The Corner

Politics & Policy

Emails between Pro-RICO Climate Scientists Made Public

Last fall, I wrote about Jagadish Shukla, professor of climate dynamics at George Mason University, head of the school’s Institute of Global Environment and Society (which he has used to pocket $5.6 million since 2001), and the lead author of a letter sent in September to President Obama, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, and White House Office of Science and Technology policy director John Holdren calling for “a RICO investigation of corporations and other organizations that have knowingly deceived the American people about the risks of climate change,” a tactic first proposed by Rhode Island senator Sheldon Whitehouse.

On Friday, persuaded by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which is currently under subpoena by the attorney general of the U.S. Virgin Islands for its vocal criticism of climate-change activism (partly thanks to the aforementioned letter), the Richmond, Va., Circuit Court dissolved a protective order surrounding emails that circulated among Shukla, GMU professor Edward Maibach, and several other individuals, exposing for interested readers how the RICO letter came to be.

I’ll leave the legal questions — for instance, whether the good Ph.Ds ran afoul of conflict of interest provisions — to the lawyers. But for the politically minded, the exchanges are equal parts alarming and amusing. E.g., When Maibach shares a draft of the in-progress letter with Alex Bozmoski, strategy director at GMU’s Energy and Enterprise Initiative, Bozmoski notes: “It’s just an impossible topic to not scream hard-core left. You’re talking about prosecuting conservatives.” (Correct!) Maibach’s response, in full: “LOL. Good points.”

Meanwhile, the backlash over the letter elicits several thoughts, including, from Maibach: “Many [critics] allege that we are proposing to have dissenting scientists locked up in prison. What we actually proposed was financial penalties against corporations than [sic] fund climate denial.” (Whew! Someone might have thought you were trying to crush any dissent from your scientific hypothesis!)

His response to the Freedom of Information Act requests that followed the letter — “The people who are filing these requests have every intention of trying to hurt Shukla and me,” he informs GMU’s FOIA officer — is ironic, given that just a few months earlier he had asked Bozmoski to “suggest ways of incorporating [into the letter] language that resonate with conservative values, such as accountability.” (Accountability for me, but not for thee, apparently.) And he tried to resist complying by suggesting that the letter did not “relate to the duties listed in my job description” — this from the director of GMU’s Center for Climate Change Communication.

Shukla is less cagey: “In the past I had taken the view that perhaps I can be more effective as an educator if I were not engaged in political debates/actions. I have changed my mind (with regrets as to why I waited so long!), and I have decided to get fully engaged in this process, not just the climate change issues but even the larger issues of inequality and social justice.”

Well. As long as everyone’s motives are out in the open. Right, professors?

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