You are a scientist. You wake up one morning and go:
“Why don’t I write a letter to the US Attorney General asking her to throw fossil fuel companies in jail under the RICO act?
It would be my civic deed for the day”.
No it doesn’t. Climate scientists have a penchant for signing activist letters. But letters pushing legal advice to an Attorney General recommending prosecution of opponents?
So where do these strange ideas come from?
Step forward ‘Climate Accountability Institute’
The Climate Accountability Institute (CAI) is a small front attempting to marry ‘climate concerns’ to environmentalism and tobacco prohibitionist tactics. But ‘small’ is a relative term in the climate activist world.
In 2012 the CAI held a ‘workshop’ in La Jolla California. It was ‘conceived’ by Naomi Oreskes and others, and called ‘Establishing Accountability for Climate Change Damages: Lessons from Tobacco Control.’ Stanton Glantz, a prominent tobacco control activist scientist was present as were a clutch of lawyers, climate scientists, communication professionals, PR agency heads, bloggers and journalists.
They released a report (pdf):
The workshop was an ‘exploratory, open-ended dialogue’ on the use of ‘lessons from tobacco-related education, laws, and litigation to address climate change.’
The headline conclusion was essentially conspiracy theory. Here it is, verbatim (emphasis mine):
A key breakthrough in the public and legal case for tobacco control came when internal documents came to light showing the tobacco industry had knowingly misled the public. Similar documents may well exist in the vaults of the fossil fuel industry and their trade associations and front groups…
Why do these mythical documents needed to be ‘unearthed’?
While we currently lack a compelling public narrative about climate change in the United States, we may be close to coalescing around one. Furthermore, climate change may loom larger today in the public mind than tobacco did when public health advocates began winning policy victories.
The reader should take a moment to grasp the momentous logic: We know legally ‘incriminating documents’ (their choice of words) ‘may’ exist, because tobacco activists had a breakthrough with such documents. They need to be found in order to make climate change a ‘looming threat’ in the public mind.
Try thinking of a more reverse-engineered form of activism.
The first chapter in the report is ‘Lessons from Tobacco Control’. It is mainly one section called ‘The Importance of Documents in Tobacco Litigation’
We learn next to nothing about these supposed ‘documents’ from the report. After all, they haven’t been released or even found.
But ‘the documents’ were very valuable:
says ‘one of the most important lessons to emerge from the history of tobacco litigation’ was the ‘value of bringing internal industry documents to light’.
There was little doubt about their existence:
… many participants suggested that incriminating documents may exist that demonstrate collusion among the major fossil fuel companies …
Since they were so sure they exist, careful plotting was needed on companies whose vaults to raid
He [Glantz] stressed the need to think carefully about which companies and which trade groups might have documents that could be especially useful.
Stanton Glantz was a vocal workshop participant:
Glantz was so excited he proposed using the tobacco archives platform at the University of California San Francisco for climate documents (which were yet to be found)
Because the Legacy Collection’s software and infrastructure is already in place, Glantz suggested it could be a possible home for a parallel collection of documents from the fossil fuel industry pertaining to climate change.
In what mode were the documents to be used?
Most importantly, the release of these documents meant that charges of conspiracy or racketeering could become a crucial component of tobacco litigation
Having firmly established that documents convenient to their strategy existed, the delegates moved on to discussing how to obtain them
The answer was once again clear: ‘lawsuits’. It was not just lawsuits, it was ‘Congressional hearings’, ‘sympathetic state attorney generals’ and ‘false advertising claims’.
State attorneys general can also subpoena documents, raising the possibility that a single sympathetic state attorney general might have substantial success in bringing key internal documents to light
Oreskes had a bunch of advertisements with her:
Oreskes noted that she has some of the public relations memos from the group and asked whether a false advertising claim could be brought in such a case.
Even libel suits were deemed useful:
Roberta Walburn noted that libel suits can also serve to obtain documents that might shed light on industry tactics.
Once the documents were in the bag, a story needed to be spun. :
In lawsuits targeting carbon producers, lawyers at the workshop agreed, plaintiffs need
to make evidence of a conspiracy a prominent part of their case.
Now you know where the line on how ‘fossil fuel companies ‘knew’ they were doing wrong but yet did it’ comes from. The cries of ‘it’s a conspiracy!’ are planned and pre-meditated, on lawyers’ advice.
