ALEC in Denial of Its Climate Denial, Threatens to Sue
Conservative lobbying group the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) writes pro-fossil fuel, climate-damaging "model legislation" for its members in Congress and state legislatures across the country to pass. It's financed by a roster of corporations that benefit from such legislation and ALEC, in turn, funds campaigns to push the legislation into law.
It's been behind such bills as Ohio's freeze of its clean energy standards last year and the repeal of West Virginia's standards in February, and it's promoting similar legislation around the country. It's been fighting against the growth of solar power across the country working to block rooftop installations that might undercut big utility companies. In Florida, where a battle over making such installations legal is going on right now, former state legislator Jimmy Patronis, now sitting on the Florida Public Service Commission, has been listed as ALEC's state chair.
But the efforts of nonprofit advocacy groups like Common Cause, the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) and Greenpeace have cost it a growing list of high-profile corporate members. Over 100 have departed, as public pressure has mounted. Just in the past year, ALEC lost Facebook, Microsoft, AOL, eBay, Google and Yelp. Pepsi, Coca-Cola, McDonald's, Procter & Gamble, Amazon, Best Buy and WalMart were already gone. Even BP, formerly a high-level ALEC sponsor, announced in March it was cutting its ties with the group. Greenpeace, for its part, has announced the launch of a new website to highlight the extent of ALEC's climate denial campaign.
With so much attrition, ALEC has decided to fight back, and the tactic it's chosen is intimidation. It sent cease-and-desist letters to Common Cause and the League of Conservation Voters, threatening to sue them unless they retract statements saying ALEC is denying climate change.
The letter said it was "clear" that ALEC did not deny that climate change was happening and was human-caused. It claims that ALEC adopted the "model policy" that "human activity has and will continue to alter that atmosphere of the planet" in 1998.
The letter also does some fancy footwork to claim that Google chairman Eric Schmidt's comment last fall, in response to a question from an NRP listener about whether Google was still funding ALEC, wasn't referring to ALEC at all. Addressing specifically Google's departure from ALEC, Schmidt said, "Everyone understands climate change is occurring, and the people who oppose it are really hurting our children and our grandchildren and making the world a much worse place. And so we should not be aligned with such people—they’re just literally lying.”
"If you listen to the entire exchange on the Diane Rehm show, Mr. Schmidt does not say ALEC is lying about the facts of climate change," sad ALEC's attorneys, apparently preferring the narrative that Schmidt was referring to "people" in general.
"We demand that you cease making inaccurate statements regarding ALEC, and immediately remove all false or misleading material from the Common Cause and related websites within five business days," said the letter from ALEC's law firm. "Should you not do so, and/or continue to publish any defamatory statements, we will consider any and all necessary legal action to protect ALEC."
It also demanded that a retraction of the statements be prominently displayed on Common Cause's website.
Common Cause's lawyers responded that ALEC was "cherry-picking" portions of its 1998 model policy statement and pointed out that it also said that human activity "may lead to demonstrable changes in climate" and "may lead to deleterious, neutral or possibly beneficial climate changes," and claimed that "A great deal of scientific uncertainty surrounds the nature of these prospective changes." Since 97 percent of scientists working on climate-related issues agree about the nature of these "prospective changes," there's hardly a "great deal of scientific uncertainty."
“ALEC’s demands and legal threats are an effort to shut down debate about its policies and matters of national importance," said Common Cause president Miles Rapoport. "They seek to chill our right to advocate for the public interest. It won’t work.”
So far it hasn't. Common Cause's lawyers responded to ALEC on March 25, three weeks after it received ALEC's letter. As of now, no lawsuit has been filed.
"Common Cause's statements concerning ALEC's position and activities on climate change are statements of opinion, are neither false nor defamatory, and as such are not legally actionable," said Common Cause's attorney Vinita Ferrera in responding to ALEC's attorneys. "For these reasons, Common Cause declines ALEC's request to retract or alter any statements appearing on Common Cause's website or in other Common Cause materials."
“We don’t appreciate the attempt to silence LCV just because we disagree with ALEC’s positions,” LCV's senior vice president for communications David Willett told the Washington Post. “Usually if someone wants to get serious about tackling climate change, they ask about working with us, they don’t threaten to sue us.”
