Fostering an Open Debate

By May 22, 2008Energy, Global Warming

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) during Wednesday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, “Exploring the Skyrocketing Price of Oil.” He’s addressing five top oil executives:

We are facing a potentially existential threat to the human species. We can warm the planet as much we please with global warming. The planet will be fine. The question is, will the species be fine. And it’s a very, very significant risk. It’s one we absolutely, absolutely have to do something about, in my view.

Also in my view, the science has become extremely clear on this. I’m married to a marine biologist, I understand a little bit of the science. I’ve read into this a great deal. With an astonishing level of scientific agreement about this, considering that science is by its nature an area of debate and exploration and experimentation, but the degree of agreement about it is phenomenal.

And yet there remain fringe views, many of them endorsed, espoused, promulgated by organizations that either are now or have in the past been funded by your companies, with, in my view, the intention of misleading the country about the actual state of the science.

And I would ask that each of you, when you go back from this hearing talk to the folks in your companies and take a look and see if this is still going on. Our regulatory proceedings in this country are riddled with phony science, with propped-up phony organizations that are fronts for industrial interests. It is a real disservice to people in this country that that is going on. And I think when people at your level support that kind of behavior, it’s a terrible mistake, and I ask you to review it and try to put an end to that practice if it still exists in your companies. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Peter J. Robertson of Chevron responded briefly, words to the effect that his company did not engage in that practice. Then J. Stephen Simon, Senior Vice President of Exxon Mobil Corp., took issue with Sen. Whitehouse. The exchange is in the extended entry.

(The passage cited starts at about the 3hr2mn mark of the webcast. An .mp3 is here.)

Simon: I take exception to your comments as well, Senator.

Whitehouse: You take exception to them?

Simon: I do.

Whitehouse: In what sense?

Simon: In other words, that we’re supporting junk science and trying to make people think that this is not an issue. I think all of us recognize it’s an issue. It’s how we deal with it. I think we are dealing with it, and we’re doing so in a responsible fashion.

Whitehouse: Well, allow me to disagree, and I’m happy to continue the discussion. Thank you.

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