Recent revelations in the media provide compelling evidence that major fossil fuel companies, notably ExxonMobil, were aware that their products were causing global warming, yet intentionally invested in a decades-long campaign to deceive the public about climate change.
These revelations are among the reasons why several state attorneys general are investigating whether fraud was committed. Their inquiries have inspired complaints by the oil industry and their allies that being investigated for malfeasance is somehow an attack on free speech.
That chorus includes an opinion column in The Sacramento Bee, “State to climate change skeptics: shut up already” (Viewpoints, June 10), by an employee of a Koch brothers-funded institute who attempts to conflate efforts to uncover fraud with an attack on the First Amendment.
The author targets legislation, Senate Bill 1161 by state Sen. Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica, and sponsored by the Union of Concerned Scientists, that would have provided a one-time, four-year extension of the statute of limitations under the state’s existing Unfair Competition Law to ensure that companies that misled the public about climate risks are not able to evade charges just because they successfully concealed evidence of fraud. The bill passed easily out of two policy committees, but stalled on the Senate floor after a tsunami of misleading lobbying.
The article’s author recognizes that his affiliations with fossil fuel-funded think tanks may raise eyebrows when he assures us that “nobody has ever told me what to write or say,” but he toes the industry line by raising doubts about the causes of climate change and calling scientifically supported solutions to fight global warming “elusive.”
Scientific evidence demonstrating that climate change is caused largely by the burning of fossil fuels – which the oil industry was informed of decades ago – is based on facts, and is not an opinion or point of view, as characterized by the author.
The timing of this article and others in recent days decrying a technical bill that was not even brought to a vote raises red flags, but the rhetoric will not change the evidence. As New York’s attorney general recently said when ExxonMobil complained that his investigation was an attack on their speech rights, “The First Amendment doesn’t give you the right to commit fraud.”
Adrienne Alvord is the Western States director of the Union of Concerned Scientists, based in Oakland. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.