Does the right of freedom of speech extend to shouting “Hoax” on a burning planet? The climate change / global warming Deniers1 made much hysterical arm waving out of James Hansen’s “call for the chief executives of large fossil fuel companies to be put on trial for high crimes against humanity and nature” and David Suzuki’s call for Denier politicians to be “hold politicians legally accountable“, do the Deniers have a point?
If you check the Denialosphere’s version of both the Hansen interview and Suzuki’s comments the narrative is that both were calling for the criminalization of legitimate dissent, the suppression of freedom of speech, and the punishment of thought crimes. As Richard Littlemore notes, according to the Denialosphere it is “environmental fascism,” “enviro-totalitarianism” and/or the beginning of an “enviro-inquisition.” Is that what really happened?
No, of course not. Every demonstration that Denierism is utter nonsense get’s labeled as something like “Greenhouse robots clamp down on true climate debate.” Typically the claim is utter hogwash (Aside: as a general guideline, if it comes from the Denialosphere it is probably nonsense).
What Hansen actually said was “CEOs of fossil energy companies know what they are doing and are aware of long-term consequences of continued business as usual. In my opinion, these CEOs should be tried for high crimes against humanity and nature.” ie he is calling for trials for the decision makers who knowingly and maliciously engage in lies and fraud when they were fully aware that it is harmful to society.
Trial for those who engage in malicious lies and fraud, not dissent or skepticism. Hansen is suggesting that people guilty of criminal acts should be brought to justice … well duh.
A suggestion that apparently outrages the Deniers. Of course it is one of those ironic moments of unintentional candor that the Deniers implicitly admit that the entire Denier canon is nothing but lies and frauds, hence their objection.
And according to the bastion of climate ignorance ‘The National Post’ David Suzuki demanded that we “Jail politicians who ignore climate science” although in the text of the article they claim his actual suggestion was that “hold politicians legally accountable.” What he actually said was “”What I would challenge you to do is to put a lot of effort into trying to see whether there’s a legal way of throwing our so-called leaders into jail because what they’re doing is a criminal act.”
So he is calling for due process of the law against those who commit criminal acts, just as Hansen did. Of course Deniers like Anthony Watts try to spin this as a ‘thin edge of the wedge’, “I suspect he’ll be calling for the jailing of bloggers like myself next.” Well, the call is for prosecution of those who have committed criminal acts; if Mr Watts feels the shoe fits …
So do Suzuki and Hansen ‘have a case’? For Suzuki it is a little more clear cut as Richard Littlemore over at DeSmogBlog discusses in “National Post “Rabid Response Team” Assails Suzuki Over Jail Quote.” Canada signed the Kyoto Accord and it became law. Canada was legally bound to abide by that law. The law states “Every person who contravenes a regulation made under this Act is guilty of an offence punishable by indictment or on summary conviction, as prescribed by the regulations,” the act reads, “and liable to a fine or to imprisonment as prescribed by the regulations.” QED
Hansen’s case is more nuanced. Shouting “Hoax” in a burning theatre is obviously the inverse and logical equivalent to shouting fire in a crowded theater, ie it is a malicious lie that is likely to lead to harm and possibly death. However, while it is generally acknowledged that “Shouting fire in a crowded theater” is a moral wrong it is not actually illegal and is protected by freedom of speech.
In Brandenburg v. Ohio the court ruled that it was not sufficient that there be a clear and present danger as per the Schenk ruling, but that the speech must be “directed to inciting and likely to incite imminent lawless action.” Insomuch as the mindless production of CO2 is completely insane, but perfectly legal, there is no grounds for any legal action along this line.
However, the appropriate model for legal action against oil companies and their executives is almost certainly the tobacco lawsuits. Here too we find corporate decision makers deliberately lying and funding doubt about the science in order to continue profiting even though it does great public harm. In fact it is no accident that many of the more prominent climate Deniers like Steve Milloy, Fred Singer and Thomas Gale Moore were also funded by big tobacco to do cancer denial before they became climate Deniers.
In the Litigation Against Tobacco Companies the courts found that the defendants were liable because the “Defendants have falsely denied, distorted and minimized the significant adverse health consequences of smoking for decades.” The criteria was “The scientific and medical community’s knowledge of the relationship of smoking and disease evolved through the 1950s and achieved consensus in 1964. However, even after 1964, Defendants continued to deny both the existence of such consensus and the overwhelming evidence on which it was based.”
So they ARE criminally liable if they continue to knowingly spread misinformation after the scientific community has acheived consensus. There is scientific consensus on anthropogenic climate change and there has been for 15 years.
Insomuch as the corporate Deniers claim that they have investigated the climate science thoroughly and that there is no significant evidence it seems to me they have lied themselves into a corner. Either they are lying about having examined the science or they are lying about what the science says, but either way they are lying.
So yes, Hansen is right. The oil executives are lying, they know it, and society should hold them accountable for it. Let justice be done.
After reading thousands of Denier comments and articles I am confident that many comments to this post will be the same misrepresentations and distortions attempting to portray it as a call for the suppression of dissent, just as they did for both Hansen and Suzuki. There will be almost no attempt to rationally engage the issue on it’s own merit, nor any evidence that they comprehend what has been said, or even actually read it.
Well folks – prove me wrong!
Denier “Challenge” aka Deathwatch Update: Day 14 … still no evidence.
1As I discuss here I do not use the term “Denier” to refer to all climate change doubters. Those who thoughtfully and intelligently address the facts I call ’skeptics’.
Those who irrationally deny the existence of the science and instead propagate the lies and distortions such as those discussed above and linked to the right under “Debunking Denier Nonsense” are “Deniers”.
The choice of the correct term is based on their actions, not their conclusions.
free speech 2 Photo by dogwelder
Spanish Inquisition torture method: the rack Photo by un_owen
Spanish Inquisition torture method 2 Photo by un_owen
Lady Of Justice Photo by keithmaguire