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Hysterics at the right wing think tanks and their acolytes at The Washington Times, talk radio and the blogosphere, are foaming in apoplexy because I supposedly suggested that “all climate deniers should be jailed.” Last week, that canard leapt from the wingnut echo chamber into New York magazine, which reported, under Jonathan Chait’s by-line, that “Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. shares the opinion that climate denial should be criminalized.” Chait was quoting the National Review’s Kevin Williamson who made that outlandish claim at one of Heritage Foundation’s annual “Conference for Kooks.” Of course I never said that. I support the First Amendment which makes room for any citizen to, even knowingly, spew far more vile lies without legal consequence.
I do, however, believe that corporations which deliberately, purposefully, maliciously and systematically sponsor climate lies should be given the death penalty. This can be accomplished through an existing legal proceeding known as “charter revocation.” State Attorneys General can invoke this remedy whenever corporations put their profit-making before the “public welfare.”
In 1998, New York State’s Republican Attorney General, Dennis Vacco successfully invoked the “corporate death penalty” to revoke the charters of two non-profit tax-exempt tobacco industry front groups, The Tobacco Institute and the Council for Tobacco Research (CTR). The two groups Vacco annulled were creatures of a decade long campaign funded principally by tobacco giant, Brown & Williamson to avoid costly health regulations that would diminish the profit margins of an industry that was killing one out of five of its customers. “Doubt is our Product,” explained Brown & Williamson’s notorious 1969 memo outlining the reptilian communications strategy that hatched its front groups.
Vacco complained that these companies were “[feeding] the public a pack of lies in an underhanded effort to promote smoking so as to addict America’s kids.” Attorney General Vacco seized their assets and distributed them to public institutions.
Laws in every state maintain that companies that fail to comply with prescribed standards of corporate behavior may be either dissolved or, in the case of foreign corporations, lose their rights to operate within that state’s borders. These rules can be quite expansive and, in contrast to the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent rulings on campaign finance law, companies, under state laws, enjoy far less protection than human beings. New York, for example, prescribes corporate death whenever a company fails to “serve the common good” and “to cause no harm.”
Just as Big Tobacco funded the now moribund CTR and the Tobacco Institute to systematically deceive the public about the perils of cigarettes, the carbon cronies, with far larger profits at stake, have funded an army of front groups to persuade the public that global warming is a hoax.
For more than a decade, petroleum industry behemoths lead by Koch Industries and ExxonMobil, have waged a successful multi-million dollar propaganda blitz to mislead the public about global warming using the same techniques honed by Big Tobacco in its campaign to hoodwink the public about smoking.
In their efforts to impede state, national and international efforts to protect humans from the destructive climate chaos, both companies have engaged in massive spending sprees purchasing phony “junk” science devised to undermine the overwhelming scientific consensus on global warming. Between 1997 and 2013, ExxonMobil, pumped more than $29.9 million into an elaborate network of more than 75 front groups to manufacture skepticism about the oncoming climate catastrophe. At the same time, Koch Industries has piped at least $67,042,064 to more than 50 groups that play central roles in the Koch-funded offensive against climate science.
Two decades after Brown & Williamson’s notorious “Doubt is our Product” memo, the oil industry launched its own anti-science juggernaut replicating Big Tobacco’s and utilizing many of the same corrupt scientists and PR firms. Two secret memos dictated the blueprint for Big Carbon’s anti-science offensive. The American Petroleum Institute (API)—lobbyist for ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP, Shell and ConocoPhillips—was the spear tip of a multi-million dollar campaign to confound American citizens about climate science by manipulating the media. On April 3, 1998, API laid out its “Global Climate Science Communications action plan,” the detailed blueprint of “tactics and strategies” for deceiving the American people and press by sewing doubts about climate science. The API team would create front groups and “educate” editorial boards and corporate CEOs to challenge “prevailing scientific wisdom.” Under “recruiting and training,” API outlines its plan for tapping neophyte—“read malleable”—scientists and tame journalists (“e.g. John Stossel,” the memo suggests) to bamboozle the public. “Victory will be achieved,” API promises, “when average citizens and the media recognize uncertainties in climate science;” recognition of uncertainties becomes part of the “conventional wisdom.”
Four years later in 2002, conservative pollster Frank Luntz in an influential memo to President George Bush and oil patch lawmakers, applauded the industry for the success of the API campaign. “Voters believe that there is no consensus about global warming within the scientific community.” Nevertheless, he warned Big Carbon’s indentured servants on Capitol Hill “the science [is closing against us] but is not yet closed.” He advised, “therefore, you need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate.”
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