Are Climate Deniers Racketeers? or just Good Fellas?

July 10, 2015

With the sorta-news that Exxon has known about the threat of climate change since 1981, (is that the year they first hired a physicist?), maybe it’s time to ask if climate denial meets the definition of organized crime – as Senator Whitehouse does above, starting about 2 minutes in….

Yet the fossil fuel industry continues its crafty, cynical campaign of denial and delay.  Big coal, oil, and natural gas, and related industries like the Koch Brothers’ companies, profit by offloading the costs of their carbon pollution onto the rest of us.  They traffic in products that put health and safety at risk, and they don’t tell the truth about their product.

Sound familiar?  It should, because the fossil fuel industry is using a familiar playbook, one perfected by the tobacco industry.  Big tobacco fought for more than four decades to bury the truth about the health effects of its product. 

But the government has a playbook too.  It’s called RICO, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.  The elements of a civil racketeering case are simple.  The government must allege four things: defendants (1) conducted (2) an enterprise (3) through a pattern (4) of racketeering activity.  ”Conducting” means everything from directing to aiding and abetting the activity.  An “enterprise” can be any form of association or a common scheme.  “Pattern” means continuity of the scheme, and for civil RICO particularly the prospect of ongoing conduct.  “Racketeering activity” simply means the violation of designated federal laws, including the federal mail fraud and wire fraud statutes.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse website:

Washington, DC – Today, in his 98th weekly “Time to Wake Up” speech on climate change, U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) highlighted the similarities between the tobacco industry’s efforts to mislead the American public about the dangers of its product and the ongoing effort by fossil-fuel interests to cast doubt on climate science.

“Big coal, oil, and natural gas, and related industries like the Koch Brothers’ companies, profit by offloading the costs of their carbon pollution onto the rest of us.  They traffic in products that put health and safety at risk, and they don’t tell the truth about their product,” Whitehouse said.  “Sound familiar?  It should, because the fossil fuel industry is using a familiar playbook, one perfected by the tobacco industry.”

Whitehouse noted that ultimately a U.S. District Court Judge found the tobacco companies’ fraudulent campaign amounted to a racketeering enterprise.

“The parallels between what the tobacco industry did and what the fossil fuel industry is doing now are striking,” Whitehouse continued.  “In fact, we can go back and re-read those judicial findings about tobacco, substitute the word ‘fossil fuel,’ and exactly describe what the fossil fuel industry is up to.”

UPDATE: Climateprogress has a good post on this as well.

Huffington Post:

The very lawyers that brought down Big Tobacco see notable similarities between Exxon’s denial of climate change and tobacco companies’ denial of smoking’s hazards.

Federal Department of Justice lawyer Sharon Eubanks, who led DOJ’s successful lawsuit against the tobacco companies under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) laws, said these new revelations make Exxon even more liable for the damages caused by climate change.

“It starts to look like a much longer conspiracy. It’s like what we discovered with tobacco – the more you push back the date of knowledge of the harm, the more you delay any remediation, the more people are affected. So your liability can grow exponentially as the timeline gets longer.”

Incredibly, Exxon continues to play down their roll in climate change denial. In an interview with the Guardian, Exxon Spokesperson Richard Keil:

rejected the idea that Exxon had funded groups promoting climate denial. “I am here to talk to you about the present,” he said. “We have been factoring the likelihood of some kind of carbon tax into our business planning since 2007. We do not fund or support those who deny the reality of climate change.

27 Responses to “Are Climate Deniers Racketeers? or just Good Fellas?”

  1. Sir Charles Says:

    Only 12 percent of Americans deny the human influence on modern rapid climate change, yet the politicians don’t mirror that minority. What kind of “democracy” is that when a small group of science deniers has that much influence on politics?

    • dumboldguy Says:

      I keep touting the book “Winner-Take-All Politics” because it shows how the rich have taken over the political process in this country. The politicians no longer listen to the voters, but rather to the people who give them $$$$. Look at Jeb Bush’s 2016 campaign war chest—-over $100 million, and 90% of it from SuperPacs (which are not “the people”).

      The 1% want to extract the last bit of profit from fossil fuels, and they have spent heavily to gain the “influence on politics” that stands in the way of dealing with climate change. Another book that adds weight to the arguments in W-T-A-P is “The Death of the Liberal Class”, which outlines how the Democrats have now succumbed to the same forces as the Republicans did years before them. Neither book says much about climate change, but both speak strongly to the question of why our “democracy” is having trouble dealing with it.

