Joe Bast | June 30, 2023

A county in Oregon has filed a lawsuit against a dozen or so oil and coal companies and their trade association, basically repeating the allegations (and lies) of lawsuits filed in other jurisdictions around the country. All these lawsuits deserve to fail.

The plaintiffs in County of Multnomah v. Exxon Mobil Corp. et al. are demanding some $50 billion “for damages and equitable relief for harm caused to Multnomah County by Defendants’ execution of a scheme to rapaciously sell fossil fuel products and deceptively promote them as harmless to the environment, while they knew that carbon pollution emitted by their products into the atmosphere would likely cause deadly extreme heat events….”

This is nonsense.

The argument that “Exxon knew” is based on combing through hundreds of thousands of pages of old corporate documents released by Exxon early on during discovery (at the time, many of us said that was a mistake) and selectively quoting those that seem to make damning concessions.

How many times did bureaucrats in Exxon’s vast hierarchy make just the opposite statements, but those are being hidden by the plaintiffs? Given the size of the database and new AI-assisted search tools, scores or even hundreds of opposing statements could be found.

The defense should demand to know if the plaintiffs searched for such statements, if they did what they discovered, and if they didn’t, why not? And then … the defense should do it themselves. 

In truth, there must have been an on-again, off-again debate inside Exxon and other fossil fuel companies over the course of many years regarding how seriously they should take the claims of climate alarmists. Encouraging internal debate and discussion is good management. It is not a crime.

The contention that the climate scientists funded by the fossil fuel industry represent “fringe views” is easily debunked, and not merely by referencing the Global Warming Petition Project, signed by 31,478 American scientists. Dennis Bray and Hans von Storch (both alarmists) found only 48% of the respondents to their 2015 survey of scientists said they agree “very much” with the statement that “most of recent or near future climate change is, or will be, the result of anthropogenic causes.”

Ditto Bart Verheggen’s 2015 survey that found fewer than half of contributors to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) own reports agree with its claim more than half of the warming since the mid-20th century can be attributed to human activity.

In truth, there is no scientific consensus now and there never was. QED, the fossil fuel industry was not backing scientists with “fringe views.”

The dollar amounts contributed to conservative and libertarian think tanks reported in these suits are always exaggerated, partly by describing amounts given over the course of a decade or longer and partly because oil companies, like virtually all public companies, contributed large amounts to both liberal and conservative public interest groups during this time.

Only a small fraction of those amounts (or none at all) went to studying or advocating on climate change. The defense team should demand to know how much of Exxon’s and API’s largess actually was spent on the climate issue, and if the plaintiffs can’t say, stipulate that it was less than 5%. Then demand to know how that amount compares to the income of ideologically driven groups on the other side of the issue. If they can’t say, stipulate that is less than 5%.

In truth, money contributed to nonprofit groups by the fossil fuel industry to address climate change was trivial compared to the vast amounts spent by other groups engaged in the climate debate.

As independent investigator Russell Cook repeatedly points out, there is no evidence that any of the scientists and policy analysts who accepted money either directly or indirectly from the fossil fuel industry were “paid to lie.” There are no letters or contracts, just innuendo and libels spread by leftist activists.

Probably 99% of the money spent by the fossil fuel companies went to organizations, not to individuals, as was the case when the much-maligned Willie Soon was paid by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and those organizations had policies in place to protect the integrity and independence of their staff.

In truth, most of the scientists and experts engaged in the climate debate benefit financially in some way for the work they do (otherwise they couldn’t do it!) but very few think they are shading the truth in return for that support. They never agreed to do that. They believe they are speaking the truth.

And what about those dollars given to academics and environmental advocacy groups, including those affiliated with the United Nations, to make the opposite argument? Were those contributions made before there was solid evidence that a problem existed? In that case, was the motive to mislead the public into supporting public policies that financially benefited those groups? 

Did the funding persist even in the face of compelling evidence that the global warming scare is based on junk science? In that case, was the motive to cover-up their earlier crimes? How much did Greenpeace, Sierra Club, MacArthur Foundation, Rockefeller Brothers, etc. know, and when did they know it?

In truth, the climate alarmism industry was engaging in the very unethical and fraudulent practices that it is accusing the fossil fuel industry of performing.

The actual statements produced and ads run by the defendants and their “front groups” reproduced in this lawsuit are invariably reasonable, compelling, accurate, and data-based. I always chuckle when the plaintiffs reproduce these statements or ads in full since they remain fair and convincing even today, decades later.

The defense in these cases ought to eagerly present more of them, especially the Mobil ads, Patrick Michaels’ excellent newsletter, and Willie Soon’s peer-reviewed research, no less than 100 or 200 pages, and let the judge or the jury decide how credible they are. Then display those articles and ads opposite fundraising appeals from Greenpeace, Environmental Defense Fund, etc. The difference could hardly be more striking. 

In truth, the environmental groups are engaged in propaganda and made false claims to advance the agendas of their funders while groups funded by the fossil fuel industry did not.

Lastly, I always look for references in these lawsuits to the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change and its five-volume “Climate Change Reconsidered” (CCR) series. I didn’t find a single reference to it in this lawsuit (but I didn’t search the document for it).

Attorney Peter Ferrara liked to say CCR was to climate alarmists “like holy water and a crucifix are to demons.” When he cited CCR in contentious debates online or in email, the other side invariably went silent, unable to admit that such a reference work even exists.

The most recent volume (Climate Change Reconsidered II: Fossil Fuels) lists 117 scientists, economists, engineers, and other experts as authors, contributors, or reviewers. Just the fringe? Maybe, but the previous four volumes each typically listed just as many contributors and thousands of peer-reviewed articles.

In truth, global warming skeptics have just as much intellectual fire power as the alarmists, maybe even more. That’s just a fact.

One hopes the defense teams and the judges (or their clerks) hearing these cases are smart and honest enough to recognize all this.

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Joseph Bast is a senior fellow with The Heartland Institute. He was president of The Heartland Institute from its founding in 1984 until his retirement in 2018.

Disclaimer: The Heartland Institute is often mentioned in the lawsuits discussed in this article but it has not been named as a defendant.

Why Global Warming Lawsuits Deserve to Fail