Making Climate Denialism Illegal

Similar to the suggestion at the end of my prior blog post on Psychological Projection, the title of this post is another Texas-sized arrow pointing out where a form of criminal speech may actually be found — but there’s a bit of an ironic twist to this. First, however, let’s see where the wild suggestion to criminalize ‘climate denial’ comes from, and what justification the person has for proposing that.

In this paper I claim that there are moral reasons for making climate denialism illegal. ….
…. Future generations and people in poor countries are bystanders to the climate debate. If the debate postpones necessary actions, it is the bystanders who must pay the price. I argue that bystanders’ costs outweigh participants’ and audiences’ interests, and that this is an argument for a statutory ban on climate denialism.

That’s the first and last three sentences from the Abstract of a 2016 paper by Professor Trygve Lavik, “Climate change denial, freedom of speech and global justice,” published in Etikk i praksis (which translates from Norwegian as “Ethics in practice”), the Nordic Journal of Applied Ethics.

Read no farther into the paper than its introduction, where Lavik creates an easy-to-understand analogy, and it is abundantly obvious that he operates on the premise that the science behind the idea of catastrophic human-induced global warming is completely settled, and corporate people who oppose this have committed a crime:

Imagine the following thought experiment: .… scientific society .. establishes a panel that reviews all the research in the field. After reviewing all the science on the subject, the panel concludes that it is very likely that this .. will have the very dangerous adverse effect .. Furthermore, the academes of science in all the leading countries have approved the scientific reasoning and support the conclusion of the panel. However, .. industry launches a campaign to create doubt about the scientific conclusion that has been reached through research. They establish quasi-scientific institutes and hire acknowledged scientists to argue that the science is not settled at all. Moreover, they initiate a petition that completely denies that this medicine might have dangerous long-term effects. They pay a lot of scientists to sign the petition. The media want to be fair and balanced, so they present both sides of the issue.

I will argue that climate denialists commit a crime similar to that of the fictive .. industry denialists in my thought experiment.

Professor Lavik, predictably, has zero actual climate science expertise to stand behind this premise, but at a minimum, claims to have competence in one angle of the issue. But that can be called into question considering how his ‘thought experiment’ relies on three key false premises.

First, Lavik assumes science society panel reviews / leading countries’ ‘academes of science’ are infallible on the topic of global warming. That’s the most basic of logical fallacies. If these groups only review partial information, their conclusions can be wrong. Second, Lavik’s offering about a fictitious industry disinformation campaign essentially assumes an actual industry-led ‘climate denial’ disinformation campaign employing skeptical scientists has been proven to exist. No evidence irrefutably proves such scientists are paid to spew corporate-orchestrated material, in petitions or otherwise (more on that below). Third, Lavik makes a statement about media balance as if such an action has actually happened in the global warming issue. As I’ve documented regarding one news media situation, it most certainly has not. The reality of the situation is that Professor Lavik would have been at a loss to show where any skeptic scientist or skeptic speaker had been given unrestricted fair media balance during the decade prior to the publication of his 2016 paper.

Where how does Lavik support that last bit about the state of current media balance? With a citation dating from nearly two decades earlier.

Balance demands that all perspectives on a controversial issue be illuminated. Obviously, the climate deniers benefit from the ethics of journalism. Ross Gelbspan has given a good analysis of the situation: …… (Gelbspan 1998: 57-58)

Lavik goes on to cite the Boykoff brothers’ 2004 study, which cited only a narrow range of newsprint material to support their conclusion, while they both cited and thanked Gelbspan for his insight into the media balance topic. Lavik, meet brick wall, regarding the ethics of equating current media coverage to hugely dubious analysis of outdated times.

Similar relatively small wipeouts are found in the paper. One small example is how Lavik claims that, as of the 2016 publication of his paper, the Heartland Institute “receives massive financial support from Exxon Mobil” But Heartland’s last Exxon donation occurred a decade earlier, and the supposedly ‘massive’ amount was actually much smaller than what Greenpeace USA’s income was during that same final year. Another brick wall collision for Lavik regarding current vs. past tense situations, and what the definition of “massive” is.