      We are spinning our wheels to a major extent when we concentrate on the science of climate change and fighting the deniers on the basis of whose science is correct. We might make better progress if we spent more time fighting in the purely political arena—-repeal Citizen’s United, reform campaign finance and get dirty money out of politics, fight ALEC, fight for tax reform and steps to decrease inequality, etc.

    • dumboldguy Says:

      “Which Advanced Country Has the Most Climate Sceptics? Hint: It’s Not the United States.

      “Most people would probably hazard a guess at the United States, what with its preponderance of climate science denialist think tanks, conservative television and radio hosts and politicians who think it’s all a hoax. But a new study that analysed identical surveys carried out across 14 industrialised nations has found that when it comes to climate science denial, Australia tops the pile.

      “Published in the journal Global Environmental Change, the study found that 17 per cent of Australians were “climate sceptics”.

      “Norwegians come in second at 15 per cent, followed by New Zealanders at 13 per cent and then Americans at 12 per cent. The UK was ranked joint fifth, together with Sweden and Finland, where 10 per cent of people were sceptics”.

      And that is surprising about NZ and Norway. We hear from Climate Bob and John Christian from those countries, and they are smart people who “get it”. As does redskylite from AUS (and we haven’t heard much from that trio lately, particularly redsky who ferrets out and provides us with a lot of great links—have they been stuffed in the trunk with Inglis?)

      • New Zealand relies on agricultural exports to pay the bills and those are derived largely from livestock production. While our carbon foot print is not that high, our methane one is. It’s a tricky situation that we are struggling to deal with. Those involved with agriculture would rather ignore the problem, or deny it. It’s all very well to demand action, but a drop in living standards is the likely result of taxing the very industry that makes us a 1st world economy. Electricity is largely generated by renewables, so it leaves limited options for actually substantially cutting greenhouse emissions.
        New Zealand is a country that lacks climatic extremes. Its’ maritime position means the effects of climate change are mitigated to a large degree, in an immediate sense. It’s an issue you can externalize when it’s not confronting you directly. I can assure you there are many here who do “Get it”
        Australia with a large proportion of its’ economy relying on coal exports and Norway with oil would be in a similar position.

        • Livestock animals have existed for millions of years. The only reason they “emit methane” is because we feed them with crops we raised with fossil fuels.

          We need to stop this myth that livestock / cows have *anything* to do with climate change. They do not. If we were not raising them the wrong way.

          • jimbills Says:

            Livestock feed, specifically corn and other grains as opposed to a 100% grass-fed diet, is a major part of the problem. However, as human populations have increased dramatically, so have livestock populations – demanding more food, more water, more land use, more transport, and creating, yes, more greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental issues.

            It’s true that the “cow fart” contribution alone to climate change is minimal when compared to other factors (although it’s likely higher than often estimated):


            ….but the sum total of all the livestock production, with all its inputs and outputs, is a significant contributor.

          • Gingerbaker Says:

            Cows produce methane. So does rotting silage, grass, etc not eaten by cows. Silage is mostly what cows eat, and is what humans produce anyway.

            No cows = methane produced anyways. But cows also produce meat. And milk. And organic fertilizers. And pet foods. And a hundred other products, that would require a lot of synthetic replacements, which would drive up GHG’s.

            The idea that livestock production comes at enormous cost to GHG’s, water, other resources is a grand bulls**t fiction, a story which serves to distract us from doing what is important.

            Jimbills, in the first link you provided, the author’s of the study didn’t actually measure how much methane was actually produced per animal – indeed, they disparaged the idea of doing so for some reason. Instead, they measured methane atmospheric levels. How they ascribed that to livestock with confidence beats me.

            And “corn and grains” is not the largest part of the problem – that is concentrated feed, which produces less methane than silage. But, as I said, that silage would be producing methane as it rotted, anyway.

          • dumboldguy Says:

            GB is one stubborn cuss. And he stubbornly refuses to take the science classes he needs to reduce his ignorance and therefore his Dunning Kruger score. Some facts for him to “digest”.

            Rotting silage, grass, etc NOT eaten by cows does NOT produce significant methane—-most of it goes straight to CO2 and enters the “natural” carbon cycle. Methane IS produced in quantity under anaerobic decay (in wetlands/peat and piles of cow poop), and during the digestive process of ruminants—grass that is allowed to die and decay in the fields produces very little methane compared to what happens when you feed it to a cow. Considering what a powerful GHG gas methane is, raising a lot of meat IS something that is significant to global warming.

            GB needs to stop trying to “interpret” jimbill’s articles when he doesn’t understand the “language” they’re written in—-science. If he knew what he was talking about, he could perhaps avoid saying such confused things as “…didn’t actually measure how much methane was actually produced per animal…How they ascribed that to livestock with confidence beats me…as I said, that silage would be producing methane as it rotted, anyway”.

