The tyranny of activism-3: Assault on democracy

July 4, 2016
If climate change were the certain danger activists make it out to be, activism wouldn't exist. Energy consumers would respond voluntarily.

If climate change were the certain danger activists make it out to be, activism wouldn't exist. Energy consumers would respond voluntarily. They would spurn vehicles needing fossil fuels. They'd buy electricity from suppliers specializing in solar and wind. Convinced that failure to reform would yield dire consequences, they'd gratefully change habits and incur extra cost. Markets would accommodate the new behavior.

Not everyone would respond this way, of course. Some consumers never would acknowledge the need. Some wouldn't incur short-term cost for long-term benefit. Some just wouldn't change. Still, certain danger would compel most consumers to follow activists toward expensive precaution.

Unconvinced of the need

This is not happening. A large majority of energy consumers remain unconvinced of the need for radical change. They're not ignorant. They simply know uncertainty when they see it. While most people have heard activists' warnings, relatively few of them demonstrate, through what they buy, preference for high-cost energy options.

Reluctance of people in large numbers to make irrational change is, of course, why activists-in much smaller numbers-fight their battles in courtrooms and bureaucracies. There, focus, persistence, and clever lawyers overcome disadvantages of number. With climate change, manipulation of democratic processes works especially well.

For example, the phrase "carbon pollution" appears everywhere in climate politics yet makes no sense. Carbon is an organic building block. It doesn't pollute. But it's political code for carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas for which people are most responsible. CO2, which supports plant life and regulates breathing, doesn't pollute, either. Because it contributes to atmospheric warming, however, clever lawyers persuaded a majority of US Supreme Court justices to sanction regulation of CO2 under the Clean Air Act. So the naturally occurring gas has fallen subject to the same regulation as very different, more-definitely dangerous substances humanity adds to air. "Carbon pollution" represents a triumph of activist legalism and propaganda over chemistry and biology.

Climate change is hardly the first subject about which courts have made goofy decisions, of course. But the underlying activism projects its manipulations into other branches of government-in the US and elsewhere. It has, for example, turned the US Environmental Protection Agency into a wholly owned subsidiary of environmental pressure groups, eager to impose changes rejected by voters.

The EPA actually came late to the business of making activist wishes come true in defiance of popular will. The European Union institutionalized this function long ago. Eager to lead the world with responses to climate change, the EU sets aggressive targets for CO2 emission cuts and market shares for renewable energy. Obliging policies in member countries make European energy prices punishingly high, and Europeans can do precious little about it. The costs of energy autocracy help explain why a majority of UK voters opted on June 23 to quit the EU.

In the US, climate activism is testing a new way to sabotage democratic processes. Prodded by archactivist Al Gore, several state attorneys general are conducting criminal investigations of ExxonMobil Corp. and other organizations on record as doubtful about the need to render sacrifice to the climate. They aim to prove the organizations knew long ago that the use of fossil energy threatened humanity and fraudulently shrouded the insight.

This is absurd and unjust. It's absurd because it asserts certainty about climate change that didn't exist long ago and doesn't exist now. It's unjust because it aims to stifle speech and foreclose dissent. It's an assault on democracy.

Undemocratic tactics

Activists employ antidemocratic tactics because they fail to persuade people in large numbers to join an energy revolution as much about control as climate. They fail because their case is weak. Resort to tyranny does nothing to strengthen it.

How should the oil and gas industry respond to activism that distorts science and undermines democracy but succeeds nevertheless? The conclusion of this editorial series will offer suggestions next week.