California Sues Oil Giants for Committing Free Speech • Watts Up With That?

Essay by Eric Worrall

Strangely the lawsuit does not include a demand oil giants immediately cease supplying their “catastrophic” product to the State of California.

California sues oil giants, saying they downplayed climate change. Here’s what to know

September 16, 20233:08 PM ET
By Juliana Kim, Michael Copley

The state of California has filed a sweeping climate lawsuit against Exxon Mobil, Shell, BP, ConocoPhillips, and Chevron, as well as the domestic oil industry’s biggest lobby, the American Petroleum Institute. 

The suit, filed on Friday in San Francisco Superior Court, claims that the companies misled the public for decades about climate change and the dangers of fossil fuels. It demands the companies help fund recovery efforts related to California’s extreme weather events, from rising sea levels to drought and wildfires, that have been supercharged by human-caused climate change.

“Oil and gas companies have privately known the truth for decades — that the burning of fossil fuels leads to climate change — but have fed us lies and mistruths to further their record-breaking profits at the expense of our environment. Enough is enough,” said Rob Bonta, California’s attorney general.

California filed its lawsuit against Exxon and other oil and gas companies just a day after The Wall Street Journal reported that executives at Exxon continued in recent years to raise doubts internally about the dangers of climate change and the need to cut back on oil and gas use, even as the company publicly conceded that burning fossil fuels contributes to global warming.

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The Californian lawsuit contains this gem;

The referenced Wall Street Journal article is paywalled, but there are no amazing new revelations in there. Exxon admitted CO2 contributes to global warming – but no stunning confession of guilt.

3. Defendants are large companies in the fossil fuel industry who have misled consumers and the public about climate change for decades. Defendants have known since at least  the 1960s that fossil fuels produce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution that  would warm the planet and change our climate. Defendants’ own scientists knew as early as the  1950s that these climate impacts would be catastrophic, and that there was only a narrow window  of time in which communities and governments could take action before the consequences  became catastrophic.

4. Rather than warn consumers, the public, and governments, however, Defendants mounted a disinformation campaign beginning at least as early as the 1970s to discredit the  burgeoning scientific consensus on climate change; deny their own knowledge of climate change- related threats; create doubt in the minds of consumers, the media, teachers, policymakers, and  the public about the reality and consequences of the impacts of burning fossil fuels; and delay the  necessary transition to a lower-carbon future.

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Just one problem with this claim – there is plenty of evidence none of this is true.

For example, the following is a copy of the Glaser 1982 memo, which was circulated to Exxon management.

The memo, and bear in mind this was a private internal memo, is anything but certain that climate change will have catastrophic impact. For example, at the bottom of Page 4, continuing to the top of Page 5.

“There is currently no unambiguous evidence that the earth is warming. If the earth is on a warming trend, we’re not likely to detect it before 1995. This is about the earliest projection of when the temperature might rise the 0.5° needed to get beyond the range of normal temperature fluctuations. On the other hand, if climate modelling uncertainties have exaggerated the temperature rise, it is possible that a carbon dioxide induced “greenhouse effect” may not be detected until 2020 at the earliest”.

Remember, this memo was written in 1982, 30 years after the lawsuit claims “Defendant’s own scientists knew as early as the 1950s that these climate impacts would be catastrophic”.

Worse, there were plenty of scientists at late as 1980 who published papers suggesting the world was cooling. There was a good reason for this – between 1940 to 1980, global warming stalled. For much of that period, the world cooled.

Climate alarmists try to pretend there was never a global cooling consensus, but there is plenty of evidence reputable climate scientists were comfortable promoting global cooling theories. For example, the wildly popular 1978 documentary “In Search of The Coming Ice Age” featured an impressive lineup of climate scientists, including Chester Langway, James Hayes, Gifford Miller (who described how the descent into the next ice age started 3000 years ago), and Stephen Schneider, who speculated about using nuclear energy to melt the ice caps, to halt the big freeze.

I remember watching the coming ice age documentary as a kid, and being impressed by the climate scientists who starred in the documentary. The entire “In search of” series was prime time viewing in Australia, because the presenter was actor Leonard Nimoy, who played Dr. Spock in the original Star Trek series. All the grownups were worried and talking about the imminent ice age the next day, after the documentary aired on TV.

Climate scientist Stephen Schneider, who appeared in the global cooling documentary, and speculated about using nuclear reactors to melt the icecaps, later backflipped and became a significant figure in the global warming movement.

My point is given the eagerness of high profile climate scientists to appear in a documentary which promoted the global cooling scare, which was made in 1978, the lawsuit’s accusation that scientists knew as early as the 1950s that global warming would have “catastrophic” impacts is total nonsense. There were clearly mixed opinions on whether global warming or global cooling was a threat, well into the late 1970s.

What about the present day? Anyone who reads this website will know there are a significant number of well credentialed scientists who dispute the alleged consensus that global warming will have imminent and catastrophic impacts.

The most glaring defect is the failure to demand the defendants immediately cease supplying their “catastrophic” product. Fossil fuel producers aren’t forcing people to accept fossil fuel. Given recent price rises, the market view could reasonably be interpreted as being that fossil fuel producers aren’t providing enough fossil fuel, especially in California, where the prices people pay for fossil fuel are amongst the highest in the USA.

The lawsuit demands “permanent equitable relief” – perhaps a lawyer can answer whether this implies California intends for oil companies to continue operating so they can pay regular large sums to the State of California, instead of forcing the oil companies to cease trading.

In my opinion, to demand a remedy for a “catastrophic” product, while at the same time not demanding that remedy include a cessation of supply, is an utter absurdity which should be treated with the contempt it deserves.

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