You may have missed it or more likely not cared about it, but a few days ago, an outfit that calls itself the Climate Leadership Council suspended Exxon Mobil, which up until that moment had been a member in good standing.
Companies such as Microsoft, Conoco, Shell and GM and environmental organizations like World Wildlife Fund are members. Individual members include Stephen Hawking, Janet Yellen and Ben Bernanke. In short, it was created by the rich and powerful and remains populated by the rich and powerful.
One founding member is Exxon; more on that in a bit.
The CLC and its members advocate and lobby for a tax on carbon dioxide – an energy tax – ostensibly to address climate change. Part of their plan is to take some of the revenues raised by that energy tax and send them back to some Americans.
If that sounds like a ridiculous Rube Goldberg device, it is. If a regressive tax on everything made, transported or consumed sounds like a bad idea, it is. If a bunch of rich kids deciding to tax everyone else so they can redistribute the cash as they see fit seems a little … communist, it is.
If such a tax seems unlikely to do anything about climate change but is really a pretense of taking your money, it is.
Back to Exxon. As you may recall, a few weeks ago, one of Exxon’s lobbyists was secretly recorded by an agent for Greenpeace (posing as an executive recruiter) making statements that were sideways to the company’s public positions on several topics, including an energy tax.
Greenpeace – in the business of provocation and fundraising – sent the edited video out to their friends in the media, many of which (shocker) ran with the story. Exxon disavowed the employee’s comments. Exxon employs more than 100,000 people. Many of them have their own opinions, and many make statements that are contrary to the company every day.
Exxon also went out of its way to reaffirm its support for a tax on carbon dioxide. It was even kind enough to send out an unequivocal statement from the CEO that the company stood by its decade-long carbon tax support.
Let’s be clear. Making energy more expensive is regressive, terrible and stupid. It’s crazy to think that taxing energy in the United States will do anything material to address climate change. It’s even crazier to think that the federal government is ever going to give you back the money that it has taken.
Exxon disagrees. We should all respect that disagreement and be confident enough in the ability of our public policy process to get the answer right. The Climate Leadership Council decided to take a different path. It suspended Exxon – one of its founding members — over the comments of a single lobbyist. The suspension was done primarily at the urging of three environmental groups within the CLC. These three groups — Conservation International (total assets: $400 million), World Wildlife Fund (annual revenue: $360 million), World Resources Institute (annual budget: $132 million) — are obviously not your local neighborhood environmental groups.
They are powerful international organizations that use climate change and carbon dioxide taxes as fundraising devices. Their role in the suspension of Exxon should probably make people wonder whether these organizations really favor a carbon dioxide tax more than whether Exxon does.
Exxon responded to the suspension by saying: “It’s more important than ever for organizations to work together to advance meaningful policy solutions to address shared challenges and society’s net-zero ambitions.”
That’s pretty close to correct. Whatever else you might think, it seems likely that we will arrive at better solutions if everyone is involved and everyone has a say. The legislative process in the United States, indeed the entire idea of representative government, is based on the theory that the most durable and sensible policies emerge from the give and take between those with differences.
The alternative to the free exchange of thoughts, ideas and beliefs is not silence and acquiescence; it is intellectual stasis, malicious compliance and, eventually, violence.
The action by the Climate Leadership Council is the net consequence (and more kerosene on the fire) of societal cowardice in the face of efforts to cancel people and their thoughts and beliefs. The council decided it didn’t want to deal with drip-drip-drip from the green left or the barking from its own environmental members, so it cut loose one of its most prominent members.
On this particular issue, Exxon is on the side of the green left. On this particular issue, Exxon is wrong. Neither of those things matters. If the largest energy company in the world can be marginalized in a discussion about energy, any of us can be marginalized in any discussion.
The Climate Leadership Council should take a stand and do the right thing here. It’s not complicated. Either we all get to participate in the public square, or, eventually, none of us will.
• Michael McKenna, a columnist for The Washington Times, is the president of MWR Strategies. He was most recently a deputy assistant to President Trump and deputy director of the Office of Legislative Affairs at the White House.