A Few Things Ill Considered

Hansen wants the sceptics thrown in jail

This is just one of dozens of responses to common climate change denial arguments, which can all be found at How to Talk to a Climate Sceptic.


Objection:

In his June 23, 2008 testimony before the United States Congress, James Hansen called for the punishment of climate change skeptics for "crimes against humanity". This is a mockery of free speech, the antithesis of scientific investigation and a clear indication that global warming "science" is just another religious persecution like the Catholic Church’s persecution of Galileo.

Answer:

The accusation is simply false. James Hansen never called for the punishment of climate skeptics. This urban myth is likely a deliberate misreading of his actual testimony designed to turn a carefully worded, if provocative, indictment of harmful corporate propaganda into a fanatical sound bite. Let’s look at the actual statement:

Special interests have blocked the transition to our renewable energy future. Instead of moving heavily into renewable energies, fossil fuel companies choose to spread doubt about global warming, just as tobacco companies discredited the link between smoking and cancer. Methods are sophisticated, including funding to help shape school textbook discussions of global warming.

CEOs of fossil energy companies know what they are doing and are aware of the long-term consequences of continued business as usual. In my opinion, these CEOs should be tried for high crimes against humanity and nature.

But the conviction of ExxonMobil and Peabody Coal CEOs will be no consolation if we pass on a runaway climate to our children. Humanity would be impoverished by ravages of continually shifting shorelines and intensification of regional climate extremes. Loss of countless species would leave a more desolate planet.

Hansen is quite clearly not talking about climate change skeptics, not even the blatantly dishonest ones. He is talking about fossil fuel company CEOs who knowingly and deliberately promote false information and doubt about the reality and potential consequences of climate disruption from fossil fuel emissions. (It is also worth noting that he thinks they should be tried, not summarily convicted.) Given what the world has at stake, is this really such an extreme sentiment?

Imagine you are in a movie theatre, someone smells smoke and yells "Fire!", but the theatre owner, despite knowing the fire is real, does not want to refund the price of admission. So rather than evacuating, he tells everyone to stay and enjoy the end of the film, there is nothing to worry about. If the fire spreads and people die as a result wouldn’t the theatre owner be responsisble in some way? The reader may have their own opinion about the morality of that question but the laws are pretty clear that yes, this is a criminal case. It would be a criminal case even if the owner thought he could put the fire out by himself and indeed tried his best.

So does this analogy apply in this situation? There is ample evidence that rapid climate change is a serious threat to human populations. Indeed the World Health Organization (WHO) has concluded that people are already dying from climate change related deaths:

Measurement of health effects from climate change can only be very approximate. Nevertheless, a WHO quantitative assessment, taking into account only a subset of the possible health impacts, concluded that the effects of the climate change that has occurred since the mid-1970s may have caused over 150,000 deaths in 2000. It also concluded that these impacts are likely to increase in the future.

There is also ample evidence that the people orchestrating the propaganda campaigns know very well that they are not making a factual case at all (also known as lying). There are even historical precedents for the idea of holding corporations liable for intentional disinformation campaigns that lead to death and disease such as the litigation against the tobacco industry. (It is interesting to note that there are a remarkable number of names common to both global warming denial and tobacco-cancer denial, including but not limited to Fred S Singer, Fred Seitz, Steve Milloy and Myron Ebell).

So, while reasonable people may disagree that trying CEOs who are funding tragically harmful propaganda is a good thing to suggest or a good thing to do, given the factually based beliefs outlined above, it is hardly similar to the Vatican trying Galileo for heresy! It is also of no relevance to the potential publication of skeptical research contradicting the prevailing scientific opinion.

Whatever you may think of what he actually did say, James Hansen clearly did not call for the punishment of anyone based on their failure to accept the reality of anthropogenic global warming.


This is just one of dozens of responses to common climate change denial arguments, which can all be found at How to Talk to a Climate Sceptic.


“Hansen wants the sceptics thrown in jail” is also posted on the Grist website, where additional comments can be found, though the author, Coby Beck, does not monitor or respond there.

Comments

  1. #1 Tilo Reber
    November 24, 2008

    “Whatever you may think of what he actually did say, James Hansen clearly did not call for the punishment of anyone based on their failure to accept the reality of anthropogenic global warming.”

