Monday, November 9, 2015

A New Defense Of EXXON's Campaign Against Global Warming

Robert Samuelson found a new way to defend EXXON against attacks by critics of its funding of global warming denial.  He argues that EXXON has a right to free speech which is protected by the Constitution.  This is an extension of the Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court.  The Court concluded that corporations are people and that their funding of political campaigns is protected by the Constitution which protects the free speech of citizens. 

Samuelson uses the platform given to him by the Washington Post to systematically mislead the public by his "free speech".  We value the freedom of the press but journalists are granted a privilege which they should not abuse.  Samuelson systematically exploits his privilege on a regular basis each Monday when his op-ed is published by the Post.  This article is no exception to that rule.

The first problem with Samuelson's opinion piece is that he does not mention the reason for the attention which is being focused on EXXON.  The Attorney General of New York has requested information from EXXON because it may not have properly informed investors about the risk to the value of its oil reserves from global warming.  The Securities Exchange Commission also has a duty to hold public corporations accountable for providing material information to investors.  The AG of NY has beaten the SEC to the punch.

EXXON has also been accused of withholding some of the findings of its own scientists about the risk of global warming.  Instead of providing this information to the public, it has spent millions funding a campaign to discredit the research conducted by the great majority of climate scientists about the threat of global warming. That is a serious charge against EXXON.  Samuelson answered this charge by providing one quote from an EXXON scientist, that EXXON was glad to share with Samuelson, which he used to proclaim EXXON innocent of withholding its own evidence about global warming from the public.  The tobacco industry had behaved similarly when it withheld evidence from its own scientists about relationship between smoking and cancer.  Samuelson seems to believe that EXXON and the tobacco industry have been unfairly attacked by critics who believe that this was wrong; he conflates this with their right to free speech.

In a more general sense EXXON and the tobacco industry may have misled the public under the mistaken belief that it was defending shareholder value.  The threat to the public from global warming and cancer is not as important as maintaining a revenue and profit stream for current shareholders.  Moreover, future investors do not have the right to be informed about the potential damage from these threats to future profits. Furthermore, the rights of investors are placed above the public interest in both cases.  The promotion of shareholder value is the only obligation of public corporations.  Samuelson seems to share that view.  He ignores the mission of journalists, to seek the truth, on behalf of corporations which are primarily interested in promoting shareholder value.

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