            And a nit to pick—-can we stop talking about “cow farts”? Nearly all the methane is from “burps” not farts, and what comes from manure decay is far removed from the cow.

          • jimbills Says:

            GB – your fixed position is that meat production isn’t an issue for GHGs or other environmental problems. This isn’t backed by the data at all – you just maintain that’s the way it is, and that’s that. No evidence is apparently needed for your case, as you never provide it – instead you just make blanket statements that side-step the topics discussed – in this particular instance, my comment to Neil that FF inputs in grain feed (fertilizers, transport, and production, plus the study mentioning how a grain feed diet increases methane from cows directly) for livestock are multiplied by the sheer numbers of livestock raised for a heavy meat diet in the largest population in human history.

            We’ve gone over this time and time again, and you’ve ignored and/or dismissed everything I’ve listed, and I don’t care enough to convince you of something that is obvious.

          • Gingerbaker Says:

            jimbills, sorry you don’t get the upshot:

            Your proof source says cows fart or burp methane because of the food they eat, and that is bad, bad, bad. But what they eat is basically all stuff that would rot and produce methane anyway.

            Is that too difficult a concept, or is it easier to simply repeat the mantra that eating meat is destroying the world?

          • jimbills Says:

            Again, you don’t read it, you just assume you’re right, and that’s that.

            From the first article:
            “So how can we get cows to quit farting? According to German-based DW Akademie, changing our livestock’s diet could help curb some of those cow farts. Instead of feeding cow a predominantly corn and soy based diet, some researchers think mixing in alfalfa, linseed and grass – essentially changing the levels of fatty acids in a cow’s feed – could reduce the amount of methane they produce.”

            The cows won’t “quit farting” – that’s an exaggeration on the author’s part. The point was that a grain diet as opposed to a grass-fed diet potentially increases methane.

            I’ve said above that cow methane release itself is a minor part of the GHG story regarding livestock production. However, when looking at meat production, you have to include ALL the inputs and outputs – and this includes quite a substantial fossil carbon use and other resource use, and a heavy environmental pollution problem. I’ve listed these things before to you, citing multiple sources and studies, but you write them all off or ignore them – so whatever.

            The mass of evidence indicates that meat production IS a significant contributing factor to our total GHG emissions, and it should be addressed, at the same time, as the larger GHG emission sources, especially coal. You continue to claim you know better, though – which to me isn’t a very different mindset from the deniers you propose to prosecute.

            “Is that too difficult a concept, or is it easier to simply repeat the mantra that eating meat is destroying the world?”

            No. I asked you to provide studies, or any sort of evidence, that GHGs from livestock production are offset by the methane released from silage they don’t eat. You just stated that, a random comment on a blog. Sorry if I don’t take that as gospel.

        • redskylite Says:

          I agree with Keith he has well stated N.Z’s position. I am a New Zealand resident (not Australian). I know that our agricultural academics are working on reducing methane from livestock, and believe that a more lively promotion of non fossil fueled transportation would help in New Zealand efforts to reduce emissions. What strikes me from the study is only 13% are skeptical. The vast majority are concerned. Maybe we give far too much weight to the vocal minority. Are they really so powerful ?

          • John Scanlon Says:

            I’m Australian, and I think the point we should note from those national statistics is that deniers are a small minority in every nation on the planet – including Australia – and there is absolutely no excuse for the large majority allowing the tail to wag the dog in any of those countries, let alone (as now) nearly all of them.

  2. dumboldguy Says:

    Russell Cook? Are you out there? Time to employ that “exit strategy” you are always telling us that we need. We’ve got ours in place now—-keep exposing the truth until it prevails over the forces of evil and deception—-and it’s working!!

    You and your buddies at Heartland are going to be investigated under RICO. Get ready to go to jail! Maybe you need to do more than go flip burgers at McD’s—a change of identity may be in order, and perhaps you need to flee the country—they will need many more beach boys in Cuba soon.

    • You rang? Still living rent-free in your mind, am I. Sorry for the late arrival, I’m having so much fun with the various places I live at these days, I just caused one of your other associates to drive off his self-created cliff. What a ride.

      “….. keep exposing the truth until it prevails … ” Via Sen Whitehouse??? Seriously??? You might have missed it, I already covered that guy, ” ‘Skeptic Climate Scientists are Industry-Paid Shills’ (sir, what is your source for that?)” six days before July 10th. Try to keep up with me next time.

