The Department of Energy has balked at a request from the Trump transition team to provide the names of all department employees or contractors who attended UN global climate talks in the last five years.
“We will be forthcoming with all publicly available information with the transition team,” spokesman Eben Burnham-Snyder told Reuters. “We will not be providing any individual names to the transition team.”
I don’t know how long they can keep the names from Trump’s team legally. I do know that they should not comply with this request unless some law requires it. This request reeks of witch-hunting. That is no way to run an organization, or a nation.
That said, watching the reaction from the left, I couldn’t help thinking of a famous public service advertisement from my youth, in which a father waves drug paraphernalia at his son and demands “Who taught you how to do this stuff?”
“You, all right?” screams the son. “I learned it by watching you!”
Eight months ago, state attorneys general were issuing subpoenas to the Competitive Enterprise Institute to force the organization to cough up climate change communications, based on legal theories boiling down to “We don’t like what you said about climate change.” How many of those horrified by Trump’s actions were as horrified by this chilling move by government authorities?
ExxonMobil, I will be told, was the ultimate target of those subpoenas, and ExxonMobil is a corporation. And climate change is an existential threat that could destroy life as we know it. Are those attorneys general supposed to let a corporation deny this catastrophic risk in order to line their own pockets?
Yes, they are. Because it’s too dangerous not to.
The differences between those subpoenas and the Trump transition’s witch hunt only blur their ultimate sameness. Each case will yield some unique fact the proponents of government censorship can use to distinguish it from the attacks on our own side. That’s why we establish a very broad and neutral principle that you don’t go after anyone for what they believe, whether those ideas are right or wrong, are held by a government employee or a corporation, and whether those who hold them are in power or out of it.
But when it comes to climate change, as with many other intense debates, people are increasingly fond of issuing themselves special licenses to abandon those norms. Sure, in general they are in favor of free speech and open inquiry. But this issue, they say, is too important to allow the people who disagree with them to propagate their appalling misinformation.
This is, of course, exactly backward. Ideas that are unimportant, or that no one disagrees with, do not require protection from government interference. It is the unpopular, the unpleasant, and the dangerously controversial ideas that come under fire from government officials, and those are the ideas around which we must build stout fortifications. It is those fortifications that will protect our own ideas when the other side brings out its howitzers.
Stand with the Department of Energy as it protects civil servants whose work displeases the incoming administration. And when the time once again comes when government tries to silence deniers of climate change, stand with those deniers as well. It’s a matter of principle, not just politics.