This is where RICO came in:
Richard Ayres, an experienced environmental attorney, suggested that the RICO Act, which had been used effectively against the tobacco industry, could similarly be used to bring a lawsuit against carbon producers.
Richard Ayres is no slouch. A prominent environmental lawyer, he is co-founder of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
Ayres knew starting lawsuits against productive companies wouldn’t look good. They needed to be spun:
It has to be something positive
How? By dressing it up as injury ‘compensation’
“Even if your ultimate goal might be to shut down a company, you still might be wise to start out by asking for compensation for injured parties.”
The suggestions appeared to grow outlandish at every turn. Richard Heede, one of CAI’s members, had come up with a system for blaming individual companies:
Heede is working to derive the proportion of the planet’s atmospheric carbon load that is traceable to the fossil fuels produced and marketed by each of these companies
Heede’s bizarre formulas, we learn, were received ‘positively’ by ‘most of the workshop’s participants’. One UCS participant felt that ‘it could potentially be useful as part of a coordinated campaign to identify key climate “wrongdoers.” Another felt it was useful in blaming faceless corporate entities instead of countries thereby bypassing provoking patriotic impulses in international negotiations.
Heede’s work was funded by Greenpeace. Of note, Greenpeace counsel Jasper Teulings was present at the meeting.
An inspired Oreskes then appears to have proposed blaming sea level rise on corporations:
Picking up on this notion, Naomi Oreskes suggested that some portion of sea level rise could be attributed to the emissions caused by a single carbon-producing company
The oil company Exxon made its appearance in her example:
She suggested, “You might be able to say, ‘Here’s Exxon’s contribution to what’s happening to Key West or Venice.’”
This was a strategy Glantz liked:
…Stanton Glantz expressed some enthusiasm about such a strategy, based on his experience with tobacco litigation. As he put it, “I would be surprised if the industry chose to attack the calculation that one foot of flooding in Key West could be attributed to ExxonMobil.
The conspiratorial tide did not recede. Former computer scientist John Mashey claimed collusion between ‘climate change deniers’ and fossil fuel companies:
[Mashey] presented a brief overview of some of his research, which traces funding, personnel, and messaging connections between roughly 600 individuals …
The penultimate section in the report is on how delegates planned to win ‘public opinion’. Even with RICO, some felt it was ‘not easy’ (‘RICO is not easy. It is certainly not a sure win’ – Ayres) and others were wary of drawing the attention of “hostile legislators who might seek to undermine them”.
With public opinion, the delegates were clearly divided. PR mavens, lawyers and activists wanted to cry fraud, paint up villains and create outrage:
To mobilize, people often need to be outraged.
Daniel Yankelovich a ‘public opinion researcher’ involved in ‘citizen education’ appears to have balked at the ‘sue, sue, sue’ chanting. Court cases are useful only after the public had been won over, he said.
It is not clear he grasped the activists and lawyers aimed for the same with a spectacular legal victory or headlines generated by court cases and bypass the whole issue of ‘citizen education’ .
The workshop ended and there was ‘agreement’. ‘Documents’ needed to be obtained. Legal action was needed both for ‘wresting potentially useful internal documents’ and ‘maintaining pressure on the industry’.
A consensus had emerged
… an emerging consensus on a strategy that incorporates legal action with a narrative that creates public outrage.
The participants, we learn
…made commitments to try to coordinate future efforts, continue discussing strategies for gaining access to internal documents from the fossil fuel industry and its affiliated climate denial network…
Photo (c) Brenda Ekwurzel, from the report
Why is the report important? Because climate activists have done everything the delegates said they wanted done, in the report.
Everyone from climate skeptics like Roy Spencer, columnists like Holman Jenkins Jr and even a consensusist like William Connolley has been left scratching their head. However, from RICO to ‘Exxon knew’ — the twin defibrillator paddles in use to reanimate a moribund climate Frankenstein — the present actions of climate activists have been none but the pre-meditated ones presented in the report.
These include the latest letter from US Senators to Exxon, the conspiratorial ‘Exxon Knew’ campaign with the portrayal of old Exxon reports by InsideClimateNews as ‘internal documents’, the RICO letter from scientists and much more. Particularly, with the pathetic ‘journalism’ of InsideClimateNews it is almost as if climate activists have willed these ‘documents’ into existence – just as they were advised.
The CAI are free to plot the downfall of their opponents. But it is somewhat of a surprise to see the entirety of their ideas to be picked up and translated into action by the intellectually bankrupt climate activist movement.