By Doug Porter
A letter signed by twenty leading scientists sent to the Justice Department and White House asking for a RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) investigation of corporations and other organizations that have knowingly deceived the American people about the risks of climate change is getting renewed attention in light of last week’s disclosures about a decades-long effort to suppress important research.
Pulitzer Prize winning Inside Climate News published results of an investigation based on emails obtained by the Union of Concerned Scientists recently showing that Exxon’s own scientists warned company executives in 1977 about global warming caused by fossil fuels.
Initially the company increased its research into the environment. The evidence was, in the opinion of Exxon’s own scientists, conclusive. Faced with damning data, the company opted for short-term profits. By the mid-1980s the company cut back its carbon dioxide research and spent $30 million to discredit climate science in the following decades.
From the Christian Science Monitor:
By 1982, company scientists reported to management that despite the need for more research, controlling global warming “would require major reductions in fossil fuel combustion.”
According to InsideClimate:
Still, the millions of dollars Exxon had spent since the 1990s on climate change deniers had long surpassed what it had once invested in its path-breaking climate science aboard the Esso Atlantic.
“They spent so much money and they were the only company that did this kind of research as far as I know,” Edward Garvey, who was a key researcher on Exxon’s oil tanker project, said in a recent interview with InsideClimate News and Frontline. “That was an opportunity not just to get a place at the table, but to lead, in many respects, some of the discussion. And the fact that they chose not to do that into the future is a sad point.”
The Scientists’ RICO Demand
Here are the relevant paragraphs of the letter:
We appreciate that you are making aggressive and imaginative use of the limited tools available to you in the face of a recalcitrant Congress. One additional tool – recently proposed by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse – is a RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) investigation of corporations and other organizations that have knowingly deceived the American people about the risks of climate change, as a means to forestall America’s response to climate change. The actions of these organizations have been extensively documented in peer reviewed academic research…
…The methods of these organizations are quite similar to those used earlier by the tobacco industry. A RICO investigation (1999 to 2006) played an important role in stopping the tobacco industry from continuing to deceive the American people about the dangers of smoking. If corporations in the fossil fuel industry and their supporters are guilty of the misdeeds that have been documented in books and journal articles, it is imperative that these misdeeds be stopped as soon as possible so that America and the world can get on with the critically important business of finding effective ways to re-stabilize the Earth’s climate, before even more lasting damage is done.
Denialist defenders are already sounding the alarm, saying any such action would amount to suppression of free speech. OMG! Lying to people is a crime?
Nobody is (sadly, in my opinion) calling for imprisonment or court-ordered gags. RICO’s civil provisions allow the court to construct remedies other than imprisonment. In the tobacco cases, the industry was required to stop lying and to pay $280 billion.
As one commenter at Science Blogs noted:
Lying and deceiving people regarding climate change is a harm that involves economic fraud: It is a sophisticated way to trick people into investing their money in fossil fuel purchases under the fraudulent claim that it will not result in their future financial losses as a consequence of doing so. They are deceitfully promised that there are no additional costs of using fossil fuels that they will be compelled to pay.
Fraudulently passing on “accounts payable” to their victims is economically equivalent to stealing assets from them directly. (It’s the same type of tactic that the 1% have been employing to pass their tax obligations on to the middle class to be paid in their stead.)
Exxon’s Still at It
…The company worked with veterans of the tobacco industry to try and infuse the climate debate with doubt. Lee Raymond, who became the Exxon C.E.O. in 1993—and was a senior executive throughout the decade that Exxon had studied climate science—gave a key speech to a group of Chinese leaders and oil industry executives in 1997, on the eve of treaty negotiations in Kyoto. He told them that the globe was cooling, and that government action to limit carbon emissions “defies common sense.”
In recent years, it’s gotten so hot (InsideClimate’s exposé coincided with the release of data showing that this past summer was the United States’ hottest in recorded history) that there’s no use denying it any more; Raymond’s successor, Rex Tillerson, has grudgingly accepted climate change as real, but has referred to it as an “engineering problem.” In May, at a shareholders’ meeting, he mocked renewable energy, and said that “mankind has this enormous capacity to deal with adversity,” which would stand it in good stead in the case of “inclement weather” that “may or may not be induced by climate change.”
The influence of the oil industry is essentially undiminished, even now. The Obama Administration may have stood up to Big Coal, but the richer Big Oil got permission this summer to drill in the Arctic; Washington may soon grant the rights for offshore drilling along the Atlantic seaboard, and end a longstanding ban on oil exports. All these measures help drive the flow of carbon into the atmosphere—the flow of carbon that Exxon knew almost forty years ago would likely be disastrous.
FYI: The average monthly temperature in September has been running about six degrees above normal in California.
Remember Obama’s War on Catholics?
