This is a followup on Are the climate science deniers criminals?, which explored recent work by Lawrence Torcello, a philosopher at Rochester Institute of Technology. (See: Is Organised Climate Science Denial Criminally Negligent?)
Professor Torcello’s point was made in part by reference to the tragic events at L’Aquila, Italy, where a screw up mainly by non-scientist government official seems to have resulted in unnecessary deaths due to an earthquake. Torcello notes:
If those with a financial or political interest in inaction had funded an organised campaign to discredit the consensus findings of seismology, and for that reason no preparations were made, then many of us would agree that the financiers of the denialist campaign were criminally responsible for the consequences of that campaign. I submit that this is just what is happening with the current, well documented funding of global warming denialism.
That’s a powerful analogy from real life. If we are allowed the luxury of thought experiment, we can probably put an even finer point on it. Let me give that a try. Remember, this is a thought experiment. These things did not happen.
Bridges across the region are starting to deteriorate and some say they should be replaced. But there is an industry that makes a lot of money repairing bridges, as distinct from replacing them. That organization is represented by a number of public relations and lobbying organizations funded by the industry. The ruling legislative body has hearings to help decide if bridges should be replaced over the next few years at great cost, or if the annual budget for repair should be maintained.
There may be legitimate arguments on both sides of the issue, but the vast majority of engineers with relevant expertise feel that repair can not keep up with deterioration and bridges may start falling down despite best efforts to keep them up. A consensus has emerged that the bridges should be replaced. But the hearings happen anyway.
At the hearings there are a number of witnesses making various points, but among these witnesses are several representatives of the above mentioned industry and their lobbyists and public relations organizations. These witnesses are asked a number of questions and they provide a lot of information. But, they intentionally leave out important data, emphasize less important data that happens to support their cause (cherry picking) and they even go so far as to falsify studies. Overall, their argument is convincing, even if it is based on willfully misrepresented information and lies.
The legislative body, looking to save money in their budget decides to kick the can down the road, based on the testimony of representatives of the repair, not rebuild, interests. No bridges are replaced.
A few years later a string of busses carrying toddlers to a toddler convention is driving across one of the bridges. Below the bridge happens to be a tour boat that was leased by the Dalai Lama. He’s on the boat. Also on the bridge is a medical transport vehicle carrying a half dozen hearts to a nearby transplant hospital where very ill children will be given a new lease on life.
The bridge collapses, everyone on the bridge, and under it on the boat, are killed but many of them die slow and miserable deaths because the busses and other vehicles are pinned below water line under the debris, and they drown over the next half hour as the vehicles slowly fill with muddy, cold, river water.
OK, now, what do you think of the witnesses who knowingly and maliciously provided false testimony to the legislature, which ultimately was used to decide to not replace the bridge? Oh, by the way, the bridge that collapsed in this thought experiment would have been the first bridge to be replaced.
There are several things that Lawrence Torcello did not say. He did not say that “scientists who don’t believe in catastrophic man-made global warming should be put in prison.” But James Dellingpole claims that Torcello said that. James Dellingpole needs to apologize to Professor Torcello for that.
Eric Owens of the Daily Caller said that Torcello “wants to send people who disagree with him about global warming to jail.” Professor Torcello did not say that. Eric Owens owes the professor an apology.
Infowars.com and The Drudge repeated that Professor Torcello “called for the incarceration of any American who actively disagrees that climate change is solely caused by human activity.” He didn’t. More apologies owed.
These quotes (and their documentation) come from a piece by Graham Readfearn, which you can read HERE. Readfearn’s post also describes the kind and amount of harassment Professor Torcello has received since he revealed his idea that people who intentionally cause harm should be held responsible. (See also A corollary to Godwin’s law: the “law of genocidal intentions” by Ugo Bardi.)
The bridge analogy is very straight forward and if that really happened it would be hard to argue against very seriously looking into the industry representatives’ actions. The L’Aquila earthquake is a much less clear situation used by Torcello to make the point. Had there been bought and paid for expert testimony assuring everyone that filling cracks in buildings with some sort of cement like filler would suffice to keep everyone safe from earthquakes, from representatives of the crack-filling-compound industry, that case would be more like the bridge-thought-experiment. How does climate change fit into this?
Significantly changing the chemistry and physics of the atmosphere through burning fossil fuels makes a lot of people a lot of money. But it is also similar to lighting a fire under a pot of tap water on your stove. Once the CO2 is in the atmosphere it starts the multi-decade (and longer) process of changing the climate in ways that will undoubtedly have important negative effects, including sea level rise, changes in atmospheric circulation, and so on. People are going to die, economies are likely to collapse. It is a very bad situation.
Willfully misrepresenting the realities of climate change for personal gain (financial or not) is a nefarious act. I’m not sure if it is technically a criminal act, but maybe it should be. This is overall very tricky stuff. Lawrence Torcello has raised the question, as a philosopher interested in this problem. The result of his raising the question has lead to severe harassment and a spate of public misrepresentation of what he has said. In other words, a scholar has pointed out that there may be serious issues of legal responsibility related to attempts to do something about the fire we’ve lit under the pot, and the response to that has been to try very hard to make him shut up.
Climate change science denialists are not honest brokers. And that’s the nicest thing that comes to mind that I can say about them at this moment.