The Climate Inquisition Begins

New York’s attorney general, Eric Schneiderman, has started an investigation of Exxon Mobil “to determine whether the company lied to the public about the risks of climate change or to investors about how such risks might hurt the oil business.” According to the New York Times, its sources “said the inquiry would include a period of at least a decade during which Exxon Mobil funded outside groups that sought to undermine climate science.” See what they did there? To have a different view of climate science is to “undermine” it, because there is no scientific study of the climate except that which they agree with.

We should start with the observation that Exxon could not possibly have “lied” about climate change, even if it intended to, because first there would have to be a proven truth on the subject. If the company later contradicted warnings about global warming issued by scientists it funded in the 1980s, that would be justified by the fact that those warnings were almost certainly wrong. The arguments for global warming have been undercut, not by anything Exxon did, but by what the earth didn’t do. It didn’t keep warming, with global temperatures leveling off for the past 15 to 20 years. Global temperatures are now trending at or below the lowest, least dire predictions of warming.

But this isn’t really about the science, is it? To make it clear that this is entirely a political witch hunt, the Times explains that “the company published extensive research over decades that largely lined up with mainstream climatology. Thus, any potential fraud prosecution might depend on exactly how big a role company executives can be shown to have played in directing campaigns of climate denial, usually by libertarian-leaning political groups.”

A Bloomberg analysis describes the “weird theory” needed to transform this into a case of securities fraud but gets down to the nub of why Schneiderman is pursuing that theory: to evade the First Amendment. “[S]ecurities fraud is perhaps the least protected speech of all. Securities law fits notoriously uncomfortably with the First Amendment; the Securities and Exchange Commission forbids even truthful speech by companies in many situations.”

So there you go. This is about suppressing political speech by using the threat of government prosecution to intimidate corporations into withdrawing funding from pro-free-market advocates.

This is part of the whole “consensus” scam that is central to global warming hysteria. The idea is to make it impossible for scientists who are skeptical of global warming to receive any funding or get published in peer-reviewed journals—and then declare that, lo and behold, there are no published scientists who are skeptical about global warming! The idea is to proclaim a spontaneous “consensus” that you created by excluding anyone who disagrees with you.

To be sure, this case will take forever to go through the courts. (Mann v. Steyn just entered year four.) But this is another case where the prosecution is the punishment. Just the prospect of being dragged through the courts and publicly maligned by prosecutors is deterrent enough.

This prosecution is not really aimed at Exxon, which has pockets deep enough to fight if it chooses. And if it wanted to, Exxon could really fight. It could use the processes of discovery and cross-examination to expose plenty of examples of lying about climate science on the part of politicians and government agencies. It is obvious, however, that Exxon’s executives don’t have the courage to do this.

That’s a shame, because the real target is everybody smaller than Exxon. The message is going out that they will face political reprisals, including embarrassing and expensive persecution in the courts, if they ever give a dollar to a climate skeptic.

The investigation is definitely aimed at more companies. According to another New York Times report, “Energy experts said prosecutors may decide to investigate companies that chose to fund or join organizations that questioned climate science or policies designed to address the problem, such as the Global Climate Coalition and the American Legislative Exchange Council.” This is already having its effect: “Shell announced this summer that it would not renew its membership in the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, a free-enterprise group that has opposed government mandates, subsidies, and other efforts to force or encourage companies to develop and use more renewable energy sources. Occidental Petroleum and several other companies have also left ALEC, but Chevron and Exxon Mobil still support the group.”

It’s not just about starving out one political faction; it’s about feeding advocates of the preferred faction. Thus, the Times mentions how prosecutors like Schneiderman would prefer big oil companies to act: “Last month, 10 of the world’s biggest oil companies, including BP, Royal Dutch Shell, Saudi Aramco, Repsol of Spain, Eni of Italy and Total, made a public declaration acknowledging that their industry must help address global climate change.”

It seems Schneiderman has learned from the neo-authoritarians in Russia and China how to impose political control. There is no need for anything so crude as outright censorship. Anybody can say what they like, if they’re shouting on a street corner or writing in the pages of some obscure journal for intellectuals. But nobody can get any money to broadcast their views more widely because anyone with money faces ruin if they stand out against the powers that be.

That’s the new regime New York’s attorney general just announced.

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