Alert readers will notice an abundance of articles concerning the environment this week at SD Free Press. We are seizing the opportunity to comment on global warming and environmental degradation in light of Pope Francis’ visit to the United States.
In advance of his tour, reactionaries are already lashing out. Oklahoma Republican James Inhofe was quoted at CNN, saying “I think it’s totally inappropriate that the Pope is weighing in on all the real sensitive, far-left issues.”
Many of the now-concerned citizens were in the forefront of warning the public about a “War on Catholics” just a few years ago.
From Jon Perr at Daily Kos:
Speaking of liberals, President Barack Obama won’t just host His Holiness at the White House, but will travel to Andrews Air Force Base to welcome Pope Francis after his journey to Cuba. By all indications, the leader of the free world and the leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics have established a warm relationship.
But you’d never know that judging from the vitriol coming from some of the hardline American bishops and their amen corner in the conservative media. Despite winning the Catholic vote in both 2008 and 2012, Obama was assailed for a mythical “war on Catholics” from the moment he first took the oath of office. When the usual suspects on the right denounced Obama’s 2009 commencement address at Notre Dame, the President exposed what Trinity Washington University President Patricia McGuire decried as the “religious vigilantism” of the “uber-guardians of a belief system we can hardly recognize.” As liberal Catholic columnist E.J. Dionne summed it up:
By facing their arguments head-on and by demonstrating his attentiveness to Catholic concerns, Obama strengthened moderate and liberal forces inside the church itself. He also struck a forceful blow against those who would keep the nation mired in culture-war politics without end. Obama’s opponents on the Catholic right placed a large bet on his Notre Dame visit. And they lost.
It Was Republicans Who Invited the Pope
As you are bombarded with stories in the coming days about the inappropriateness of the Pope’s remarks (regardless of what he says, there will be beefing) to the joint session of Congress, it’s important to remember who invited him.
From ABC News, March 14, 2014:
Pope Francis has been invited by House Speaker John Boehner to speak to a joint session of Congress.
Boehner extended the formal invitation today in a letter to the Vatican – on the one-year anniversary of his papacy – saying the Holy Father has “awakened hearts on every continent.”.
“Pope Francis has inspired millions of Americans with his pastoral manner and servant leadership, challenging all people to lead lives of mercy, forgiveness, solidarity, and humble service,” Boehner wrote. “His tireless call for the protection of the most vulnerable among us – the ailing, the disadvantaged, the unemployed, the impoverished, the unborn – has awakened hearts on every continent.”
Local Conspiracies Writ Large
By popular demand, I’m going to dish out some observations concerning local politicians and the people who speculate about them.
A telephone poll last week had people suggesting that Nathan Fletcher was running against Mayor Kevin Faulconer in 2016.
I was told via social media this would effectively tie in with the Irwin Jacobs/Eli Broad/ plan to take over the Union Tribune, which would then use its powers to weaken Faulconer. (And pave over Balboa Park.)
Nope. Ain’t gonna happen.
By all the accounts I’ve heard, Fletcher isn’t interested. “He’s happy with the life he’s leading right now,” said one prominent politico in a position to know. (Yes, it is true that he’s seeing Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez.)
And the Tribune publishing company has no interest in selling the LA Times or the San Diego Union Tribune.
Most of the major papers in California ran some kind of story this weekend about Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins’ decision to challenge Senator Marty Block.
From the Los Angeles Times:
She said her decision was the result of a meeting with Block in which he indicated that he’d only serve one term. Block denies any commitment was made in what he described as a speculative conversation.
“We discussed it, but there was no backroom deal at all,” he said. “I wouldn’t be a part of any backroom deal.”
Two political figures involved in the conversations with Block at the time — then-Speaker John A. Pérez (D-Los Angeles) and Jess Durfee, who was then the chair of the San Diego County Democrats — say Block was more direct in saying he’d step aside in 2016.
As labor leader Mickey Kasparian and others have put it, this is a fight we really didn’t need to have on the Democratic side of the aisle. Count me as silent on this one.
Finally for those of you despairing about not having any choices in the Mayoral race, there’s Encanto resident Gregory Morales, profiled by John Lamb for City Beat. Other than what’s in the article and on his Facebook page, I know nothing about him, so this isn’t an endorsement.
There will be more to come in this column on this and other local races, I promise. (See me in 2016)
On This Day: 1968 – “All Along the Watchtower” was released by Jimi Hendrix. 1981 – The Senate confirmed Sandra Day O’Connor to be the first woman justice on the Supreme Court. 1991 – Members of five unions at the Frontier Hotel-Casino in Las Vegas began what was to become the longest successful hotel strike in U.S history. All 550 workers honored the picket line for the entirety of the 6-year, 4-month, 10-day fight against management’s insistence on cutting wages and eliminating pensions.
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