“Climate change” is all about us. Nearly everybody believes in it. Who could not? Sometimes a sunny day changes to rain, sometimes snow changes to sleet. The wind blows on Tuesday but changes on Wednesday, from knocking down trees to barely putting a ripple on the surface of the lake. Mark Twain, noticing that some things lie beyond the meddling of man, observed that “everybody talks about the weather but nobody does anything about it.”
Now someone has. The attorney general of the U.S. Virgin Islands thinks he has found the way to silence, once and for all, the debate over global warming, or climate change, or whatever the radicals-that-be are calling the scheme this week. Global-warming jeremiahs are determined to intimidate, frighten and eventually fine or put in prison anyone who says the wrong thing about this best laid scheme of government. They’re determined to eliminate traditional sources of energy and replace them with politically correct but unreliable sources of energy, such as wind and solar power. That’s the beginning.
Claude Walker, the Blackstone of the Caribbean who leads the assault of the attorneys general, presented a subpoena this week to compel the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a public policy think tank in Washington skeptical of the climate scam, to turn over all its documents relating to the Institute’s research.
His 14-page subpoena, issued through the District of Columbia’s Superior Court, demands the Institute’s documents, communications, emails, op-eds, speeches, advertisements, letters to the editor, research, reports, studies and memoranda of any kind — including drafts — that refer to climate change, greenhouse gases, carbon tax, climate science and the like that in any way are related to Exxon Mobil or the “products sold by, activities carried out by ExxonMobil that directly or indirectly impact climate change.”
Mr. Walker reveals the real intent of his lawsuit with a demand for a list of donors to the Institute, the better to harass them with threats of legal harassment. “We’ve been targeted for our ideas,” says Kent Lassman, the new president and CEO of the Institute. Mr. Walker, in fact, is merely the mouthpiece for the attorneys general of 20 states who have joined to investigate and prosecute organizations that have exposed the doom’s day exaggerations of the global-warming industry.
A state attorney general is the small fry in any state capitol, usually only an advisory officer with little enforcement authority, often hanging about in hopes lightning will strike and he’ll get his name in the newspapers often enough to make it worth his while to run for governor or Congress. This joint effort to exploit the global-warming craze smells like that, and putting a few skeptics out of business could be the route to a better and more important job. Global-warming is a scam in distress, and opportunities knock, if only each other.
“Not everyone believes that the planet is warming,” Glenn Harlan Reynolds, a law professor at the University of Tennessee, writes in USA Today, “and not everyone who thinks [the planet] is warming agrees on how much; not everyone who thinks that it is warming even believes that laws or regulation can make a difference. Yet the goal of these state attorneys general seems to be to treat disagreement as something more or less criminal.”
In fact, the ultimate goal of these legal worthies has little if anything to do with global warming or climate change. The goal is clearly to demonstrate that the government — any government — has the power to punish dissent and silence criticism, shut down objections and disagreement, and let the government get on, undisturbed, with whatever it wants to do. To do that, there’s no power so great as the power of the purse.
“[The subpoena] is designed not only to silence us,” says Myron Ebell, an official of the Institute, “but it is also designed to defund us. These [are] efforts to defund us and other free-market groups that have politically incorrect views on climate and some other major issues. We’ve been dealing with this for a long time, but I think we have now reached another level. When you get an attorney general involved, it’s no longer just a debate in the public base that tries to shut us up, but it’s using the full force of the state to do so.”
The Competitive Enterprise Institute is only a collateral target, and to destroy the Institute the attorneys general must destroy the First Amendment, the sacrosanct guarantee of the freedom of just about everything a citizen can see, smell, and taste. The amendment guarantees every person, however humble and insignificant in government eyes, the right to say whatever he pleases. Get rid of it, and the government won’t be disturbed no matter what evil it imposes on the rest of us.
• Wesley Pruden is editor-in-chief emeritus of The Times.