It’s another one of those things that’s the “worst thing ever,” wrongthink on climate change. Granted, many, myself included, do not share their position, but that is not the issue. No matter what you feel, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a conservative libertarian think tank dedicated to free enterprise and limited government, is absolutely entitled to take the views that it does, to argue its views, and to be as wrong as it wants to be.
The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) today denounced a subpoena from Attorney General Claude E. Walker of the U.S. Virgin Islands that attempts to unearth a decade of the organization’s materials and work on climate change policy. This is the latest effort in an intimidation campaign to criminalize speech and research on the climate debate, led by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and former Vice President Al Gore….
The subpoena requests a decade’s worth of communications, emails, statements, drafts, and other documents regarding CEI’s work on climate change and energy policy, including private donor information. It demands that CEI produce these materials from 20 years ago, from 1997-2007, by April 30, 2016.
Putting aside the absurd burdens of having to comply with such an overreaching subpoena, the purpose of this unilateral action by the U.S. Virgin Islands AG is clear: this subpoena is meant to threaten and intimidate CEI for advocating an idea that liberal politicians find wrong. The purpose is to silence thought, speech and disagreement.
CEI General Counsel Sam Kazman said the group “will vigorously fight to quash this subpoena. It is an affront to our First Amendment rights of free speech and association.”
No matter how strongly, how passionately, how righteously you disagree with the CEI’s position, this is a frontal assault on the First Amendment. There is no gloss of feigned rationalization that can explain away why CEI’s right to think, to speak, to advocate, could conceivably be criminal, could conceivably be a legitimate target of a government subpoena. And the government really doesn’t give a damn about its flagrantly unconstitutional purpose.
At a March 29 press conference in New York, Mr. Walker, an independent, and 16 Democrat attorneys general announced that they would use their offices to combat climate change. On hand to offer support was former Vice President Al Gore Jr.
“The Virgin Islands, which is especially vulnerable to environmental threats, has a particular interest in making sure that companies are honest about what they know about climate change,” said Mr. Walker in a statement. “We are committed to ensuring a fair and transparent market where consumers can make informed choices about what they buy and from whom.”
He said he would investigate Exxon Mobil following several articles alleging the company hid research conducted by its own scientists linking fossil-fuel emissions to global warming. Exxon officials have denied the claims and countered that the investigation was conducted by journalism entities that receive funding from foundations known for their climate change activism.
“If ExxonMobil has tried to cloud their judgment, we are determined to hold the company accountable,” said Mr. Walker in a March 29 statement.
The spin-blame is clear: disagree with Walker, not to mention the other 16 attorneys general, and they will come after you. Pollute people’s minds with ideas and information that challenges theirs and they will use the power of their offices to make your life miserable, to impose as great a burden on you as their powers allow. If you do not think as they do, you are dishonest.
That climate change is important, critical, is not the issue. That CEI, or ExxonMobil, is on the wrong side of the issue doesn’t matter. If there is no right more foundational to our existence, it’s that we are entitled to disagree. We are entitled to be wrong. And most importantly, we are entitled to speak out about our views, no matter how wrong they may be.
The problem of Wrongthink has become a core target of attack across the board, with many believing that there is a line beyond which free speech, free thought, free association, does not apply. From all sides, the Constitution is under attack because it would protect ideas that some find anathema. Certainly, they say, ideas and speech they believe are wrong cannot be protected. Certainly the First Amendment must give way when we are so certain an idea is wrong, when we are so certain is dangerous.
The Constitution is not a “suicide pact,” a phrase used by Justice Robert Jackson in his dissent in Terminiello v. Chicago. Note that this was a dissent. Note too our nation survived. It’s the sort of phrase that is used by the smarmy to whip up the ignorant because it fits neatly inside a fortune cookie and requires little effort to apply to any idea one finds offensive.
When it comes to climate change, many believe that their ideas are so right that any denial, any point of view other than theirs, will end in catastrophe. We will be committing suicide. We will destroy the ecosystem we need to survive, and life as we know it will cease. This time is different. This time it really, really is suicide.
So make your case. Advocate your position. Persuade everyone you see that your position is right, that the demise of humanity is imminent and that we must act immediately to stem climate change. Yes, go for it.
But never by silencing critics, no matter how wrong you are certain they are. This subpoena cannot stand, no matter how strongly, how passionately, you disagree with CEI. There is a line that cannot be crossed, no matter what, and that line has been crossed. Prevail because your ideas are better than theirs, but not because government has the means to bludgeon ideas with which it, and you, disagree.