The Washington Post pointed out that the increasing amount of negative publicity ALEC has gotten as it's emerged in the past several years from the shadows where it preferred to reside seemed to have had an impact on the group.
"The legal spat is an escalation of the conflict and suggests ALEC is feeling the heat of the activist groups’ efforts," it said. "It also suggests a new risk to organizations that rely on the donations from companies that do not want to be associated with organizations accused of denying that human activity is warming the atmosphere at an alarming rate."
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE
The National Hurricane Center has run out of names for tropical storms this year and has now moved on to the Greek alphabet during an extremely active hurricane season. Late Monday night, Tropical Storm Beta became the ninth named storm to make landfall. That's the first time so many named storms have made landfall since 1916, when Woodrow Wilson was president, according to NBC News.
- Extreme Weather Suggests Future Climate Crisis Is Already Here ... ›
- Atlantic Faces Fifth 'Above-Normal' Hurricane Season in a Row ... ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Karen L. Smith-Janssen
Colette Pichon Battle gave a December 2019 TEDWomen Talk on the stark realities of climate change displacement, and people took notice. The video racked up a million views in about two weeks. The attorney, founder, and executive director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy (GCCLP) advocates for climate justice in communities of color. Confronted with evidence showing how her own South Louisiana coastal home of Bayou Liberty will be lost to flooding in coming years, the 2019 Obama Fellow dedicates herself to helping others still reeling from the impacts of Katrina face the heavy toll that climate change has taken—and will take—on their lives and homelands. Her work focuses on strengthening multiracial coalitions, advocating for federal, state, and local disaster mitigation measures, and redirecting resources toward Black communities across the Gulf South.
Between 2000 and 2013, Earth lost an area of undisturbed ecosystems roughly the size of Mexico.
- Planting Projects, Backyard Habitats Can Re-Create Livable Natural ... ›
- Humans Are Destroying Wildlife at an Unprecedented Rate, New ... ›
- UN Biodiversity Chief: Humans Risk Living in an 'Empty World' With ... ›
- Scientists Warn Worse Pandemics Are on the Way if We Don't ... ›
- Coronavirus Pandemic Linked to Destruction of Wildlife and World's ... ›
By Stuart Braun
"These are not just wildfires, they are climate fires," Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington State, said as he stood amid the charred remains of the town of Malden west of Seattle earlier this month. "This is not an act of God," he added. "This has happened because we have changed the climate of the state of Washington in dramatic ways."
'These Aren't Wildfires'<p>Sam Ricketts, who led climate policy and strategy for Governor Jay Inslee's 2020 presidential campaign, tweeted on September 11 that "These aren't wildfires. These are #climatefires, driven by fossil fuel pollution."</p><p>"The rate and the strength and the devastation wrought by these disasters are fueled by climate change," Ricketts told DW of fires that have burnt well over 5 million acres across California, Oregon, Washington State, and into neighboring Idaho. </p><p>In a two-day period in early September, Ricketts notes that more of Washington State burned than in almost any entire fire season until now, apart from 2015. </p><p>California, meanwhile, was a tinderbox after its hottest summer on record, with temperatures in Death Valley reaching nearly 130 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. National Weather Service. It has been reported as the hottest temperature ever measured on Earth.</p>
<div id="29ad9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8346fe7350e1371d400097cd48bf45a2"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1306969603180879872" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Drought-parched wetlands in South America have been burning for weeks. https://t.co/pjAKdFcKPg #Pantanal https://t.co/ImN2C5vwcp</div> — NASA Earth (@NASA Earth)<a href="https://twitter.com/NASAEarth/statuses/1306969603180879872">1600440810.0</a></blockquote></div><p>As evidenced by Australia's apocalyptic Black Summer of 2019-2020, fires are burning bigger and for longer, with new records set year-on-year. Right now, Brazil's vast and highly biodiverse Pantanal wetlands are suffering from catastrophic fires.</p>
