Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Climate Change Denier?

From Global warming: the chilling effect on free speech

Whatever the truth about our warming planet, it is clear there is a tidal wave of intolerance in the debate about climate change which is eroding free speech and melting rational debate. There has been no decree from on high or piece of legislation outlawing climate change denial, and indeed there is no need to criminalise it, as the Australian columnist suggests. Because in recent months it has been turned into a taboo, chased out of polite society by a wink and a nod, letters of complaint, newspaper articles continually comparing climate change denial to Holocaust denial. An attitude of ‘You can’t say that!’ now surrounds debates about climate change, which in many ways is more powerful and pernicious than an outright ban. I am not a scientist or an expert on climate change, but I know what I don’t like - and this demonisation of certain words and ideas is an affront to freedom of speech and open, rational debate.


For all the talk of simply preserving the facts against climate change deniers, there is increasingly a pernicious moralism and authoritarianism in the attempts to silence certain individuals and groups. This is clear from the use of the term ‘climate change denier’, which, as Charles Jones argued, is an attempt to assign any ‘doubters’ with ‘the same moral repugnance one associates with Holocaust denial’ ...

I have used the term before. I thought it described the people who would ignore evidence, emphasize outlying evidence and deemphasize more common evidence, play rhetorical word games, etc. in order to be critical of anthropogenic climate change fairly well. There was absolutely no connection in my mind between a climate change "denier" and a Holocaust denier. In fact this seems a dubious connection that is more designed itself to extinguish free speech. If ever you are confronted with someone who is obviously in denial you better not mention that fact or you will be accused of trying to associate them with Holocaust denial. What rubbish.

Having said that though I have come to the conclusion that, in terms of the climate change debate, such a term is not helpful. It just sets up tribalistic camps that are not conducive to open discussion. It may be hard to tell by the news coverage of late but there is still plenty of work to do on understanding climate change and the human role in it (this is not to say we should take no action on it). Open debate is the means by which we in open societies address major issues. Sure there are abusers of this open debate, people who point to it and claim that the debate shows we should not take action, that we don't know enough. But we shouldn't let the abuse of a few miscreants stifle open discussion. Science and open society require open debate in order to function properly and the term "climate change denier", fairly or not, has become weighted toward stifling rather than opening debate. I think it should be dropped.

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