The Corner

Climate Change: Ever Chillier For Free Speech

First define heresy, then punish it. That’s how the script always seems to go.

Just the other day, I noted how the Portland (Oregon) Public Schools board had approved  a  resolution aimed at “eliminating doubt” over climate change.

Now, further down the west coast and, for that matter, the slippery slope, we have California Senate Bill 1161, which has cleared committee hearings in recent months.

The Union of Concerned Scientists (“science for a healthy planet and safer world”), a group with few concerns, it seems, about free speech, will be thrilled at the progress 1161 is making. Here’s how they described the bill back in March:

A California bill introduced today by Sen. Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica) would extend the statute of limitations in state law to enable law enforcement to hold fossil fuel companies accountable for decades of deception and fraud over the scientific evidence about climate change. The Climate Science Truth and Accountability Act (SB 1161) follows the release of internal corporate memos and other evidence showing that oil, gas and coal companies conspired since the late 1980s to deceive the public about climate change. The bill would extend the statute of limitations under California’s Unfair Competition Law from 4 to 30 years.

Extending the statute of limitations in this matter is, effectively, retrospective legislation.

Somehow I don’t think that worries the concerned scientists, who also noted that “fossil fuel companies are facing increased scrutiny about their climate science deception, including investigations of ExxonMobil by California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman..”

“Increased scrutiny” as a euphemism for the legal harassment of the wrong sort of thinking.

Overlawyered’s Walter Olson gives more background:

An extraordinary bill in the California legislature, promoted as making it easier to sue fossil fuel companies over their involvements in public debate, would lift the four-year statute of limitations of the state’s already extremely liberal Unfair Competition Law, otherwise known as s. 17200 — and retrospectively, so as to revive decades’ worth of time-lapsed claims “with respect to scientific evidence regarding the existence, extent, or current or future impacts of anthropogenic induced anthropogenic-induced climate change.” Despite a 2004 round of voter-sponsored reform which curbed some of its worst applications, s. 17200 still enables what a California court called “legal shakedown” operations in which “ridiculously minor” violations serve as the predicate for automatic entitlement to damages, attorneys’ fees, and other relief.

Combined with the plans laid by California Attorney General Kamala Harris — part of the alliance of AGs that has sought to investigate not only oil, gas, and coal companies, but private advocacy groups and university scientists who have played a role in what is characterized as “climate denial” — the bill would begin laying the legal groundwork for an astonishingly broad campaign of inquisition and, potentially, expropriation. The bill was approved by a subcommittee and was further amended May 10 to provide that climate science-related claims of any age would begin a four-year reviver period as of next January….

Section 2(b) of the bill declares it the California legislature’s policy to promote “redress for unfair competition practices committed by entities that have deceived, confused, or misled the public on the risks of climate change or financially supported activities that have deceived, confused, or misled the public on those risks” [emphasis added] — a very clear signal that the target is public issue advocacy, and not merely (say) advertising that is directed at consumers in their capacity as buyers of gasoline at the pump.

J. Robert Oppenheimer:

There must be no barriers to freedom of inquiry. There is no place for dogma in science. The scientist is free, and must be free to ask any question, to doubt any assertion, to seek for any evidence, to correct any errors.

And so, for that matter, should anyone else. 

Not everyone, it seems, agrees. 


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