#climatefires Started in Australia<p>Governor Inslee this month invoked the phrase climate fires for arguably the first time in the U.S., according to Ricketts.</p><p>But the term was also used as fires burnt out of control in Australia in late 2019. In the face of a 2000km (more than 1,200 miles) fire front, and government officials and media who <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/trump-climate-change-denial-emissions-environment-germany-fake-heartland-seibt/a-52688933" target="_blank">played down the link to climate change</a>, Greens Party Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and a friend decided that reference to bushfires was inadequate. </p><p>"We both just said, we've got to start calling them climate fires, that's what they are," the Australian Senator told DW.</p><p>Hanson-Young says scientists have been warning for decades that these would be the effects of global heating. "We've been told these kinds of extreme weather events and destruction is what climate change would look like, and it's right here on our doorstep," she said from her home state of South Australia — where by early September fire warnings had already been issued.</p><p>"Calling them climate fires was making it absolutely crystal clear. It is essential that there's no ambiguity," she said </p><p>Having deliberately invoked the term, Hanson-Young soon started to push it on social media via a #climatefires hashtag. </p>
How to Talk About the Urgency of Global Heating<p>The need to use more explicit language when talking about extreme weather events linked to climate change is part of a broader push to express the urgency of global heating. In 2019, activist Greta Thunberg tweeted that the term "climate change" did not reflect the seriousness of the situation. </p><p>"Can we all now please stop saying 'climate change' and instead call it what it is: climate breakdown, climate crisis, climate emergency, ecological breakdown, ecological crisis and ecological emergency?" she wrote. </p><p>"Climate change has for a long time been talked about as something that is a danger in the future," said Hansen-Young. "But the consequences are already here. When people hear the word crisis, they understand that something has to happen, that action has to be taken."</p><p><span></span>Some terms are now used in public policy, with state and national governments, and indeed the EU Parliament, declaring an official climate emergency in the last year. </p>
Words That Reflect the Science<p>But while the West Coast governors all fervently link the fires to an unfolding climate crisis, U.S. President Donald Trump continues to avoid any reference to climate. In a briefing about the fires, he responded to overtures by Wade Crowfoot, California's Natural Resources Secretary, to work with the states on the climate crisis by stating: "It'll start getting cooler. You just watch." Crowfoot replied by saying that scientists disagreed. Trump rejoined with "I don't think science knows, actually." </p><p>It was reminiscent of the anti-science approach to the coronavirus pandemic within the Trump administration, <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/donald-trump-admits-playing-down-coronavirus-risks/a-54874350" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at least publicly</a>. Fossil fuel companies are also benefiting from his disavowal of climate science, with the Trump administration having <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/opinion-trumps-paris-climate-accord-exit-isnt-really-a-problem/a-51124958" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pulled out of the Paris Agreement</a> and reopened fossil fuel infrastructure like the Keystone XL pipeline. </p><p>But the science community has responded, with Scientific American magazine endorsing Trump's Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden, the first presidential endorsement in its 175-year history. </p><p>Hanson-Young says the use of explicit language like climate fires has also been important in Australia due to the climate denialism of politicians and the press, especially in publications owned by Rupert Murdoch. As fires burnt out much of Australia's southeast coast, they were commonly blamed on arson — a tactic also recently used in the U.S.</p>
Climate Rhetoric Could Help Decide Election<p>The language of climate has begun to influence the U.S. presidential election campaign, with Democratic nominee Joe Biden labelling President Trump a "climate arsonist."</p><p>Biden is touting a robust climate plan that includes a 2050 zero emissions target and a return to the Paris Agreement. Though lacking the ambition of The New Green Deal, it has been front and center of his policy platform in recent days, at a time when five hurricanes are battering the U.S. Gulf Coast while smoke blanketing the West Coast spreads all the way to the East. </p><p>People are experiencing the climate crisis in a visceral way and almost universally relate to the language of an emergency, says Ricketts. "They know something is wrong."</p>
- The Vicious Climate-Wildfire Cycle - EcoWatch ›
- How Climate Change Ignites Wildfires From California to South Africa ›
- 31 Dead, 250,000 Evacuated in California Fires as Governor ... ›
World's Richest One Percent Are Producing More Than Double the Carbon Emissions as the Bottom 50 Percent
A new report from Oxfam found that the wealthiest one percent of the world produced a carbon footprint that was more than double that of the bottom 50 percent of the world, The Guardian reported. The study examined 25 years of carbon dioxide emissions and wealth inequality from 1990 to 2015.