Last October, popular corporate and government pranktivists the Yes Men staged a phony press conference in which they posed as representatives of the climate-change-denying U.S. Chamber of Commerce. They said they had changed course and were happily embracing national anti-global warming “cap and trade” legislation. Cable news reported the conference, spurring an actual Chamber rep to rush out a release and hold a competing conference to correct the record and articulate again the group’s anti-science position.
It was more bad press for the powerful Chamber, which was seeing forward-thinking companies jumping ship and decrying the Chamber’s backward thinking. The embarrassed Chamber sued the Yes Men, which has only given the group another stage from which to ridicule its stuffy hypocrisy.
The court documents are public and they are very entertaining.
Here’s a sample (pdf), a reply motion on behalf of the Yes Men:
Describing itself as a “victim” of a “pernicious attack,” the Chamber hopes to paint a picture dramatic enough that this Court will be distracted from the essentially frivolous core of this lawsuit, and allow it to go forward.1 But as Mark Twain aptly noted: “Noise proves nothing. Often a hen who laid an egg cackles as if she laid an asteroid.” The Writings of Mark Twain, Vol. 5, Following the Equator at 56 (Harper & Bros., New York, 1897). The simple, relevant facts are as follows. The Chamber took a controversial position on a vital political matter, climate change. Defendants engaged in a parody to criticize that position. The Chamber suffered no actual damage, but apparently suffered such an extreme case of embarrassment that it filed this lawsuit. The Chamber’s embarrassment may be understandable; the suit is not.
The Chamber’s opportunistic behavior is merely an attempt to silence its critics. Ironically, the Chamber has long contended that courts should broadly protect First Amendment expression and refrain from narrowly defining speech as commercial. When one court did so, the Chamber lambasted the decision, bemoaning the fact that “[e]ven where such speech touches on matters of acknowledged public concern, and even where it is tinged with direct political or legislative overtones, it will be entitled only to lesser protection”… Indeed, the Chamber singled out as meriting protection speech by gas companies on climate change.
The Yes Men are being represented by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which is a group of lawyers and technologists who wage legal battles in defense of “digital rights” including freedom of speech, privacy, innovation and consumer rights, according to the group’s website.
This fall, Colorado businesses in increasing numbers began joining the ranks of climate-change defectors. In October heavy hitters like Apple, Exelon, Levi Strauss and Pacific Gas and Electric Co. outright quit the Chamber, the nation’s leading business organization. Nike resigned from the Chamber board but maintained its membership, and companies like Duke Energy, General Electric, Alcoa and Johnson & Johnson have also disavowed the chamber’s positions on global warming.
“It’s our professional opinion that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is out of step with the leading edge of economic recovery,” said Paul Sheldon at the time. Sheldon is senior consultant with Longmont-based Natural Capitalism Solutions, which has provided corporate sustainability consulting to companies representing 3 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product, including Goldman Sachs.
The Chamber took heat in August as the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade legislation was being drafted for statements by Vice President William Kovacs that the organization wanted to see a “Scopes monkey trial” on the effects of global warming on public health, referring to the famous creationism versus evolution case in 1925.
“In the past, [Chamber officials have] said such things as, ‘Global warming would benefit Americans because the reduction in wintertime deaths because of cold weather would be several times larger than the increase in summertime heat-stressed-related deaths,’” said Micah Parkin, Colorado organizer of the grass-roots climate change activism group 1Sky. Parkin added that 117 Colorado businesses signed a letter supporting the Senate version of Waxman-Markey.
“That brings home the point of just how many Colorado businesses do not concur with the U.S. Chamber’s position on climate denying, and just how many businesses here actually spoke out,” she said. The letter was addressed to U.S. Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet of Colorado.
In the wake of the historic battle over health reform, cap-and-trade legislation has been effectively put on hold.