The Vanishing Conspiracy That Never Was

New York’s Attorney General has announced that he is abandoning his investigation that claimed ExxonMobil and other oil companies engaged in a public deception about the risks of climate change just as tobacco companies did in misleading the public about the danger of smoking. The Attorney General’s investigation, which was joined by a number of his fellow AGs, Senator Whitehouse, and Al Gore has so to speak gone up in smoke. There simply was no there there.

Given the extent of uncertainty documented by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the advocates’ gold standard, and the National Academies of Science (NAS), it would be virtually impossible to make a case of deliberate deception. The IPCC continues to list major uncertainties in knowledge about forces affecting warming and it has gradually reduced its estimate of climate sensitivity. The NAS was quite explicit in a report on key questions about climate change in stating that estimates of future warming were subject to revision, up or down, based on new knowledge.

The combined efforts of this group of attorney generals, some members of congress, and environmental zealots were never about what oil companies knew, when they knew it, or the funding of think tanks and others to create public confusion. From start to finish, their goal was intimidation and silencing dissent. For them, turning the First Amendment on its head was a small price to chill debate that would expose the climate orthodoxy as a Trojan Horse. Now in a face saving move, the New York Attorney General is trying a new tactic. He wants to determine whether ExxonMobil’s forecasts of the value of its reserves are misleading by not including the “full impact of climate change.”

So, it is no longer what ExxonMobil and others knew but how clear are their crystal balls. In the case of ExxonMobil, it has made disclosures to investors and publicly stated that it assumes a price on carbon in evaluating the viability of capital investment projects. The world’s appetite for energy is growing and every independent analysis concludes that fossil fuels will continue to provide 80% of that energy for decades to come. Since these estimates are made taking into account policies to reduce greenhouse emissions, they acknowledge that there is no cost competitive alternatives to oil and gas on the horizon. Assumptions about value reflect this reality.

Could there be a black swan in energy technology that renders oil and gas less valuable? Perhaps but it is not likely in the foreseeable future.

The current investigatory scheme will prove to be just as much of a boondoggle as the one that preceded it. Eventually the truth about CO2 and the complexity of the climate system will make it evident that man’s impact on the climate system is not creating an apocalypse. None the less, environmental history over the past 40 plus years demonstrates that zealots will not abandon their pursuit of power, environmental purity, and efforts to constrain market forces to promote greater economic well being.






Founder and president of Solutions Consulting which focuses on public policy issues, strategic planning, and strategic communications.

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