It’s only been about a week since New York City filed suit against five major oil companies, and one economist has already found basic factual errors in the city’s legal filing.
The city’s narrative of a grand conspiracy by fossil fuel companies to silence well-meaning climate scientists has run into reality. One of the climate researchers Mayor Bill de Blasio’s legal team attacked has fired back, pointing out factual errors in the suit.
Canadian economist Ross McKitrick said “complaint contains numerous untrue statements about matters on which I have direct personal knowledge,” according to a lengthy statement he published online.
“The idea that this work was done at the instigation of, or under payment from, Exxon or any other corporation either directly or indirectly through the Fraser Institute or any other group is wholly false,” McKitrick said.
De Blasio’s administration filed a lawsuit in January that seeks monetary damages from five oil companies, including ExxonMobil, for the alleged damages to the city caused by man-made global warming.
De Blasio, a Democrat, is joining a growing movement of local officials suing energy companies for the alleged damages from global warming. He also pledged to divest the city’s pension fund from fossil fuels over the next five years.
“As climate change continues to worsen, it’s up to the fossil fuel companies whose greed put us in this position to shoulder the cost of making New York safer and more resilient,” de Blasio said in a statement.
Environmentalists cheered the lawsuit, which is largely based on the narrative that major oil companies, including Exxon, have long known about the ill effects of burning fossil fuels on the climate, but funded “denier” groups to cast doubt on the science.
At one point in the suit, city lawyers claim “Exxon sponsored its own bogus scientific research by paying $120,000 over the course of two years” to the Fraser Institute, a conservative Canadian think tank.
The city claims that money went toward debunking the “hockey stick” graph created by climate scientist Michael Mann. The rebuttal “was rushed into print, without peer review and, in a departure from the standard scientific practice, without offering Dr. Mann and his co-authors an opportunity to respond prior to publication,” the suit claims.
City lawyers claimed the “McIntyre and McKitrick paper was subsequently debunked, but the smear of Dr. Mann’s work remains available on the web today and continues to be cited by climate deniers. Exxon’s promotion by deception thus lives on.”
Mann made waves in the late 1990s when he published his “hockey stick” study that purportedly showed unprecedented global warming in the 20th Century. McKitrick and mining executive Steven McIntyre published a rebuttal to the study in 2003.
McKitrick, an economist at the University of Guelph, took issue with New York City’s false statements and wrote a lengthy rebuttal. He argued he was not paid by Exxon for the research, and that it was, in fact, published in peer-reviewed journals.
“The Fraser Institute was not involved with the hockey stick project and to the best of my knowledge they knew nothing about it until after it was published,” he said. “While I was a Senior Fellow of the Fraser Institute in 2003-04 this was an unpaid affiliation.”
“Our 2003 Energy and Environment paper was peer reviewed,” McKitrick said. “Regarding the issue of offering Mann a prior chance to respond, we had corresponded with Mann regarding problems we encountered replicating his results but he cut off the correspondence.”
McKitrick also pointed out the lawsuit’s claim that his paper was “subsequently debunked” originates from a climate science blog where Mann is also a contributor, not a peer-reviewed study.
McKitrick said it’s “an empty and worthless attempt to deceive the court as to the disposition of a debate that went on for several more years.”
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