Climate Alarmism and the Muzzling of Independent Science
This Friday (Earth Day and Lenin’s Birthday) President Obama will sign the Paris Agreement, supposedly to control global climate. Last week, the attorney general of a tax shelter – the US Virgin Islands -- subpoenaed the Competitive Enterprise Institute. This was part of a campaign to intimidate climate realists and to shake down, and possibly shut down, the energy industry. The campaign was launched by a number of Democrat Attorneys General and Al Gore, colluding with trial lawyers and other special interests, under the guise of investigating ExxonMobil. As bizarre as these moves are, they are just an escalation of 30 years of persecuting distinguished scientists who disagreed with Al Gore’s climate change fantasies.
Scientific research is supported by private industry, governments, universities (largely government dependent) or some combination of the three. Before Gore’s tenure as vice president, the majority of scientists with some knowledge of the subject firmly rejected climate alarmism. During his two terms almost in the White House, Al Gore and the academic liberals executed a quiet purge. They packed the scientific establishment with environmentalists, defunded inconvenient research fields, removed distinguished scientists, and bullied others into silence or equivocation. Huge budgets allocated to climate studies (even before Gore) produced hordes of worthless PhDs, incapable of making a living outside of climate alarmism. But a large segment of scientists and professionals versed in science are independent in a free society, deriving their income from private business. Al Gore and other climate alarmists had a problem.
For more than 150 years, the Left has been shouting that anybody who disagrees with its politics is nothing but a stooge for capitalists or corporations. Wherever the Left came to power, it used this claim to squash any dissent. In the US, this shouting has left a deep imprint in the public mind, but has not gained much traction otherwise -- until an opportunity came in the 1990’s. At this point I must say that I do not smoke, do not recommend smoking or nicotine use, do not have any interest in the tobacco companies, and neither like them nor defend them. But anti-smoking campaigns became a Trojan horse, used by the extreme Left to legitimize the suppression of conservative and moderate voices in the name of fighting against “corporations.”
These anti-smoking efforts started in the mainstream with the intent to improve public health, then morphed into a campaign against smokers and tobacco companies, and soon became a money grab. The first and the third phases had bipartisan support. Then things took an even uglier turn. Remarkable milestones of the third phase and later development include:
- Before 1998 – states changed their laws to retroactively deny tobacco companies legal defenses;
- 1998 – a Master Settlement Agreement was signed between state Attorneys General and Big Tobacco, transferring billions of dollars to the private lawyers associated with the AGs;
- 1999 – the DOJ filed a legal complaint against the tobacco industry and its scientific research institute, with two counts using specific medical care statutes and two counts relying on overbroad interpretation of RICO;
- 2000 - the American Legacy Foundation started airing its controversial truth ads;
- 2001 - the DOJ amended its complaint, dropping the non-RICO counts.
In the process, the Clinton-Gore administration developed and spread a false narrative -- “people died because tobacco companies lied” -- thus justifying suppression of the “corporate speech.” Remarkably, the tobacco industry was blamed for conducting scientific research and even for funding research by independent scientists. The industry and/or the scientists were blamed even if the research found or confirmed the dangers of tobacco, and even if the research was unrelated to the tobacco. The Tobacco Precedent was born.
With little public attention, this process created an extra-legal precedent: if enough politicians do not like some speech or research and can link it to a company or an industry, the company or industry can be persecuted. Then laws can be made ad hoc and applied retroactively; the punishment is unlimited; and attempts by the target to defend itself are considered additional offenses.
End of the Interlude
Climate alarmists, accusing their opponents of serving “fossil fuel interests” and especially the oil industry, immediately took advantage of the Tobacco Precedent. The idea that the oil industry has any interest in opposing “climate action” is preposterous. First, there is a circular argument: in the debate over whether CO2 emissions are harmful, beneficial, or inconsequential, it assumes a priori that they are harmful. Second, this assumption is wrong. Third, even accepting this assumption, and additionally presuming that the emissions should be sharply curtailed, the economic impact on the industry would be non-uniform and likely positive. Most electricity in the US is generated from coal. Natural gas power stations emit 3-4 times less CO2 and other “greenhouse gases” (in quotes because the term is misleading) per kilowatt of electrical energy. Thus, any bona fide effort to decrease CO2 emissions would start by replacing coal with natural gas -- just the opposite of what environmentalists and the Obama administration do in their war on fracking, pipeline laying, and other natgas activities. Since the oil industry is actually the oil and gas industry, it would benefit. The oil industry can also pass on to the customers whatever taxes the governments levy on it, and compensate for lower sales volumes by higher margins. Further, large oil corporations are really industrial conglomerates, capable of using their assets in multiple economic sectors. One can easily ascertain this fact by comparing ExxonMobil’s (XOM) stock price with the oil index (OIL). Despite an almost 78% drop in oil prices over the last four years, ExxonMobil’s price remained the same (as of 4/13/2016), while it has been paying dividends and withstanding political attacks. Instead of drilling and pumping oil, oil companies can erect and operate wind farms. Gas stations, which currently make money mostly from their convenience stores, can be converted into electric vehicle charging stations. Thus, the alarmist accusations have been just a pretext for silencing scientists and other opponents.
Nevertheless, the alarmists succeeded in excluding from the climate debate most people with knowledge and experience in physics, geology, chemistry, biology, energy production, and other pertinent scientific fields. Their iron curtain cut off scientists, engineers, and executives from the manufacturing, energy, transportation, mining, oil and gas, and chemical industries, as well as independent researchers who made it through years of goring.
For example, the Global Climate Coalition, founded by the National Association of Manufacturers in 1989 and including millions of members from many industries, started collapsing in 1999 and finally folded in 2002. Many of its corporate members also moved to the opposite side, and even voiced support for alarmism. The green protection racket was booming.
Then, the environmentalists used the tobacco industry precedent to intimidate and vilify anybody who opposed Climatism, even casually. This strategy worked. Within a few years, multi-issue think tanks and conservative non-profits were forced either to abandon their defenses of climate realism or to lose financial support from private industry, including fossil fuels companies. At the same time the environmental groups and climate alarmists, who had many times more money than the climate realists even before 1999, saw their income multiplied. This is how the climate debate ended.
Since 2008, large fossil fuels companies (including ExxonMobil) have hardly donated any money to the climate realists, but that did not stop the alarmists from making false claims. An example is the accusations that Dr. Willie Soon, a solar physicist affiliated with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, received grants from ExxonMobil and other organizations, defined by the alarmists as “fossil fuels interests.” The formerly mainstream media made an orgy out of these accusations in 2010, and then again in 2015, when they were sold as news again. See more detail in Defunding of Climate Realists.
Not only the opposition to Climatism has been suppressed, it has been suppressed stealthily. The public and most politicians, academics, and journalists have not even noticed. People believed that the industry had skin in the game and was more than able to defend itself. For the public, the unfolding events did look like the emergence of genuine scientific agreement. And since the industry had been muzzled, the environmental lobby has easily framed the distinguished scientists opposing Climatism as the voice of the industry. In many cases, private corporations publicly disavowed links with the persecuted scientists, further cementing their image of outcasts. Finally, those who had the rare combination of scientific knowledge, concern for their fellow citizens, and the guts to oppose climate alarmism have been lulled into the false belief that the situation was a problem of the energy industry alone. In fact, climate alarmism is not an industry problem and not even limited to economic policies. It is a juggernaut rolling over American science, education, religious freedoms, and independence itself.
Punishing businesses for funding researchers is simply a ban on independent science, imposed by the government through the corporations.