Thomas Jefferson vs. Green Energy’s Orwellian ‘Ministry of Truth’

Thomas Jefferson statue at Jefferson Memorial.

By Calvin Beisner Published on June 30, 2016

With Independence Day around the corner, it’s a good idea to remember the liberties for which our Founding Fathers risked their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor. Among the most important were freedom of conscience and freedom of speech. “The liberty of thinking and writing guards our other liberties,” wrote Thomas Jefferson in 1808.

How are these liberties doing in America right now? Consider a case in point.

On March 29 seventeen attorneys general calling themselves “AG’s United for Clean Power” announced their intention to launch Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act investigations of organizations that challenge belief in catastrophic, human-caused global warming, comparing skepticism about that with the tobacco industry’s efforts to suppress evidence of smoking’s harmful effects.

One, the AG for the U.S. Virgin Islands, subpoenaed ExxonMobil Corporation and the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free-market think tank that voices doubts about dangerous, manmade global warming, for over a decade’s worth of records of their communications about climate change with over 90 think tanks, universities and individuals.

Are these “AG’s United for Clean Power” motivated by concern for partisan politics rather than law? Their name incorporates part of the name of Obama’s legacy environmental regulation, the Environmental Protection Agency’s “Clean Power Plan.” Al Gore, one of the world’s most outspoken climate alarmists, stood with them at their initial press conference. There’s not a single Republican among them.

To the fairly obvious complaint that their actions violate rights to free speech and press, they respond that the First Amendment doesn’t protect fraud.

True, but the legal definition of fraud is “intentional misrepresentation of material existing fact made by one person to another with knowledge of its falsity and for the purpose of inducing the other person to act, and upon which the other person relies with resulting injury or damage.”

Here the reality. There’s an enormous range of opinions among scholars about

  • how each of the thousands of subsystems of the climate system will respond to rising atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration,
  • how much warming will come from the added CO2;
  • how much harm and benefit will come from that warming,
  • how much benefit will come from the fertilizing effect of rising CO2 on almost all plants;
  • how to balance those harms and benefits against the benefits of the energy derived from fossil fuels; and
  • what would be the costs and benefits of efforts to reduce CO2 emissions by substituting other energy sources for fossil fuels.

As a result, it would be near impossible to prove that any expert who holds any particular position on climate change

  1. intentionally misrepresented material existing fact,
  2. with knowledge of its falsity,
  3. to induce others to act,
  4. with the result that others actually did act,
  5. with resulting damage.

And at the rate at which climate is changing it would take decades or centuries to determine the answers to these items because damage specifically traceable to human action rather than natural factors, if it happens, won’t be clear for that long, if ever.

Comparing “climate skeptics” with defenders of the tobacco industry is patently absurd.

The connection between tobacco smoking and cancer is infinitely simpler and more straightforward than that between CO2 emissions and (not simply global warming but) dangerous, manmade global warming.

Earth’s climate system is one of the most complex natural systems ever studied. It consists of thousands of subsystems — feedback mechanisms — many of which we still don’t understand. We don’t know how strong they are or in some cases even whether they increase or decrease warming or the balance of benefits and harms from it.

Providing energy to everyone is one of the most complex activities ever undertaken. The cost of reducing fossil fuel use — which now delivers about 85% of all energy in the world — is scores of trillions of dollars that could be used otherwise, possibly with far more benefit.

In the face of all the scientific and economic uncertainties, to prove that someone has (1) intentionally misrepresented an established fact, (2) knowing its falsity, (3) to induce others to act, and (4) causing someone else to act and (5) be injured because of that act, would, as I said, be practically impossible.

The only path to conviction would be for governments to judge which of the thousands of scholars were right, and which wrong, on hundreds of contested points. That would require a “Ministry of Truth” like that warned of in George Orwell’s 1984, or the practice of scientific orthodoxy demanded by the Soviet Union under Stalin when it persecuted geneticists who (rightly) rejected Lysenkoism.

To that Jefferson might have replied, as he wrote in Virginia’s Statute of Religious Freedom (1779), “Truth is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict, unless, by human interposition, disarmed of her natural weapons, free argument and debate.”

Federal law — 18 U.S.C. Sec. 241 — says:

If two or more persons conspire to injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate any person … in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him by the Constitution or laws of the United States, or because of his having so exercised the same; … They shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both ….

What these Attorneys General are doing looks on the face of it to be in violation of this statute. But since U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch has revealed her own desire to investigate and prosecute skeptics of man-caused climate catastrophe, the AGs aren’t likely to be held to account.

Until they are, they can wreak havoc on any person or organization voicing skepticism about dangerous, manmade global warming. Even if they could never get a conviction, they could ruin their targets financially with legal and court costs.

Indeed, even if they never file indictments, the very threat has a chilling effect, and that’s dangerous not only to freedom of speech and press but also to the integrity of science, which depends on free, wide-open, robust debate to progressively reduce error and replace it with truth.

Fundamental liberties are in jeopardy. Thomas Jefferson, call your office.

 

E. Calvin Beisner, Ph.D., is Founder and National Spokesman of The Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation.

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