Many oil companies succumb to the pressure from environmental activists and the media and join the fight against ‘climate change,’ or at least make motions to appear to do so. Not Exxon Mobil. In a previous column, I applauded CEO Rex Tillerson for refusing to climb on the climate change band wagon and for focusing on producing energy from fossil fuels—on which all of us depend—instead.

Tillerson and Exxon have not lost their integrity: they are steadfastly holding on to the principles they know their existence and successful value creation depend on, such as the right to liberty, and more specifically, freedom of speech. This time the attack comes, not from the environmentalists and the media, but from the government. In March, attorneys general (AG) of 20 U.S. states held a press conference where they vowed to hold oil companies accountable for their prior knowledge of ‘climate change.’

According to Law360, in April Massachusetts AG Maura Healey demanded Exxon to provide 40 years’ worth of documents about ‘climate change’ to support her investigation whether Exxon had committed fraud in selling fossil fuels to customers and shares to investors. Healey’s accusation is that Exxon knew about ‘catastrophic man-made climate change,’ allegedly caused by fossil fuel consumption, yet continued to produce and sell fossil fuel products and to finance its activity by selling shares.

To the delight of everyone who cares about freedom and human well-being, Exxon did not surrender to Healey’s irrational demand. Instead, it sued AG Healey in a Texas court last week, for violating its constitutional right for free speech and asked the judge to block Healey’s attempt to obtain any documents from Exxon. In its filing, Exxon said that Healey’s demand was based on “her disagreement with Exxon Mobil regarding how the United States should respond to climate change” and prompted by the March press conference which was motivated by pressure from environmental activists.

Exxon’s standing up for its individual rights is crucially important—because without the right to liberty, including the right express opinions that differ from those in the government, we will not be able to survive and flourish. Consider North Korea, where all dissent is crushed, for an example. The United States is not North Korea (yet), but that is the eventual outcome of squashing rights. One can only hope that Exxon’s example will inspire other companies and individuals to stand up for their rights.

The accusation of Exxon of fraud has no merit, of course. Fraud, in its dictionary definition, means: “intentional perversion of truth in order to induce another to part with something of value or to surrender a legal right.” What truth was Exxon perverting by selling oil and gas to customers and shares to investors in its pursuit of profits? None. AG Healey makes the assumption that the environmentalists’ claims of catastrophic man-made climate change actually constitute the truth.

However, as the evidence shows, the environmentalists’ claims are not supported by facts (and therefore, their claims in their pursuit of getting people to give up values for a ‘pristine’ nature are fraudulent). The climate is always changing, due to many natural phenomena, such as sun spots and shifting ocean currents. As Alex Epstein reports in The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels, human impact on climate is, at best, very small. For example, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere in the last 150 years since the Industrial Revolution increased only from about 300 parts per million to about 400 ppm. In the same period, the average global temperature rose by less than 1 degree Celsius.

So man-made climate change can hardly be considered an established fact—one that Exxon presumably has been ‘hiding’ from its unsuspecting customers and investors for the last 40 years. Instead, Exxon has expressed skepticism of factually unsupported claims about climate change and focused on creating material values by producing and selling fossil fuels, to meet our demand for cheap energy that makes our lives better. For that, Exxon and its principled CEO Rex Tillerson deserve, not baseless accusations and attempt to abolish their right to express opinions, but praise and appreciation.

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Jaana Woiceshyn teaches business ethics and competitive strategy at the Haskayne School of Business, University of Calgary, Canada.

She has lectured and conducted seminars on business ethics to undergraduate, MBA and Executive MBA students, and to various corporate audiences for over 20 years both in Canada and abroad.

Before earning her Ph.D. from the Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania, she helped turn around a small business in Finland and worked for a consulting firm in Canada.

Jaana’s research on technological change and innovation, value creation by business, executive decision-making, and business ethics has been published in various academic and professional journals and books. “How to Be Profitable and Moral” is her first solo-authored book.

8 COMMENTS

  1. ‘Rational Egoist’ – from Ayn Rand?

    In any case, I hope EXXON gets the chance to present what they really knew, rather than what the AGs would like people to Think they knew. And I hope the AGs discover they are about to be replaced shortly after they lose.

    • Thank you for your comments. Yes, Ayn Rand developed the rational egoist moral code–from Aristotelian roots–to its most integrated and consistent form.

      The AGs’ subpoenas are unconstitutional: they violate Exxon’s individual rights. So it’s not Exxon that should be on trial but the attorneys general, who will have to defend themselves.

  2. Adding your blog to my climate file. Question: May I from time to time repost portions of your pieces to another site? (deviantart.com) It is an art site but heavily political and I love beating climate alarmists over the head with facts.

  3. Good for them!

    One state official has demanded that Alex Epstein reveal all confidential/private/secret correspondence with Exxon. He told her to “get lost”, and wrote an article for Forbes: “First the Government Went After ExxonMobil, Now They’re Going After Me” in which he calls it an attack on freedom of speech, and challenges Al Gore to debate climate with him. (You may have to persevere with Forbes’ troubled web site, watch for browser notification of a slow-running script.)

    Defense takes staying power (strong convictions and deep pockets), and very good lawyers. Chevron won a judgement against US activists who arranged a phony court case in a South American country. A judge there claimed his young clerk wrote much of his judgement against Chevron, but Chevron showed it was written by a law student in the US. (A company Chevron later absorbed had paid locals for some kind of harm, the country government reneged on its payment in the deal, then Chevron was sued despite having paid. It’s another example of government force, apropos your recent article, a corrupt government whereas in the US the process was objective.)

  4. The term “rational egoism” is used to differentiate from irrational egoism, which is based on subjectivism not reason. It’s the “do what you feel like doing” approach regardless of effect on self or others.

    Ayn Rand’s achievement was to explain morality as necessary for life, based on reality – what is?, how do we know?, what should we do?

    Humans live or die by use of their mind. Initiation of force prevents use of the mind, as that requires needed action – do what you rationally decide. The irrational thinking in dishonesty – including forcing others – and hedonism corrupts own mind thus reduces ability to live.

    And there’s the question of whether or not people will trade values with others, the obvious answer all around is yes (companies, clubs, and neighbours trading tasks, being examples, as is customer-supplier relationship).

    Thus rational egoism is life-supporting.

    Resources:
    – One discussion of systems of ethics is Tara Smith’s book “Moral Rights and Political Freedom”, an exhaustive stepping through various theories. She covers initiation of force.
    – AynRand.org should have a recorded lecture on the basis of Ayn Rand’s philosophy.
    – Craig Biddle’s thin book “Loving Life” is a good walk-through.
    – And Leonard Peikoff’s book “Objectivism: the Philosophy of Ayn Rand” steps through essentials of her philosophy, starting from the foundation and progressing to ethics and what government should be, as those are derived from observation of reality and rational use of the mind.

    • Thanks, Keith, for sharing all that. Just want to make one comment: “irrational egoism” is a contradiction (as is the term “cynical egoism” I use in my book–I now call it “cynical exploitation”). Irrational is never in a person’s self-interest, i.e., egoistic.

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