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One of 20 Scientists Who Signed RICO Proposal Insists ‘No one is trying to throw anyone in jail’

George Mason University’s Barry A. Klinger:

Do we think that climate change is settled science? Should climate contrarians have free speech?

First question: no. Second question: yes.

I think there are many open questions regarding global warming. See A Skeptics Guide to Global Warming for a discussion of “settled science.” In general, scientists, policy experts, and interested citizens should be free to say whatever they want, even if they disagree with me and even if they disagree with most scientists in their field.

A RICO suit like the one we propose would be very narrowly focussed on whether companies were engaged in fraud in order to continue selling a product which threatens to do harm. I’m not a legal expert, but I think that anyone not selling a product or service can not be punished for fraud, so the vast majority of people opining on climate are not even theoretically threatened by such a case. Even for an oil company, the standard for finding fraud is quite high. According to the RICO judgement against the tobacco companies:

Generally, a plaintiff must prove five elements by “clear and convincing evidence” to prevail on a fraud claim. See e.g., Armstrong v Accrediting Council Continuing Educ. & Training, Inc., 961 F. Supp. 305, 309 (D.D.C. 1997). They are: (1) a false representation, (2) in reference to a material fact, (3) made with the knowledge of its falsity, (4) with the intent to deceive, and (5) on which action is taken in reliance upon the representation. ( p. 1564)

What do we want to do to climate contrarians?

No one is trying to throw anyone in jail. If I understand the case correctly, the final outcome of the judgement against tobacco companies was to order them to stop denying known harms of smoking and to publicize the falsity of their fraudulent statements. I expect that a case against fossil fuel companies, if it ever did prove fraud, would result in a similar judgement.