By William O'Keefe
Massachusetts and the Virgin Islands recently joined New York in its investigation into whether ExxonMobil misled the public and its investors about climate change. This brings the total number of State Attorneys General to have initiated similar investigations to 20. Additionally, the Attorney General of the United States also announced that she had referred this matter to the FBI.
While the named target is ExxonMobil, it has been made clear that the investigatory net is going to be thrown over other oil companies and, by implication, the so-called skeptics who have been involved in the climate debate.
The targeted companies can and will defend the actions they have taken on the issue of climate change. Some may be tempted to consider the equivalent of some sort of plea bargain that would involve greenmail payments and promises to behave more responsibly in the future. That would be a serious mistake and would weaken First Amendment protections.
The crux of the allegation is whether these organizations and others who may have been associated with them knowingly engaged in deception. To be guilty, the weight of evidence would have to show that: climate change was a serious risk, that the risk was significantly increased by ExxonMobil’s actions, and that ExxonMobil failed to support programs and policies which reduce CO2 emissions.
None of the articles written about these allegations have provided evidence that any company has denied that climate change is real or that human activities have an influence on climate. The New York Times last November published an article, “A Range of Opinions on Climate Change at ExxonMobil,” that makes these two facts clear.
The Attorney General’s claim is based on the belief—or, more accurately, assumption—that our future climate will have catastrophic effects on our way of life and economic wellbeing unless CO2 emissions are significantly reduced. While this belief reflects the views of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), its leadership, and some scientists, the asserted certainty of catastrophic climate change is based on judgments, not validated science.
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