23 May 2016

The McCarthyism of the climate movement

By Bill O’Keefe

In the early 1950s, Senator Joseph McCarthy gained notoriety by exploiting public fears of communism. He conducted a witch hunt to root out alleged communists who supposedly had infiltrated the federal government, especially the State Department. He even went so far as to call Secretaries of State Dean Atchison and General George C. Marshall soft on communism. His pursuit of glory based on exploiting fear eventually went too far and he was censured by the Senate, having never made public his list of communists in the government. Near his end, a lawyer for one of the accused asked McCarthy during a hearing, “Sir, have you no sense of decency?” Today’s pursuit by governments of organizations who do not accept the climate orthodoxy is reminiscent of McCarthy’s use of the media to exploit fear. Assertions of guilt through the media violate principles of justice.

Numerous articles have been written about a “four-year effort by green activists, scientists, and lawyers to turn ExxonMobil into the poster child for climate change”. Recently, this campaign has been joined by several state attorneys general and expanded to other oil companies. In the era of social media and 24/7 news cycles, advocacy campaigns can create a humpty dumpty situation of “verdict now, trial later”. Rendering verdicts of guilt before there is clear and compelling evidence raises the question of where is the accusers sense of decency and fair play. Innocence is supposed to be assumed until guilt is demonstrated by a preponderance of evidence. Repeating assertions of guilt is not evidence. It is an application of Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals: “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, polarize it”.

Although the attorneys general are focused on ExxonMobil, this is a campaign to intimidate all oil companies. It is alleged that they all engaged in deceitful practices by denying the threat caused by increasing emissions of CO2 that result from the consumption of fossil fuels by a mobile society. Some environmentalists and activist members of Congress do not like the fact that our society has the freedom to live and work where they choose because of a gasoline/diesel based transportation system. There is no denying of an agenda to force a reduction in the use of fossil fuels, leaving citizens with either inferior and more expensive transportation options. Whether it is hybrid or electric vehicles, they cost more than their gasoline counterparts when direct subsidies and other special incentives are taken into account. If those subsidies went away, the appeal of so-called “green vehicles” would also go away, except for wealthy elites who want to make a statement by driving electric cars like Tesla.

Demonization should not be a substitute for solid facts. The assertions of a campaign of deception by oil companies about climate change do not have a sound scientific basis. The most recent IPCC Summary for Policy Makers report continues to identify major uncertainties in our understanding of the climate system, in particular clouds, aerosols, solar affects, and oceans. The scientists who are the strongest advocates rely on “qualitative assessments” and models that have not been validated. As documented in Congressional testimony by Professor John Christy, those models overstate actual warming by a factor of 2.5. Given the established extent of uncertainty, it is impossible to make a legitimate case for deception. Looking at data and analyses and coming to different conclusions under conditions of uncertainty is part of the scientific process.

The media is following a bandwagon effect instead of following the journalistic standard of objectively evaluating charges and the basis for them. What should be obvious is that the claims made by climate advocates and repeated by attorneys general have not been validated by the actual climate system or by accepted methods of science. It should also be obvious that these advocates are using climate change to pursue an agenda against fossil fuels.

Mobility is an important component of our economic system. Constraining it by making fossil fuels more scarce and more costly will negatively impact driving and make it that much harder to overcome today’s economic lethargy. The greatest damage, however, will be to our system of justice and fair play.

Bill O’Keefe is president of Solutions Consulting.