Flooding events are predicted to be more frequent and more severe with a changing climatemdashGetty ImagesRusty Russell

Flooding events are predicted to be more frequent and more severe with a changing climate.—Getty Images/Rusty Russell

Government overreach: Climate change and free speech

Just when we think things can’t get any wackier in the ongoing harangue between climate change believers and deniers, sure enough, it does.

It's reported that the U.S. Department of Justice is investigating possible civil action against those who don’t believe in climate change and oppose it for business/financial reasons.

Now, it is reported, the U.S. Department of Justice is investigating possible civil action against those who don’t believe in climate change and oppose it for business/financial reasons. All the more weird, our government’s legal eagles — at the behest, we’re told, of some members of Congress, several state attorneys general, various academicians, and “green” movement activists — are looking into using the RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) Act as the tool to accomplish this.

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RICO, enacted almost half a century ago, provides for prosecution and civil penalties for racketeering activities performed as part of an ongoing criminal enterprise. Those pressing for Justice Department action contend, among other things, that the fossil fuel industry has created “a denial apparatus” to thwart development of solar and other green energies.

They equate it to the tobacco industry suppressing the truth about the dangers of cigarette smoking, which the Justice Department prosecuted in a civil action under RICO.

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A senator, in a dialogue with Attorney General Loretta Lynch, inquired about using RICO to investigate climate change opponents. She responded that it “has been discussed” and has been referred to the FBI “to consider whether or not it meets the criteria for which we could take action on.”

As with any issue of a global scale, there are climate change proponents and opponents. With the forum the Internet provides to everyone with a keyboard, the voices on either side often tend to get shrill, and rational, constructive discussion becomes difficult.

Believe or not in climate change, it’s nonetheless rather ham-handed, in a country that pays at least lip service to freedom of speech, that our government would consider using the law to suppress dissent.

Two attorneys general, Oklahoma’s Scott Pruitt and Alabama’s Luther Strange, declined to join the coalition calling for Justice Department action against climate change opponents. “It is inappropriate,” they said, “for state attorneys general to use the power of their office to attempt to silence core political speech on one of the major policy debates of our time.”

Bully for them. A shame others aren’t so principled.

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