Saturday, December 17, 2016

I'll Sue You, You'll Sue Me . . .

Originally published in the Westborough News on 06/24/2016

Once upon a time, there was a publicly-traded multi-national company which made products used by people all over the world and they made a lot of money doing it. They hired the best scientists and engineers so that they could make sure they always had enough raw materials to continue to make these products. They even had their own fleet of ships to transport their raw materials and products all over the planet.

Some of the company’s scientists came up with the brilliant idea of using their far-traveling fleet of ships to collect scientific data during their ocean-spanning journeys. They used that data and some of the best mathematical computer models in use by premier research institutions to process the data and published their findings in widely read scientific journals. 

They were considered pioneers in their area of research.

As a result of this research, this company knew that its products were causing problems of a world spanning nature. They were so concerned about these findings that they actually decided to not extract raw materials from property they leased in Indonesia because of the effects it would cause.

Fiction? No. The company is Exxon and the year was 1980. The lease in question was an offshore gas field in Malaysia containing perhaps the largest untapped reservoir of natural gas in the world, but which also contained so much CO2 that Exxon decided to shelve the project.

In 1980, this is what Exxon research scientists were saying about CO2 in our atmosphere:
There is no doubt that increases in fossil fuel usage and decreases in forest cover are aggravating the potential problem of increased CO2 in the atmosphere.”

In fact, Exxon’s scientists were publishing articles about the dangers of rapidly increasing CO2 on the atmosphere and weather patterns as far back as 1970.

A decade later, the company changed its tune regarding CO2. By 1989, Exxon was funding industry groups such as the “Global Climate Coalition” whose mission was to create uncertainty around climate science and oppose policies which would reduce greenhouse gas emissions, even though the group’s own scientists stated that “The scientific basis for the Greenhouse Effect and the potential impact of human emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2 on climate is well established and cannot be denied.”

Exxon is one of a number of major companies in the fossil fuel business who in aggregate spent hundreds of millions of dollars to fight legislation aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and to sew doubt about climate science.

The end result is that 25 years later, we have a presidential candidate who tweets that “the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”

Mission accomplished, Exxon.

But there’s a problem.

Seventeen state attorneys general are now investigating Exxon for making fraudulent statements to shareholders, including our own Attorney General Maura Healey, who stated that “Fossil fuel companies that deceived investors and consumers about the dangers of climate change should be held accountable. That’s why we have joined in investigating Exxon Mobil. We can all see today the troubling disconnect between what Exxon knew and what the company shared with the public regarding the consequences of burning the fuel it markets.”

This statement really pissed off Exxon, so it has filed its own law suit (in Texas) against AG Healey to impede her own investigation into Exxon’s own research and corporate decisions.
The Massachusetts AG’s office responded to Exxon by saying that "Our investigation is based not on speculation but on inconsistencies about climate change in Exxon documents which have been made public. The First Amendment does not protect false and misleading statements in the marketplace.”

Exxon has responded that these investigations “are an attempt to limit free speech and are the antithesis of scientific inquiry.”  In addition, the investigation “. . . would still violate the First Amendment, because it burdens Exxon’s political speech . . .”

In other words, Exxon is saying that they have the right to make statements they know are fraudulent because such speech is protected under the First Amendment (quoting Mitt Romney: “Corporations are people, my friend.”). 

A person can stand up in a crowded theater and yell “Fire!”, but is it protected speech?

Me thinks not.

I leave you with this factoid: On Thursday, June 10th, it was 75 degrees in the town Nuuk, about 30 degrees above average and 4 degrees warmer than in New York City that same day. It was the warmest day ever recorded there in June.

So what?

Nuuk is the capital of Greenland. It is located at a latitude of 64 degrees, 24 degrees further north than New York.

Anyone ready to yell “fire!”?

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