In Light of the Exxon Revelation — "They Knew" — A Call for RICO Investigations
"... or a lawsuit you never recover from?" (source)
by Gaius Publius
I don't want to lose this piece of the story — as you read, keep the name Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and the federal RICO statute in mind. I'll return to Whitehouse and RICO with full focus in a separate piece.
Recently we wrote about this Inside Climate News report that, based on a trove of Exxon's own internal documents, the company knew as early as 1977 that earth's climate was being disrupted by CO2 emissions and that this disruption would get worse. Yet in the late 1980s they chose to join the — we have to say, lying — team of climate change deniers instead. All for profit.
From the report (my emphasis):
At a meeting in Exxon Corporation's headquarters, a senior company scientist named James F. Black addressed an audience of powerful oilmen. Speaking without a text as he flipped through detailed slides, Black delivered a sobering message: carbon dioxide from the world's use of fossil fuels would warm the planet and could eventually endanger humanity.So they knew. Yet:
"In the first place, there is general scientific agreement that the most likely manner in which mankind is influencing the global climate is through carbon dioxide release from the burning of fossil fuels," Black told Exxon's Management Committee, according to a written version he recorded later.
It was July 1977 when Exxon's leaders received this blunt assessment, well before most of the world had heard of the looming climate crisis.
A year later, Black, a top technical expert in Exxon's Research & Engineering division, took an updated version of his presentation to a broader audience. He warned Exxon scientists and managers that independent researchers estimated a doubling of the carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration in the atmosphere would increase average global temperatures by 2 to 3 degrees Celsius (4 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit), and as much as 10 degrees Celsius (18 degrees Fahrenheit) at the poles. Rainfall might get heavier in some regions, and other places might turn to desert.
"Some countries would benefit but others would have their agricultural output reduced or destroyed," Black said, in the written summary of his 1978 talk.
Then, toward the end of the 1980s, Exxon curtailed its carbon dioxide research. In the decades that followed, Exxon worked instead at the forefront of climate denial. It put its muscle behind efforts to manufacture doubt about the reality of global warming its own scientists had once confirmed. It lobbied to block federal and international action to control greenhouse gas emissions. It helped to erect a vast edifice of misinformation that stands to this day.Many, including Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, think this may amount to fraud, in the same sense that the tobacco industry may well have committed fraud and conspiracy to commit fraud. For example, note this about the Supreme Court tobacco case Cipollone v. Liggett Group:
The [Supreme Court] ... opinion did not exclude fraud and conspiracy or express warranty, as section 5b of the 1969 Act does not explicitly define this; if the plaintiff could prove that the industry conspired to hide evidence concerning the harms of smoking or lied to the public about them, or if express warranties were breached, then a new case can be filed, as there is no discussion of tort litigation or damage claims in the Act.That seems pretty clear. Open and shut? Maybe not. But worth prosecuting? Absolutely.
A Call for Obama and AG Lynch to Start a RICO Investigation into Climate Deniers
I've said all along, fixing the climate is going to take force. We're not having a national conversation; we're having a power struggle, plain and simple. Opening a RICO investigation counts as force.
Now comes a call, the first of what I expect to be many, to prosecute climate deniers — and in particular, in light of the report cited above, ExxonMobil — under federal RICO statutes. Again, note that Senator Whitehouse is on board.
From Greg Laden's science blog:
Letter To President Obama: Investigate Deniers Under RICOThe number of scientists is impressive, and spread across an impressive range of institutions, from George Mason University (home of the Koch-funded "thinktank" Mercatus Center) to Columbia University. Click to see the full list.
The following is the text of a letter written by a number of scientists asking for a federal investigation of climate science denial under the RICO statute. ...
September 1, 2015
Dear President Obama, Attorney General Lynch, and OSTP Director Holdren,
As you know, an overwhelming majority of climate scientists are convinced about the potentially serious adverse effects of human-induced climate change on human health, agriculture, and biodiversity. ...
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 peerreviewed academic research (Brulle, 2013) and in recent books including: Doubt is their Product (Michaels, 2008), Climate Cover-Up (Hoggan & Littlemore, 2009), Merchants of Doubt (Oreskes & Conway, 2010), The Climate War (Pooley, 2010), and in The Climate Deception Dossiers (Union of Concerned Scientists, 2015). We strongly endorse Senator Whitehouse’s call for a RICO investigation.
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 restabilize the Earth’s climate, before even more lasting damage is done.
For more on what Exxon knew, watch the brief Frontline video below:
Once more — don't be confused. This is not a debate. It's a battle, it's going to take force to make the Kochs and the Exxons stand down, and battle means weapons. Not much better weapon than a federal RICO investigation.