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The Oil Companies' Disinformation on Global Warming

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In the 12/15 issue of the magazine, The Week, the following item occurs:
HEATED WORDS: Two U.S. Senators urged ExxonMobil to stop funding groups that have raised doubts about global warming, prompting complaints that the lawmakers used strong-arm tactics bordering on censorship. In a letter to ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, West Virginia Democrat Jay Rockefeller and Maine Republican Olympia Snowe said the company should cease funding global warming "deniers" and instead invest in curbing greenhouse gas emissions. The letter compared the company's tactics to "those used by the tobacco industry for so many years." One of ExxonMobil's beneficiaries, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, said it doesn't "deny" the existence of global warming, but rather, disputes "climate alarmism." Critics also said the senators' reference to tobacco could be read as a veiled legal threat.
To which I respond: What a story! Where to begin? These critics decry two Senators speaking out, complaining that the Senators' statement "borders on censorship." Who is censoring whom? If the scientific consensus is correct, "climate alarmism" is realism. Even if there's only a 10% chance that alarm is warranted (and the chance is probably far closer to 100 % than to 0 %), how irresponsible is it to try to DECREASE the public's concern rather than to increase it? What basis is there to believe that there's even a shred of possibility that corporate America is doing TOO MUCH rather than too little to defend against the dangers of climate change? The "critics" complain that the reference to tobacco "could be read as a veiled legal threat." I hope it can. Surely, the parallels are striking: the industry pays its hacks to sow doubt in the public mind about the scientific news about danger, seeking thereby to enable more addicts to indulge their habit rather than change their ways. In one case the addiction is to nicotine, in the other it is to the profligate consumption of fossile fuels. I'm not sure, however, that the law would allow those injured to bring suit in the case of climate change, where the injured will likely include all of humankind and the planet, but where the injury is less specifiable than in the case of individual smokers dying of lung cancer. But whatever the status of the legal responsibility of disinformation-peddlars like ExxonMobil, the moral responsibility is clear and it is overwhelmingly dark. Imagine the perfidy of organizations and their executives who'd put their own short-term profits ahead of the long-term well-being of all of life on earth! I hope the chorus begun by Rockefeller and Snowe will gain more voices and grow ever-louder until the the spot-light on these disreputable corporations grows so bright they are forced to blink.
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Andy Schmookler, an award-winning author, political commentator, radio talk-show host, and teacher, was the Democratic nominee for Congress from Virginia's 6th District. His new book -- written to have an impact on the central political battle of our time -- is (more...)
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