A few months ago, The New York Times ran an unusually candid story about the genesis of the current witch hunt against Exxon under the header, “Public Campaign Against Exxon Has Roots in a 2012 Meeting.” In it, the Times describes a 2012 gathering of activists, academics and trial lawyers who met to explore “whether we might use the lessons from tobacco-related education, laws, and litigation to address climate change.”
In other words, they wanted to make oil the new tobacco.
According to their own published report about the conference which was held in June of 2012 in La Jolla CA, they theorized that documents “may well exist in the vaults of the fossil fuel industry” that would prove that—like tobacco—the industry knowingly misled the public about climate change.
They didn’t have any evidence that such documents existed, of course, but that didn’t stop them from initiating the fishing expedition in search of these hypothetical documents.
Their challenge was formidable, however. How do you go about securing documents that may not even exist? The group considered lawsuits, congressional hearings, even grand juries, before landing on this: “state attorneys general can also subpoena documents.” This subpoena power, they wrote, “rais[es] the possibility that a single sympathetic state attorney general might have substantial success in bringing key internal documents to light.”
They found one in NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who led a gaggle of state attorneys general on the pre-planned fishing expedition to find mythical documents that were thought to expose past malfeasance. Things didn’t turn out as planned for Schneiderman, however, and he recently abandoned his inquiry into what Exxon know in the past and is now focused on what Exxon knows about the future.
The 2012 La Jolla report is filled with amazing insight into what the participants were actually thinking and discussing during their two-day conference, some of which can best be described as admissions against interest.
For instance, one of the biggest hurdles in trying to compare oil to tobacco is that, “The activities that contribute to climate change are highly beneficial to us,” said one participant. “We love them.”
Stanton Glantz, the nation’s leading anti-tobacco activist and one of the conferees, said, “The fact is, we do need some form of energy,” and it “seems unlikely” that “alternative energy forms [can] replace the current carbon producers.”
There’s more. And we will be returning to the La Jolla papers in future posts. Stay tuned.