June 22, 2009

Why not criminalize AGW Denial?

Anyone who reads the report from the Copenhagen conference on global warming, which concluded a few months ago, and is not absolutely terrified by the impending disaster of global warming - is (a) not paying attention or (b) has a death wish. It can be linked to the right through RealClimate.org. 2500 of the best climate scientists (and other academics and researchers working on the problem) from Berkeley, Yale, Oxford, Cambridge, Beijing and Japan, to name a few, met to review the current state of climate science. 1400 papers were presented and a synthesis report was issued. The bottom line can be stated thusly: things are considerably worse than they looked two years ago when the IPCC report was issued, and if we are not to slip irreversibly over the 2 degree Centigrade "guardrail" (beyond which serious questions arise as to human viability on Planet Earth), then immediate and drastic reductions in CO2 emissions must begin.

I've been following RealClimate for several years now and I have detected a change in tone. In the early days, under assault from Right Wing blowhards such as James Inhofe in the Senate and Joe Barton in Congress, and amid the general indifference of the Bush Administration, scientists at RealClimate and elsewhere (such as the U.S.-China conference I visited at Berkeley a few years ago) were shrill and frustrated in their attempts to "defend" their "case," trying mightily to get people to take the problem seriously. The case has now been made so thoroughly, so irrefutably, that a different problem has arisen: how to avoid the complete demoralization of the public concerning remedial action. That is, there is no guarantee at this point, no matter what we do including the immediate cessation of all CO2 emissions (which is not likely - I just saw a car drive by my office window - oops, there's another one), that the threshold will not be crossed.

Still, if we're going to try to deal with any problem in our society and in our world, we should try to do this - deal with the catastrophe of Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW). It is more important than health care, more important than Nutcase Kim in N. Korea, more important than Iran, more important than the Saudi terrorist cells plotting to blow up another American building. Yet dealing with it seems to run up against an innate human resistance to confronting any problem which does not present tangible and immediate problems for daily life. In evolutionary terms, we're just not wired to react to "theoretical" dangers that gradually overtake us.

In my own small way, I was trying to think of something that would give this issue greater visibility, and I think I may have hit on something. It arises from my adversarial training and experience, you could say; I'm not really much into "bipartisanship" like Barack. I don't think you can necessarily cajole and sweet talk cretins like James Inhofe and Joe Barton into seeing things reasonably. I watch George Stephanopoulos some Sunday mornings, and there's George Will, given a national forum on "This Week." He's an AGW Denier. Maybe he writes belletristically, maybe he enunciates his opaque sentences with gravitas, but let me ask a question: if George Will appeared on "This Week" one Sunday and told us he had devised a cure for late stage lung cancer in his kitchen over the weekend, the viewers would regard him as a lunatic. Yet when he weighs in on a scientific subject more complicated than cancer research, he is treated seriously.

AGW is about as "controversial" a theory among actual scientists at this point as evolution and the Copernican solar system. Given its multifactorial, positive feedback loop nature, it is extraordinarily complicated. But the general trend is becoming clearer and clearer. The air and seas are getting hotter, the oceans are acidifying and dying, and we're in for a world of hurt. If we carry on as we have since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, we will endure a kind of self-inflicted genocide. So it occurred to me: why not follow the lead of those European civil law countries which have criminalized denial of the Holocaust? For example,

§ 3h. As an amendment to § 3 g., whoever denies, grossly plays down, approves or tries to excuse the National Socialist genocide or other National Socialist crimes against humanity in a print publication, in broadcast or other media.[11]

is an operative and relevant part of Austria's Anti-Denier statute. Germany, France, Belgium, the Czech Republic and numerous other countries have similar laws. It is true that these "civil law" countries have never regarded free speech with quite the same reverence that we say we do in common law countries such as Great Britain and the USA, although I have noticed in the last few years that the Bill of Rights is increasingly regarded as optional by our political class. But even in days of yore, when we believed in civil liberties, one could not yell "Fire!" in a crowded theater without violating the criminal law. And we've always had laws against defamation, which restrict free speech as well.

You can do as much as a ten-year stretch in Austria for the violation described above. Penalties and fines vary from country to country, but the offense is taken seriously wherever it's on the books. So if Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma wants to announce to the world that global warming is the greatest hoax in the history of mankind, and does so on the Senate floor while the C-Span cameras are rolling, charge him with AGW Denial. He can defend himself - all he has to do is to convince the jury that he's right. Same for George Will - let's see what that opinion is made of, George! Lay it all out for us, because surely you're not contributing to the likelihood of human extinction on the basis of your Right Wing, pro-business attitudes, right? And thinking of Patrick Buchanan, who on MSNBC from time to time "grossly plays down" global warming and also has a disturbing tendency to lionize the Third Reich, and gave us the benefit of his opinion in a 1990 piece that it would have been impossible for Jews to die in the gas chambers of Treblinka - maybe we could get a twofer: try him here for AGW Denial and then extradite him to Austria, where, after doing his stretch, he could make daily pilgrimages to Der Fuhrer's Geburtshaus.

1 comment:

  1. hammerud4:38 PM

    I don't agree with criminalizing AGW deniers. I am one. In spite of your link, the fact is that there are many credible scientists that deny AGW -- google the issue. If we go down the road to criminalizing those with whom we disagree in legitimate debates, I guess free speech is out the window. By the way, I have a reasonable level of education, and I also do not believe in evolution --probability science throws a monkey wrench in that, but obviously "willful ignorance" trumps the monkey wrench. And why "willful ignorance?" Perhaps it has something to do with the alternative to the theory of evolution, like maybe some sort of Intelligence. Also, on a philosophical level, what is all the concern about maintaining life on this planet; when, apart from God, it is all meaningless. I was watching a movie the other day, and the actor said, "next time you get someone to save the world, make sure you get someone who thinks it is worth saving." I do think it is worth saving, but not if what we save is an existence without God. By the way, it is going to be saved -- by God; but the coming road to its eventual bright future involves huge environmental trauma, delineated in the Bible.