Building a green utopia would be so much easier if people would just shut up, stop asking questions and behave like good subjects. Don’t they know the science of climate change is settled?
The debate is over. There never was one. Oh, goodness. Big Oil. The fracking people. Conservatives. Why should anyone listen to them?
Until last week, state lawmakers thought they had a solution: Let prosecutors use the state’s far-reaching Unfair Competition Act as a cudgel against companies or groups that refuse to conform to the “consensus” on global warming.
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Senate Bill 1161, the ill-named “California Climate Science Truth and Accountability Act of 2016,” would have lifted a four-year statute of limitations, empowering the attorney general or adventurous district attorneys to delve into claims of any vintage that dare challenge the orthodoxy.
Particularly chilling is the declaration that the state will seek “redress for unfair competition practices committed by entities that have deceived, confused, or misled the public on the risks of climate change or financially supported activities that have deceived, confused, or misled the public on those risks.”
That last clause gives the game away: It’s about shutting down advocacy and using state power to discourage an unpopular point of view, not protecting the public from false claims.
SB 1161, authored by Sen. Ben Allen, a Santa Monica Democrat, had already cleared two committees and was scheduled for a Senate floor vote last week before it was withdrawn. Perhaps somebody realized the law would have been demolished on First Amendment grounds.
Contrary to internet rumors, SB 1161 said nothing about criminal sanctions against climate apostates. But skeptics may be forgiven for imputing ill motives and bad faith to the bill’s authors. California Attorney General Kamala Harris belongs to a coalition of 17 attorneys general who got together in March to pursue climate change skeptics, starting with big, bad ExxonMobil.
U.S. Virgin Islands Attorney General Claude Walker has been particularly obnoxious. He subpoenaed the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which has received funding from ExxonMobil, demanding anything and everything related to its work on climate change – including email correspondence with other groups and names of donors. The institute has successfully fought the demand.
(Here I should mention that the Manhattan Institute, where I work part time, was one of the organizations on Walker’s list. So was the Heartland Institute, where I’m an unpaid education policy adviser. I don’t talk to donors; I don’t even know who most of them are. And in the two decades that I’ve worked in and out of think tanks, nobody has ever told me what to write or say on any subject.)
That same month, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch admitted that the Justice Department has contemplated using federal anti-racketeering laws to do to “climate deniers” what the feds did to the tobacco industry in the 1990s. “This matter has been discussed,” Lynch said in response to Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat who is on record favoring the use of RICO laws to punish global warming dissenters. “We have received information about it and have referred it to the FBI to consider whether or not it meets the criteria for which we could take action on.”
Climate change is real, but the reasons for it are debatable and the remedies are controversial, to say nothing of elusive. The problem with resting your case on a “broad scientific consensus,” however, is that new evidence appears all the time that either casts doubt on the claim or, at the very least, demands further investigation. A recent study out of Great Britain, for example, seems to suggest that cloud formations may not count for as much warming as the old models predicted.
But we’re not talking about science so much as political science.
The political climate in California is getting more uncomfortable by the minute, but the reasons for that are pretty clear. Deep down, we’re not a freedom-loving people.
“Never underestimate the coercive power of the central state in the service of good,” Gov. Jerry Brown told an audience at the Paris climate summit in December. When persuasion fails, the state always recurs to force. SB 1161 may be gone, but the sentiment behind the legislation will only grow stronger.
Ben Boychuk is associate editor of the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal. He can be contacted at email@example.com.