"If the situation was hopeless, their propaganda would be unnecessary."
Though it's now most often used by anti-vaxxers and other even more objectionable online types, today we can't help but think of the phrase as used in pre-alt-right-co-opt-ion context.
Why? Because the industry's unofficial public relations teams have been churning out op-eds denouncing legal actions to hold polluters and the fossil fuel industry accountable. They published three pieces on Tuesday, August 30th, alone. One even responds directly to the likely impetus for the push, this great PBS Frontline piece on the 20 lawsuits.
Others are in response to local litigation moves, like the the Washington Examiner op-ed "a slow boat to Maui," by Michael Krauss. The byline identifies him as "a professor emeritus at the Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University." What The Examiner doesn't say is that George Mason is known for its Mercatus Center's Koch funding, or that Chevron-defending Krauss once bragged on his CV about bringing in "the two largest donations ever made to GMUSL." (But that was likely before Billion dollar donor Barre Seid paid $20 mil to rename it in Scalia's honor.) It also doesn't mention that Krauss is a regular at the Federalist Society, run by Leo Leonard, recipient of Seid's billion dollar "donation."
In response to lawsuits demanding companies pay for the damages their products have caused in Maui County, Krauss tells readers to "imagine Maui without petroleum products," warning that "tourism would dry up, with airplanes and cruise ships unable to visit the island and rental cars unable to circulate." Of course, that may not be such a bad thing for locals, who after Covid-19's resurgence of tourists, are increasingly "fed up" with the colonial tourism driving crime, cost of living, and "the prostitution of Hawaiian culture" that's been a constant feature since the independent nation of Hawai'i was overthrown then annexed by the US so Dole could use it as a pineapple plantation.
Krauss then warns that "if successful," Maui's lawsuit "would utterly destroy tort law" because people could sue companies selling carcinogenic products, and "anyone who ever suffered any harm from traffic congestion could sue" car companies. Which again, sounds like a good thing.
Krauss concludes that "Virtually very [sic] contemplated harm could be transformed into a public nuisance lawsuit if a meritless suit like this one were to succeed."
To sum up, Krauss is scared that if Maui's suit is successful, Hawaii might not be crushed by tourists and people harmed could sue the colonial businesses that profited off of harming them. And that's supposed to be bad!
Only slightly more coherent was a piece in the Canadian Financial Post, by Michel Kelly-Gagnon, who claims that if we don't make drill for in Canada and the US, then we're actually just helping "such genteel and human-rights-respecting countries as Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, and Russia," echoing the ol' Canadian "ethical oil" propaganda. He also quotes Big Oil's point man Phil Goldberg, a clear tell that this isn't just an unbiased opinion.
And sure enough, per his byline, Kelly-Gagnon is "CEO of the Montreal Economic Institute and a senior fellow at the Atlas Network." We checked, and according to a critic of the MEI in a past FP piece, it sounded to us like a group named in the same style as US fronts for corporate interests using money to influence politics because it's “part of the same problem they have with money in the U.S. political process: corporate interests who can outspend critics have too much influence in our political process.”
And of course, the Atlas Network is a Koch et al funded international donor. So a guy whose donors are (or are about to be) getting sued is opposed to those lawsuits. No wonder he didn't have much of an argument!
Probably the most-on-message piece is the RealClearEnergy op-ed published Tuesday, in which former Democratic representative from Virginia, Rick Boucher, says that climate lawsuits are "a diversion and a distraction." In a July op-ed for the Richmond Standard, Boucher wrote that "litigation is a distraction and diversion," before saying that it "creates false hope that lawsuits can solve the challenge of climate change," which we've literally never seen anyone claim. He then wrote that it "lets legislators off the hook, diminishing the pressure for them to act."
Obviously he had to change that last part for the RealClear oped, because in the time between his claim that litigation is somehow getting in the way of legislation, Democratic politicians passed the Inflation Reduction Act and allocated record funding to climate action!
"It's far better to lean on innovation, not on litigation," Boucher wrote instead, continuing that suing the very companies "investing billions of dollars to develop the needed innovations" is bad, but fake solutions like "carbon capture and sequestration, greater engine and fuel efficiency, and the wise use of natural gas" are what we actually need.
Boucher's byline, by the way, notes that in addition to being a formerly elected Democratic representative, "he provides policy counsel to information technology and energy companies." Ah! And looking at his OpenSecrets page, it turns out Electric Utilities were his top career donor, as he raised twice as much from them as his next top industry, lawyers. And the top individual contributor? Virginia's dirty fossil-fueled and, until lawsuits shut it down, pipeline-loving utility Dominion Energy.
In other words, these aren't op-eds of Boucher's unbiased opinion, they're advertisements from an industry consultant who racked up over a million bucks from energy interests as a public servant, before going into the consulting business.
Time and again, we see that the fossil fuel industry is responding to litigation to hold it accountable for false advertising and misleading the public about its damages by … putting up op-eds-as-ads to mislead the public about the lawsuits about the harms it profits by causing.
But its defenders shouldn't continue calling for legislation under the assumption that Congress will never do anything, as Exxon's ex-lobbyist admitted was their strategy- after all, Boucher's cry for legislative solutions may not go unheeded!
Just not the way he thinks, as Rep. Katie Porter has unveiled a bill to remove tax credits for Big oil's climate disinformation campaigns!