Free speech at risk as debate on climate change grows
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The intellectual war is heating up between climate alarmists, who believe the world climate is changing for the worse due to human activity, and the non-believers, who hear not a trumpet call of an approaching Armageddon but an attack on fundamental democratic values and freedoms.
This war is so hot in the US (where free speech is protected) and in France (land of liberty and equality), that it is beginning to look like a witch-hunt, a cross between the 17th century Salem witchcraft trials, Senator Joe McCarthy’s Anti-American Activities Committee in the 1950s, and the lunacy that lead to the disaster of alcohol prohibition in the US a century ago.
The climate alarmists have shifted from proclaiming “the science is settled”, and have now moved up a gear: Anyone who disagrees is a heretic, a criminal, an idiot and a wilful liar in the pay of industry. And, as the word heretic implies, those who disagree with climate dogma deserve a social death; cast out of the congregation.
In the days of Papal supremacy in Europe heretics were burned at the stake. Today they are more likely to suffer in modern ways – losing their jobs, their research grants, insulted, ostracised, called liars in the pay of oil companies, idiots and worse. Such treatment is the modern equivalent of being pilloried, put in the stocks on the town square, unable to dodge, the target of an enraged mob hurling rotten vegetables.
Today the mob consists not of ignorant ruffians but of highly educated, well-heeled, well-fed, well-housed and otherwise intelligent people, often some of the brightest and best society produces.
So far, the way to punish climate non-believers has been to exert pressure on their employers, an example being what happened to a French television weatherman, a Monsieur Philippe Verdier, on the eve of the Climate Change Conference in Paris last year.
He had the temerity to publish a book in which he applied his experience of 30-odd years as a professional meteorologist to question whether the Earth was warming and making the weather change and worse. His major sin against climate orthodoxy was to even suggest that if the planet was warming, it might be beneficial.
Swift was the reaction. Free speech be damned, his employers fired him.
Monsieur Verdier said: “There are a great many positive consequences to global warming”, such as lower consumption of fuel used for heating and fewer cold-related deaths in winter. This was deemed heresy against the climate doctrine.
Then in the US a former supporter of the climate change orthodoxy, Professor Judith Curry, herself a climatologist at the Georgia Institute of Technology, stepped out of line; she queried the claim of a 96 percent scientific consensus on climate change.
A measure of the insanity in all this is that Professor Curry agrees that human-generated carbon dioxide warms the planet. Her sin is finding that such warming is happening more slowly than claimed.
By moving so slightly away from orthodoxy, she was, in her own words, “tossed out of the tribe”.
She had the heretical thought that scientists should be more accountable.
She dared to say there was a difference between admitting that anthropogenic carbon dioxide is a driver of current global warming, and claiming that it was responsible for virtually all current global warming. Professor Curry says “many climate scientists who agree that humans contribute to global warming are sceptical of prognostications of catastrophic climate change”.
The experience of Professor Curry and the French meteorologist is not uncommon, but there is now a more sinister attempt to throw free speech and the scientific tradition out of the window.
Public prosecutors (State’s attorneys) in the US – 17 of them at last count – have decided to investigate companies that challenge the climate change religion.
Allegedly, they too could be, or even might be, “deniers” and, therefore, are in some convoluted version of logic, worthy of a criminal investigation.
Fraud seems to be the charge in a transparent attempt to paint this lunacy as not against freedom of speech and, therefore, not against the US constitution, which protects freedom of expression.
The New York attorney-general Eric Schneiderman told a press conference: “The bottom line is simple: Climate change is real.”
If companies were committing fraud by “lying” about the dangers of climate change, (we) will “pursue them to the fullest extent of the law”.
If that is not intimidation, it is certainly a peculiar way of using the taxpayer-funded public prosecution service to threaten huge fines for anyone who does not believe in a popular scientific theory.
This group of zealots comprises state attorneys-general from California, Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Washington State.
Plus the attorneys-general of the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands.
New York and California are, as expected, head of the pack of heresy seekers. Both states have already begun investigating ExxonMobil for allegedly funding research that questions climate change.
ExxonMobil emphatically denies the charge, noting that the investigation that “uncovered” this research was funded by advocacy groups known for climate change activism.
And of course, like a latter day Torquemada, ex-vice president Al Gore has given his blessing to the witch hunt.
The pro-free-speech and pro-scientific inquiry lobby are not taking this lightly.
About 300 US scientists and academics have asked the US Congress to investigate the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for massaging the last 18 years of satellite measurements of the earth’s temperature so that they show warming, when the raw data shows no such thing.
This is the so-called pause that embarrasses climate alarmists.
There are of course serious legal implications, not least the challenge to the US constitution. If it ever comes to court it may well go up in the US Supreme Court.
It once ruled that “if there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion”.
One hopes the learned judge will stick to the same opinion.
As for Gore, who made a fortune – some estimate a gross $50 million (R741m) – out of his infamous film, An Inconvenient Truth, the defence attorneys may well bring up the record of predictions climate alarmists have made about 2015. Gore himself said, for example, that “unless the world took drastic measures” to reduce greenhouse gases, it would reach a “point of no return” in 10 years.
He was speaking in 2000.
The media in the form of the ABC television channel, said by 2015 there would be “flames covering hundreds of square miles”, 1 billion people would be malnourished, and Manhattan would be flooded.
The former chairman of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Rajenda Pachauri, said: “If there’s no action before 2012, that’s too late… It will be the defining moment.“
Right. And the world will be uninhabited 200 years from now is the kind of prophecy religions make. The difference this time is that making the prediction of doom two centuries hence is a computer.
* Keith Bryer is a retired communications consultant.
** The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Independent Media.