The big wipeout within the paper is its unquestioned acceptance that there is any kind of “denial industry” conspiracy in existence. Lavik’s source is technically the entire second chapter of UK Guardian reporter George Monbiot’s 2006 book “Heat.” What’s the most damaging bit of proof that such a “denial industry conspiracy” exists within that chapter? Monbiot’s insinuation of corruption stemming merely from how ‘Exxon funds some organizations.’ When footnoting a specific page reference within Monbiot’s chapter on what the ‘denial industry’ has accomplished, what does Lavik’s footnote say about that?

4  See also Dunlap and McCright 2011: 156

Dunlap’s and McCright’s “Organized Climate Change Denial” chapter contribution to the 2011 “The Oxford Handbook of Climate Change and Society” book dutifully regurgitates the assumption about settled science; their page 156 which Lavik references only implies action is needed to solve the settled science situation, but action is thwarted by U.S. denial campaigns. Who do Dunlap and McCright cite as evidence to say the fossil fuel industry was the creator of organized denial against the so-called settled science of man-caused global warming?

… the fossil fuels industry pioneered the charge against climate science and policy making (Begley 2007; Gelbspan 1997; Goodell 2007)

That’s Newsweek reporter Sharon Begley’s article with its reposition global warming” leaked strategy memo ‘evidence’, Ross Gelbspan’s 1997 “The Heat is On” book with that same leaked strategy memo phrase along with targeting phrases, and Rolling Stone writer Jeff Goodell’s 2007 “Big Coal” book, featuring that same leaked memo set and his citation of Gelbspan for it.

The citation cascade gets worse: Six pages before Lavik’s single page reference to Dunlap’s and McCright’s book chapter page, they reference the same strategy memo phrase above. Who do they cite as their source? Eric Pooley’s 2010 “The Climate War” book … which dutifully regurgitates the same leaked memo set as evidence of a sinister industry misinformation campaign. Who does Pooley cite? Ross Gelbspan and George Monbiot.

Does Professor Lavik plow into more self-created walls about his belief in a “denial industry” conspiracy? Yes – right after his crash of citing Monbiot’s entire worthless chapter, he mentions the “Merchants of Doubt” book by Naomi Oreskes ….. which only compares skeptic climate scientists to other industries’ misinformation efforts, but never provides evidence proving skeptic climate scientists receive fossil fuel money in exchange for promulgating fossil fuel industry talking points. Should Lavik’s disappointed readers undertake their own search to see if Oreskes ever provided that ‘evidence’ elsewhere. Not a good idea — she cites Ross Gelbspan.

Should Lavik’s disappointed readers undertake their own search to see if George Monbiot provided concrete evidence elsewhere proving the fossil fuel industry colludes with skeptic climate scientists in disinformation efforts? Not a good idea — Monbiot cites Oreskes.

This is the way of it.  Every.  Single.  Time.  Regardless of whether a prominent person is internationally recognized like Vice President Al Gore or is a college professor, their accusation about skeptic climate scientists willfully engaging in a conspiracy with fossil fuel industry executives to mislead the public will always be separated by three degrees or less from Ross Gelbspan.

For any new readers here unaware of it, Gelbspan is the man who gave that long ago ‘leaked memo set’ its first major media traction in his 1997 book, after magically ‘obtaining’ them while failing to disclose where he got them. Those are the memos that were never the operating guidelines of any disinformation campaigns, and are thus worthless as evidence to prove a “denial industry” exists. As I illustrate here once again, those memos are the only thing the enviro-activist side has to prove their corruption accusation.

Remember how I said there is an irony to this situation at the beginning of this post? Professor Lavik’s suggestion to make willful climate denial speech a criminal act is ludicrous, since he can’t back up the basic premise that such a corporate conspiracy exists. But another type of speech already is a crime in many countries around the world: Libel / slander. Maliciously say a particular leaked memo set proves a corporate misinformation conspiracy campaign exists while knowing full well that the memo set is worthless, and you may have committed civil or criminal libel / slander.

When Professor Lavik says particular people on the skeptic side of the global warming issue should be prosecuted for a specific form of speech, what he’s inadvertently pointing to is how particular people on his side of the issue may be committing a speech crime, another psychological projection example to add onto the pile in my previous post.

The professor hasn’t committed libel/slander, he’s little more than just another spectacularly uninformed repeater of the accusation. If he’s done anything wrong, he’s spoken unethically, making assertions based solely on emotionally-driven beliefs without apparently checking the veracity of the entire ‘organized climate denial’ matter. Has Gelbspan, Oreskes, Gore, and a select few others violated the law? That’s worthy of serious investigation.