      Investigated by RICO??? Bring it, any day of the week and twice on Sunday, particularly if y’all are utterly bent on committing political suicide, shooting yourself in the foot with a howitzer, aiming your AGW gravy train right off a zillion-foot tall cliff. Why do you think I have the amount of confidence I do, and why do you think you’ve been unable to come up with a single (much less a dozen or two) bit of proof that the wipeouts I describe within the ‘corrupt skeptics’ accusation are fabricated lies fed to me which originate from some nefarious corporate conference room?

      The exit strategy you worship is the one that’ll kill the AGW movement. You need not go down with that ship.

  3. Gingerbaker Says:

    I am very happy to see Senator Whitehouse speaking forcefully and publicly about the criminality of organized climate denial. As far as I am concerned, these propagandists are murdering billions of people in slow motion, and each and everyone who abets them deserves to be frog-marched to the International Court of Justice and tried for crimes against humanity. And the corporate entities which financially back these efforts should suffer the largest possible financial penalties.

    I am talking about people like the Koch brothers, Rex Tillerson, Rupert Murdoch, Roger Ailes, Rush Limbaugh, Willie Soon, Anthony Watts, etc, etc, etc. The list is long.

    I also think we would find, if we looked for it, tremendous support for criminal penalties for people and institutions who are in positions of power and influence who have a sustained record of deliberately lying. In the internet age, simple truth has become the rarest of commodities, and deliberate and sustained disinformation efforts undermine democracy itself. 1st Amendment freedom of speech rights are not absolute, they are not a suicide pact for democracy (or, in the case of climate denial, a suicide pact for humanity itself), and propaganda campaigns should be criminalized, not protected, just as they were after WWII, when Joseph Goebbels was to be tried at Nuremberg to answer for his role as propaganda minister.

    • dumboldguy Says:

      Well said—-we are in total agreement.

    • blied7656 Says:

      I agree! I want to see them prosecuted too. I will donate, volunteer, answer phones, get coffee, pick up the dry cleaning, give shoulder massages to the Attorney General that takes this case. This would be amazing. I want to sit in the gallery and watch the fist of justice squeeze these fossil barons with unflinching retribution.

    • Sorry Ginger I couldn’t post this above where it was relevant.
      “Your proof source says cows fart or burp methane because of the food they eat, and that is bad, bad, bad. But what they eat is basically all stuff that would rot and produce methane anyway.”

      This is not correct. Methane is produced in anaerobic conditions such as swamps or rumanant stomachs. Aerobic breakdown of those same plant residues does release CO2, but Methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas, before it eventually breaks down into CO2.

      • dumboldguy Says:

        GB is not listening to any of the rest of us and will likely not “hear” you either.. I said much the same in my 7:24 AM comment on 7/13.

    • “… organized climate denial …”

      With the running joke among skeptic scientists and skeptic speakers being, “where’s my Exxon check?”, I’d suggest another more fruitful investigation for Sen. Whitehouse to pursue, namely how it is that all my skeptic pals are so massively underfunded. Chase this angle all you wish, y’all will only end up turning the magnifying glass on the folks who first came up with the accusation.

  4. Climate GoodFellas in the pic above. Marc Morano at the wheel, James Inhofe snoozing on the passenger side, Dana Rohrabacher in the back seat.

    And the dude in the trunk making all the racket? Bob Inglis, who is about to get his just desserts from the GOP for acknowledging the science of global-warming.

    • dumboldguy Says:

      LOL. Inhofe would have been driving but they took away his driver’s license due to his advancing general senility, inability to drive in AGW-induced snow, and insistence on driving so far to the right that he was mowing down little old ladies on the sidewalk. (And there’s no doubt the Repugnants would like to “disappear” Inglis).

    • Inglis being the anti-science guy who used a jar of vinegar and an egg to illustrate the acid oceans in his last show as a Congressman….. when his own EPA and NOAA were showing the pH of the worlds oceans on the alkaline side of the scale. Yep, your worship of Inglis will turn out really well…………..

  5. Reblogged this on Move for Change and the Brooklyn Culture Jam and commented:
    Exxon first figured out that carbon emissions were a significant threat to world environment in 1981. They kept that little fact to themselves until someone hacked into old memos and found out. This is the tobacco industry argument–if the executives of Big Tobacco knew their product was death even for non-smokers, why weren’t they being prosecuted under the RICO statutes? The folks at Exxon knew their product was putting the planet at risk and sat back silent. Somebody needs a perp-walk. And the ‘scientists’ put forward to deny global warming were willing accomplices in burying the science for the sake of a buck.

  6. Gingerbaker Says:

    Charles Pierce is now talking about how the climate denial industry = crimes against humanity:

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