Pity Poor Exxon . . . . . . . . . . . Not!

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Last week, a number of environmental and civil rights groups launched petition drives aimed at encouraging Attorney General Loretta Lynch to investigate Exxon Mobil. The groups accuse the company of disregarding the results of its own scientists’ research and launching a systematic disinformation campaign to sow doubt about the existence of global warming.

This morning, in “The War Against Exxon Mobil,” Washington Post economics columnist Robert J. Samuelson defended the oil company against being cast “as the scapegoat for global warming’s dilemmas.” According to Samuelson, environmentalists are engaged in a campaign to deprive the company of its first-amendment rights. “If you care about free speech,” he argues, “you should pay attention to the campaign now being waged against Exxon Mobil.”

. . . 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 least, constitute a form of harassment that would warn other companies to be circumspect in airing their views.[1]

In fact, the probe’s advocates are not proposing — essentially or otherwise — that “the company be punished for expressing its opinions.” No doubt, the probe’s advocates would be delighted to hear the company’s actual opinions, because, as evidence uncovered by investigative reporters shows, if Exxon Mobil had expressed its actual opinions, it might have said something like: In our opinion, company profits are more important than scientific evidence; hence, regardless of the scientific evidence, in our opinion, the science isn’t settled; therefore, in our opinion, we should fund groups that will chant, like a mantra, “climate change is a hoax.”

No, the probe’s advocates aren’t attempting to infringe on the first-amendment rights of Exxon Mobil or any other entity. They simply want the oil company to be held accountable for reaping billions in profits while spending millions on a disinformation campaign that successfully delayed action on climate change for decades.

In the meantime, more and more carbon has been pumped into the atmosphere, making the associated problems harder and more expensive to confront. And would you like to take a guess who’s been slated to pick up the bill for the consequences of climate change? You, that’s who! Yes, tax payers — especially future tax payers — will be picking up the bill long after the Exxon-Mobil executives who established the disinformation policy are dead and gone and unavailable to be held accountable.

So three cheers for the groups that are encouraging the U.S. Attorney General to launch a federal investigation. They aren’t posing a danger to free speech, they’re merely attempting to recapture for the rest of us some of Exxon Mobil’s ill-gotten gains.

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[1] Samuelson, Robert, J. “The War Against Exxon Mobil.” Washington Post. November 9, 2015. https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-war-against-exxon-mobil/2015/11/08/094ff978-84a6-11e5-8ba6-cec48b74b2a7_story.html?postshare=1791447078862248

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Now What’s Their Excuse?

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So many big things to write about, and such a wee brain with which to write!

In the U.S., last week was a particularly busy news week.

For one thing, on Thursday morning, Pope Francis delivered his historic address to Congress.

Then, the next morning, House Speaker John Boehner triggered a journalistic frenzy with his announcement that he would be resigning his congressional seat and the speakership in late October.

Another important story, which may have gotten lost in the shuffle, occurred later on Friday, when President Xi Jinping, of China, revealed his nation’s plan for a cap-and-trade program to cut national carbon emissions beginning in 2017. Now, this is a big deal, for one thing, because China currently emits more carbon than any other nation. If China reduces its emissions, it will consequently lessen the rate at which atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases will grow.

Another reason China’s announcement is a big deal is that it undercuts a tried-and-true argument that some other nations, or interest groups within nations, make to prevent their governments from acting on climate change. They say something similar to what Senator Marco Rubio said at the September 16th Republican debate, when he insisted that there’s no point in the U.S. acting, because “America is not a planet. And we are not even the largest carbon producer anymore, China is.” Well, now that China has a plan to limit its emissions, opponents of regulating carbon in the U.S. will have to come up with a new reason for inaction. So far they’ve pushed the following arguments:

  • Global warming isn’t occurring.
  • Global warming might be occurring, but carbon emissions aren’t to blame.
  • Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide are increasing, but that’s a good thing because plants need carbon dioxide to grow, and additional carbon dioxide will simply make plants healthier.
  • Global warming (or climate change) is a hoax that liberals are perpetrating in order to take greater control of Americans’ lives.
  • Most scientists say that climate change isn’t happening.
  • The liberal media is lying about climate change.
  • Scientists are pedaling lies about climate change in order to win government grants.
  • I don’t know about the science of climate change, because I’m not a scientist, but I do know that we would destroy the economy if we regulated carbon emissions.
  • Climate change might be happening, and humans might be causing it, but there’s no point in doing anything about it because China is emitting carbon like mad.

That list is off the top of my head. I’ve probably forgotten a few of the climate-deniers’ arguments. In any case, the China gambit is one of their oldest and strongest. Now they need to try to find a new one. With evidence of climate change appearing all over the world, their task is growing harder by the day.

So while Republicans aren’t asking my advice, I have some for them: Admit climate change and other environmental crises are occurring, and then propose voluntary simplicity (that is, reducing consumption to a sustainable level) as a solution. Why should this idea appeal to Republicans? Because it is voluntary, and it could work.

If we cut back on our own now, we can obviate the need for draconian regulations down the road.