The Thriller Of The Uncontrolled Hatred Of Fossil Fuels And These Who Produce Them – Watts Up With That?


Francis Menton

What is it about fossil fuels and the people who produce them that brings forth such uncontrolled hatred, anger, and vengefulness in a very large segment of the population?

I’ve been trying to figure out the answer to that question for many years, but I’m no closer today than when I started. I look at the use of fossil fuels in the world, and somehow I see enormous benefits to mankind — reliable electricity, transportation of people locally and at long distances, and of freight to enable worldwide trade, comfortable heating and cooling of homes, refrigeration to preserve food, computers, and so much more, all at remarkably low cost and remarkably small environmental impact. Most uses of fossil fuels either have no good substitutes (e.g., air travel, ocean shipping, steel-making), or only substitutes that have both higher cost, plus inferior functionality and/or their own environmental problems (e.g., wind, solar, or nuclear for electricity).

With almost no exceptions (e.g., the Unabomber) everybody who has access to fossil fuels or their energy output uses them in large quantities, precisely because they provide great benefits at low cost and low environmental impact, in ways that nothing else can. Even the most virtue signaling of climate fanatics, with almost no exceptions, won’t give up air travel, or buildings made with steel and concrete, or full-time life-saving electricity at the hospital, or plenty of other things that come only from fossil fuels.

The image that I can’t get out of my mind is the spectacle of the witnesses speaking at a public hearing I attended in May 2022 on the subject of the “Scoping Plan” then proposed for New York State to banish fossil fuels from its energy system. (That Scoping Plan has since been adopted, with essentially no significant changes.). As I reported in this post on May 3, 2022, I observed about 60 people testifying at this hearing, of whom only three spoke critically about the idea of banishing fossil fuels — and those three were myself plus two representatives from local utilities (whose criticisms were understandably mild and hedged, to say the least, given the political environment that they face).

At that hearing, a large number of supporters of banning fossil fuels gave impassioned and emotional pleas to speed up the process. What had aroused these strong emotions? The witness whose testimony I remember most vividly was a thirty-ish woman who stated that her young son had severe asthma, which she blamed on the fumes emitted by her gas-powered kitchen stove. Speaking of the health problems of her son, this woman broke down in tears and deep sobs, which definitely seemed genuine, and blamed the son’s problems on the uncaring gas utility. And yet for some reason she continued to use the gas stove. Had it never occurred to her that it was completely within her agency to go out and buy an electric stove? I was hoping to get a chance to ask her that question, but she disappeared before I could track her down.

In the years that I’ve been following this subject, the efforts to impose punishments and revenge on fossil fuel producers in this country have only proliferated and become more impassioned and more intense and more angry. Here are a few markers along the way:

  • In this post on January 24, 2018 I reported on lawsuits that had just been brought by certain cities in California, and by New York City, both against a group of five major oil companies, blaming them for the “nuisance” of CO2 emission, and asking for some large and unspecified amount of damages plus some equally unspecified injunctive relief. I nominated those cases for the prestigious title of “stupidest litigation in the country,” based on the proposition that I couldn’t figure out what they were really trying to accomplish. I asked, if it’s money they want, why don’t they impose a tax on fossil fuel purchases; but then I answered my own question: “Oh, wait a minute, they already have that.  Well, they could double it!” Ultimately, the cases could only be understood as vengeful political acts against irrationally hated adversaries.
  • The New York case from January 2018 ended up getting dismissed in the District Court, and that decision was affirmed by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, while the California case that I had discussed continues to this day to kick around the courts after a convoluted procedural history. So would this long stint in purgatory be the death of this type of effort to exact revenge on large oil companies for the sin of producing fossil fuels? The opposite. Such cases have proliferated like mushrooms in the years since. Here is a May 2023 post from a Columbia Law School blog with some extensive history of cases taking the same or very similar form. According to author Korey Silverman-Roati, “In total, at least 25 [similar] cases have been filed in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawai’i, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Vermont.”
  • Nearly all of these cases were brought in state rather than federal courts. (The exception was the New York City case — the one that ended up getting dismissed.). The occasion for the May 2023 Columbia blog post was that the Supreme Court had just denied a certiorari petition that had been filed in several of the cases seeking to get them removed into the federal courts. With that Supreme Court action, there are now somewhere around two dozen of these cases moving forward in one state court system or another. The plan is to exact massive financial revenge against these evil oil companies.
  • And how about another line of attack seeking to destroy these fossil fuel producers? It now comes to my attention that there is a campaign to introduce bills in state legislatures (all in blue states, to the extent I have learned so far) seeking to impose on fossil fuel producers an obligation to fund a type of “superfund” mechanism to pay the states large amounts to “mitigate” supposed climate damage. Here is the text of such a bill recently introduced in the Vermont legislature in 2024, and here is another one from my own New York from 2023. I’m given to understand that comparable bills are somewhere in the works in other states, including Massachusetts and Maryland. I have the same question that I had about the “nuisance” lawsuits: Why not just impose a tax? The only answer I can think of is that a mere tax does not give a sufficient demonstration of anger and revenge.
  • And now for the most recent escalation, to yet another whole new level. Yesterday, there appeared in the left-wing magazine The New Republic an article with the headline: “The Case for Prosecuting Fossil Fuel Companies for Homicide.” I’m not making this up. Brief excerpt (from a long article): “Climate change is not a tragedy, it’s a crime.” This refrain, increasingly common among climate activists, encapsulates rising moral outrage at major fossil fuel companies like ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, and BP as more information has come to light about their knowledge and conduct regarding global warming.” You might think that this is completely unhinged, but believe me, the authors (and the “climate activists” that they refer to in the quote) are completely serious. Their anger is intense, and their goal is revenge.

And yet at the same time, all of the people engaged in these campaigns of anger and vengeance are major users themselves of the fossil fuels. If these products and their producers are so evil, wouldn’t a better strategy be to go out and produce substitutes that are better and cheaper and lack the environmental downside? Ah, but those better substitutes don’t exist. The world is investing trillions in the effort to come up with such substitutes, but so far nobody has succeeded. And by the way, nobody is going to succeed at this during my lifetime.

So far, the overall strategy of the major energy companies has been to lie as low as possible and hope that before long these people will come to their senses and this will all blow over. That may have made sense when this started. Ten years ago, I would not have believed that this insanity could possibly have gone as far as it has. However, given where we are today, I think that the time for lying low has passed.

Here’s my proposal for the next phase of this game. The fossil fuel producers, either individually or through trade associations, should pick a state, logically a relatively small one (Vermont might be a good place to start), and go to the legislature with this proposition: Ban us! Make the sale or use of fossil fuels in your state illegal, starting at some early date, like for example tomorrow. We will then withdraw. And your citizens will then find out whether they prefer life with fossil fuels, or without them.

In other words, stop being such pansies. It’s time to call their bluff.


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