There’s an old saying among lawyers: when the law’s on your side, argue the law; when the facts are on your side, argue the facts.

But if you have neither? That’s when you start “digging up embarrassing tidbits about environmentalists,” according to right-wing lobbyist Richard Berman. For those who don’t know, Rick Berman is a consultant to executives at some of the world’s top oil companies.

His job is basically to advise the fossil fuel industry on how best to argue for inaction on climate change, and pretend there’s really no problem. It’s not easy, because Mr. Berman is arguing against a mountain of scientific evidence, including yet another report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluding that climate change is real, it’s here, and it’s approaching the point of irreversibility.  That report reflects the professional opinion of 97 percent of the scientific community, an overwhelming consensus that makes anthropogenic climate change as much of a fact as gravity.

So the bottom line is, the facts are not on the side of oil executives who stand to personally profit from exploiting and polluting our natural resources — and neither is the law. That’s where this shocking and offensive New York Times piece comes in. Because his oil executive clients can’t argue against climate change on the merits, Richard Berman’s advising them to play dirty.

Some choice quotes from this story:

“The company executives, Mr. Berman said in his speech, must be willing to exploit emotions like fear, greed and anger and turn them against the environmental groups.”

“I get up every morning and I try to figure out how to screw with the labor unions — that’s my offense,” Mr. Berman said.

“Mr. Hubbard also discussed how he had done detailed research on the personal histories of members of the boards of the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council to try to find information that could be used to embarrass them.”

“People always ask me one question all the time: ‘How do I know that I won’t be found out as a supporter of what you’re doing?’ ” Mr. Berman told the crowd. “We run all of this stuff through nonprofit organizations that are insulated from having to disclose donors. There is total anonymity. People don’t know who supports us.”

It’s clear that in the absence of a real argument, Rick Berman and his oil buddies have opted for ad hominem attacks and distractions. Their only hope is that by changing the subject, we’ll forget about the immensity of the challenges we face and the real issues at stake in this debate — from fracking to Keystone XL to our growing campaign for fossil fuel divestment.

And that, I think, is the fundamental difference between the forces of the status quo and our movement. They’re hoping people never read the facts; we’re actively trying to make sure people do. They’re spreading distractions and slander; we’re spreading numbers. They wake up in the morning and think about how to “screw with labor unions;” we wake up and think about how to get more people involved in our movement.

 So as cynical, infuriating, and self-destructive as their bet is, there’s no doubt it’s going to backfire. Because if history’s taught us anything, it’s that broad movements made up of everyday people truly can change the world for the better. And we will — we just have to keep doing what we’re doing.

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