Saturday, March 15, 2014

Calls to criminalize funding of climate denial.


Writing in The conversation, Lawrence Torcello suggests criminalizing the funding of climate denial groups: 

We have good reason to consider the funding of climate denial to be criminally and morally negligent. The charge of criminal and moral negligence ought to extend to all activities of the climate deniers who receive funding as part of a sustained campaign to undermine the public’s understanding of scientific consensus.
Criminal negligence is normally understood to result from failures to avoid reasonably foreseeable harms, or the threat of harms to public safety, consequent of certain activities. Those funding climate denial campaigns can reasonably predict the public’s diminished ability to respond to climate change as a result of their behaviour. Indeed, public uncertainty regarding climate science, and the resulting failure to respond to climate change, is the intentional aim of politically and financially motivated denialists. ”

I, perhaps inexcusable, do not have any firm opinion on climate change having never investigated the issue. That much opposition appears motivated by corporate interests and religious based ideology is not reason enough to support the opposite side. Likewise the most passionate supporters of conservation are in the grip of what I call romantic environmentalism - a dislike of the modern world and a desire to reform society into small localized communities with less reliance upon technology. (I also like calling this Postman Pat idealism.)

My apathy is driven by a suspicion that humans are incapable of halting climate change. We are driven by our quest to master nature for our own comfort and welfare. Aside from war, we are incapable of uniting around a single goal; we are too diverse, too contrarian to sustain a policy of sustainable environmental development. As John Gray might put it, humans are just tool using locusts driven to consume.

But should my apathy lift, I would like to hear both sides of the debate. And for this both sides requires funding for sufficient research, quality publications, media appearance, promotion etc. To criminalize funding would in effect silence the opposition. It's not possible to research an issue as large as climate change or for your views to reach the general public without funding.

Torcello then deals with the issue of free speech:
My argument probably raises an understandable, if misguided, concern regarding free speech. We must make the critical distinction between the protected voicing of one’s unpopular beliefs, and the funding of a strategically organised campaign to undermine the public’s ability to develop and voice informed opinions. Protecting the latter as a form of free speech stretches the definition of free speech to a degree that undermines the very concept.
Free speech rests on the concept of individual humans being capable of determining between truth and falsehood. Any group capable of controlling the public discourse inevitably becomes corrupt and abuses their power. If we wish to allow free speech and debate, we must allow to means to achieve free speech and debate. Torcello wishes to prevent the means, the funding, while maintaining lip service to the end - free speech.

Torcello I suspect has strayed into the realm of Herbert Marcuse and repressive tolerance.

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