Conspiracy theory in the frozen North

Flooded villages in Alaska, record grain harvests in Finland. Who's to blame? How 'bout Exxon?

Published February 28, 2008 5:28PM (EST)

In Finland, the warmest winter on record is leading to predictions for a record grain harvest. Yay for global warming! See, adaptation can be fun. There's never been a better time to invest in beach front property in Siberia.

However, Agriculture Ministry researcher Anneli Partala warns: "It is not certain whether the warm winter is good or bad ... there may be mold problems or diseases."

Or, as in the case of the Alaskan town of Kivalina, rising sea levels could force your complete relocation, to the tune of $400,000,000. Adaptation -- extremely costly and painful!

Felicity Barringer's story about Kivalina in Wednesday's New York Times is getting tons of play in the enviro-blogosphere. I was most intrigued by the conspiracy accusations in the lawsuit.

In an unusual move, those five companies and three other defendants -- the Exxon Mobil Corporation, American Electric Power and the Conoco Phillips Company -- are also accused of conspiracy. "There has been a long campaign by power, coal and oil companies to mislead the public about the science of global warming," the suit says. The campaign, it says, contributed "to the public nuisance of global warming by convincing the public at large and the victims of global warming that the process is not man-made when in fact it is."

A spokesperson for Exxon, Gantt Walton, dismissed the charge that the oil giant had contributed to a disinformation campaign, saying "The recycling of this type of discredited conspiracy theory only diverts attention from the real challenge at hand..."

Exxon's hefty contributions to climate change denialists are a matter of public record. And some day, the company's efforts to forestall action on greenhouse emissions will come back to haunt it. Perhaps not in this case, but when enough oxen have been gored, legal responsibility for the damage inflicted upon the earth will be assessed. Exxon will be at the front of the line.

A couple of quotations referenced in How the World Works' posts two years ago seem relevant here. The first is a passage from Eugene Linden's "Winds of Change:"

"Businesses open themselves to lawsuits when they take a position contrary to others in their industry, and in recent cases such as asbestos litigation, courts have assessed damages proportionate to a company's contribution on a problem," writes Linden. "Chris Walker of Swiss Re describes how this might come about with regard to climate change. He notes that energy giant Exxon Mobil accounts for roughly 1 percent of global emissions and has aggressively lobbied against any efforts to reduce greenhouse gases. 'So,' said Walker, 'we might go to them and say, "Since you don't think climate change is a problem, we're sure you won't mind if we exclude climate-related lawsuits and penalties from your [Directors & Officers] insurance."'"

But for some real fireworks, you can't beat science fiction writer Bruce Sterling:

"It's not too surprising that these proletarian lefties and inveterate peaceniks should attack Exxon, for (by my modest count there) war profiteering, racism, overcrowded jails, civil liberties, human rights, HIV, hepatitis, mental illness, combat fatalities, the Pentagon's budget, the need for prosthetics, pollution, environmental illnesses, foreign adventurism and buying Congress wholesale. But wait till it starts dawning on conservatives and rich people that climate-change is Exxon's biggest product, and that climate disruption is causing horrific economic damage to their own pocketbooks. Somebody somewhere is gonna go down hard for that. There really isn't a better candidate for scapegoating and deliberate public punishment than the people of Exxon. And they're sure not gonna lack for finger pointing. They're all over the world, and all over the world people hate them."

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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