Thursday, June 29, 2006

CO2 Science’s Finding on Global Warming: A Marxist-Type Response

One of the very first replies to my posting of CO2 Science’s journal review "A 221-Year Temperature History of the Southwest Coast of Greenland" was this: "’CO2 Science’ is funded by Exxon. Come on, you guys are usually such independent thinkers—you can do better than rehash this stuff.” (The response was on the blog at the Mises Institute.)

The author of this statement believes that it is sufficient to name the economic affiliation of an individual or organization to be able to dismiss and ignore anything that comes from them. This was a tactic employed for generations by the Marxists. Instead of refuting the criticisms leveled against their doctrines by economists and others, they were content to identify critics as a member of the capitalist class or as having received financial support from capitalists. The Nazis had their own variant of the practice. They were content to identify their critics as Jewish or as somehow supported by Jews or otherwise affiliated with Jews. The devastating criticisms of socialism made by Mises were dismissed on both grounds.

Now, today, here is Exxon. I don’t even know that it is the source of funds for CO2 Science, or is the major or only source. But I’m willing to assume that it is. How does it follow from that, that whatever comes from CO2 Science, or from Exxon, on the subject of global warming and CO2 emissions is automatically false?

Yes, it is true that Exxon-Mobil is the largest American oil company and wants to be able to remain in that branch of business, while the environmental movement would like to destroy it, and the whole rest of the oil industry, along with the coal and atomic power industries, and is using the alleged connection between global warming and CO2 emissions as its main weapon in its attempt to do so. (This weapon, of course, does not apply in the case of atomic power. But atomic power is regarded by the environmental movement as a terrifying death ray, even more frightening than global warming.)

So, yes, Exxon may have a financial self-interest at stake, which depends on whether or not there is a real connection between the CO2 emitted by the consumption of its fuels and global warming. Its financial self-interest may very well lie with the establishment of lack of any connection.

As a minor digression, I need to point out that this is not necessarily the case. To the extent that the environmental movement succeeds in making petroleum scarcer and more expensive, the revenues and profits earned by the owners of existing petroleum reserves rise. Major oil companies like Exxon-Mobil have actually gained in this way and have been severely criticized for these gains. In fact, some of their critics seem to imply that oil companies are, or at least should be, actual supporters of the environmental movement, precisely because it makes oil scarcer and more expensive and thus increases their profits to the extent that they already have reserves.

I have to say that I believe that the norm of competition within the oil industry, as well as its pride in the products it produces, prevents any such monopolistic, pro-environmentalist mindset. The individual oil company knows that its self-interest lies with an increase in its reserves, because whatever the effect on the overall supply and price of petroleum, its own situation would be worse if others added those reserves instead of it. Because then, it would be faced with the same lower price, but have less to sell.

So, granted, the individual oil companies, like Exxon Mobil, have a financial self-interest in the continued and growing production of petroleum and are glad to find any evidence they can that diminishes the threat of the environmentalist agenda. The relevant question is, which better serves their self-interest in accomplishing this? Is it to fabricate the facts or to find the actual facts and present them if they support its case? Or, to say the same thing in different words, which is the better defense of their self-interest: The actual truth if it supports their case? Or simply lies?

In the United States, we are fortunate to have both a long-standing tradition and clear Constitutional protection of a defendant’s right in a criminal trial not to testify. What the Marxists and Nazis and those who are following in their path today are seeking is the equivalent of a prohibition of a defendant’s right to testify.

Individuals, corporations, industries, are to be subject to attack by those who seek to injure or destroy them, and they are to be prohibited from defending themselves by virtue of people being unwilling listen to what they have to say. They are not to be listened to for no other reason than that their avoidance of injury and their survival matters to them. They have an “interest” in the outcome. Yes, they do. And they have a right to be heard—for that very reason! Because their best defense is truth.

This article is copyright © 2006, by George Reisman. Permission is hereby granted to reproduce and distribute it electronically and in print, other than as part of a book and provided that mention of the author’s web site is included. (Email notification is requested.) All other rights reserved. George Reisman is the author of Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics (Ottawa, Illinois: Jameson Books, 1996) and is Pepperdine University Professor Emeritus of Economics.