the states may regulate and set reasonable limits on the raising and spending of money by candidates and others to influence elections.”

This bill never progressed, but is now being highlighted by presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton as one her top priorities within the first 30 days of her administration.

Climategate Redux

The attacks on ExxonMobil and the various think-tanks over their climate-change positions continues a trend uncovered by Climategate.  Recall the attempts to restrict publication of scientific articles demonstrating flaws with global warming and climate change research, attempts undertaken by leading global warming proponents which came to light in 2009 when the emails of various scientists at the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia were made public.

Not only did these emails demonstrate the extent of the efforts of these scientists to secretly modify their data to fit their pre-conceived positions, they showed how extensive the conspiracy was to prevent the articles critical of global warming studies from being published in academic journals.  So much for the principle of honesty in scientific inquiry.

Congressman Raύl Grijalva (D-AZ)

The effort to restrict challenges to the religion of climate change was extended into a pillorying of respected climate researchers by Congressman Grijalva in 2015. He sent a letter to a number of universities asking them about seven climate scientists who had, at one-time or another, questioned the climate change hysteria.

The letters demanded that the universities provide details about the funding of these seven scientists. They also asked for any communications with anybody about their compensation.

This effort was backstopped by three Democratic Senators – Barbara Boxer (CA), Ed Market (MA) and Sheldon Whitehouse (RI) – who fired off letters to 107 different companies, think-tanks, independent organizations, and trade associations, demanding information about anybody in the climate arena to whom they had given funding.

The interesting thing is that one of the seven scientists targeted actually acknowledges climate change and supports reductions in carbon emissions. However, he had once challenged the climate change alarmists linking global warming to extreme weather events. The problem was that this challenge was against the position held by John Holdren, President Obama’s science czar, and a leading climate change alarmist.

What Would Hillary Do as President?

While most of us look at the attacks on ExxonMobil and the conservative think-tanks over their climate change positions and what it might mean for energy policy in another Democratic administration, the big question is whether there will be any deviation from the existing administration’s energy policies.

Energy policy in a Hillary Clinton administration is likely to be a continuation of the Obama policies with a further ramping up of attacks on coal and fossil fuels. The policies would likely add to the regulatory burden on fossil fuel companies, limiting growth in domestic oil and gas production and leading to higher energy and utility costs for consumers as more expensive renewable fuels are forced into the power grid.

While these are important issues for energy analysts and investors, all of us should become more sensitive to the bigger problem of the growing attack on free speech.  Free speech is what made America the country it is, and a country very different from many leading countries around the world.

The Spanish Inquisition and the McCarthy Era are two examples of dark periods in history when silencing freedom of thought and association were punished. History is replete with periods of repression of personal freedoms. Society has never been advanced by these efforts to control the populace’s thoughts and actions.

I worry that the current attacks on climate “skepticism” are just another example of actions that will retard scientific investigation and hold back progress to the detriment of our population.

One Comment for “ExxonMobil, Climate Change And Free Speech: Down from Climategate”

  1. Ed Reid  

    “I’m sick and tired of people who say that if you debate and disagree with this administration, somehow you’re not patriotic. We need to stand up and say we’re Americans, and we have the right to debate and disagree with any administration.”

    ― Hillary Rodham Clinton

    One wonders how this position might change were the administration in question the “second coming of Clinton”.


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