Many oil companies succumb to the pressure from environmental activists and the media and join the fight against ‘climate change,’ or at least make motions to appear to do so. Not Exxon Mobil. In a previous column, I applauded CEO Rex Tillerson for refusing to climb on the climate change band wagon and for focusing on producing energy from fossil fuels—on which all of us depend—instead.
Tillerson and Exxon have not lost their integrity: they are steadfastly holding on to the principles they know their existence and successful value creation depend on, such as the right to liberty, and more specifically, freedom of speech. This time the attack comes, not from the environmentalists and the media, but from the government. In March, attorneys general (AG) of 20 U.S. states held a press conference where they vowed to hold oil companies accountable for their prior knowledge of ‘climate change.’
According to Law360, in April Massachusetts AG Maura Healey demanded Exxon to provide 40 years’ worth of documents about ‘climate change’ to support her investigation whether Exxon had committed fraud in selling fossil fuels to customers and shares to investors. Healey’s accusation is that Exxon knew about ‘catastrophic man-made climate change,’ allegedly caused by fossil fuel consumption, yet continued to produce and sell fossil fuel products and to finance its activity by selling shares.
To the delight of everyone who cares about freedom and human well-being, Exxon did not surrender to Healey’s irrational demand. Instead, it sued AG Healey in a Texas court last week, for violating its constitutional right for free speech and asked the judge to block Healey’s attempt to obtain any documents from Exxon. In its filing, Exxon said that Healey’s demand was based on “her disagreement with Exxon Mobil regarding how the United States should respond to climate change” and prompted by the March press conference which was motivated by pressure from environmental activists.
Exxon’s standing up for its individual rights is crucially important—because without the right to liberty, including the right express opinions that differ from those in the government, we will not be able to survive and flourish. Consider North Korea, where all dissent is crushed, for an example. The United States is not North Korea (yet), but that is the eventual outcome of squashing rights. One can only hope that Exxon’s example will inspire other companies and individuals to stand up for their rights.
The accusation of Exxon of fraud has no merit, of course. Fraud, in its dictionary definition, means: “intentional perversion of truth in order to induce another to part with something of value or to surrender a legal right.” What truth was Exxon perverting by selling oil and gas to customers and shares to investors in its pursuit of profits? None. AG Healey makes the assumption that the environmentalists’ claims of catastrophic man-made climate change actually constitute the truth.
However, as the evidence shows, the environmentalists’ claims are not supported by facts (and therefore, their claims in their pursuit of getting people to give up values for a ‘pristine’ nature are fraudulent). The climate is always changing, due to many natural phenomena, such as sun spots and shifting ocean currents. As Alex Epstein reports in The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels, human impact on climate is, at best, very small. For example, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere in the last 150 years since the Industrial Revolution increased only from about 300 parts per million to about 400 ppm. In the same period, the average global temperature rose by less than 1 degree Celsius.
So man-made climate change can hardly be considered an established fact—one that Exxon presumably has been ‘hiding’ from its unsuspecting customers and investors for the last 40 years. Instead, Exxon has expressed skepticism of factually unsupported claims about climate change and focused on creating material values by producing and selling fossil fuels, to meet our demand for cheap energy that makes our lives better. For that, Exxon and its principled CEO Rex Tillerson deserve, not baseless accusations and attempt to abolish their right to express opinions, but praise and appreciation.
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