    Of course he did. Let’s see what Hansen said, once again.

    “CEOs of fossil energy companies know what they are doing and are aware of the long-term consequences of continued business as usual.”

    So, first of all, Hansen claims to be reading these people’s minds. CEO’s know what people like Spencer, Christy, Lindzen, Loehle, Rudd, Moberg, etc. don’t know after studying the subject all of their lives. CEO’s must know that Hansen’s idiotic models that have yet to predict anything are in fact the absolute truth.

    Then based upon his magical powers of mind reading he says:

    “In my opinion, these CEOs should be tried for high crimes against humanity and nature.”

    Any time that you call upon people to be tried for crimes based upon your claim of knowing what they think, you are both a fascist and a madman. And Captain Ahab Hansen is certainly both.

  2. #2 Paul Murray
    November 24, 2008

    Corporations are synthetic entities brought into existence by the state, in order to further commerce etc. If they cease to serve the public good, there’s no reason on earth why the state should not simply dissolve them as it sees fit.

    I’d love to see companies delisted for failing to serve, or acting contrary to, the public good, and the fear of God put into directors and shareholders all over the world.

  3. #3 coby
    November 24, 2008

    Tilo, seriously, you would be more credible if you just said “nyah nyah I’m not listening”

  4. #4 DuWayne
    November 25, 2008

    Paul Murray -

    I am going to have to respectfully disagree with you on that. While I definitely think that an argument can be made for dealing harshly with companies that act contrary to public health and well being, there is no reason that they have to act in the interest of the “public good.” The problem being that the phrase public good, is quite subjective and the danger is when the legal precedence produced would be put into the hands of politicians that disagree with your definition of public good.

    It is one thing to prosecute and potentially dissolve a company that wittingly produces food that will make people sick, or pollutes the ground water, tainting the local water supply. But what you are suggesting is nothing less than totalitarian extremism.

    And the notion that corporations are nothing more than legal fictions, is a crock of poo. Corporations are much more than that and the consequences of interfering affect more than one or two people. Even if they aren’t publicly traded, they still have employees who depend on them and local economies that are at least partly based on their existence. The larger the corporation being discussed, the more widespread the consequences.

    I am all for holding the decision makers accountable. And in extreme cases, it can become necessary for a corporation to be dissolved. But this is not something that can be done on whimsy, or for something as amorphous as “public good.” Doing so sets a dangerous precedence, a precedence that can easily come back to bite you in the ass. Your statement assumes that those who share your opinions will always be in the ascendancy, that those who hold very contrary, fundamental notions will never again have power. Yet a short look at even relatively recent history, shows that this assumption is painfully naive.

    I am not a global warming denialist, but I often wish I were, because quite frankly, the reality damn well terrifies me. Quite honestly agree to a certain extent, with James Hansen, though I believe even that sets a potentially dangerous precedence. I have my concerns, but I believe that we have given far too much freedom to people who wield immense power over a great many people. And in the context of global warming, that freedom is in the hands of people who wield immense power over the fate of our planet and everyone, everything on it.

  5. #5 Greenfyre
    November 26, 2008

    Coby

    It’s not just Hansen, but any who call for enforcement of existing laws. David Suzuki got the same treatment

    http://greenfyre.wordpress.com/2008/10/20/climate-deniers-and-freedom-of-screech/

    All part of the Denier persecution complex “Cranks cry persecution, Nisbet listens” http://scienceblogs.com/denialism/2008/11/cranks_cry_persecution_nisbet.php

    I wonder if with some minor editing (add a paragraph?) you could make this one applicable to other such Denier whining and hence mroe broadly applicable? (there will be more to come I am sure) Just a thought.

  6. #6 Tilo
    December 3, 2008

    “I’d love to see companies delisted for failing to serve, or acting contrary to, the public good, and the fear of God put into directors and shareholders all over the world.”

    Kind of a common left wing delusion. The companies that produce the food we eat, houses we live in, cars we drive, cloth we wear, fuel we burn; that give us jobs and provide revenue for government programes, are sources of evil and are run by evil people. Left wing governments with unlimited power, on the other hand, only have only our welfare in mind and need to take care of us as though we are three years old.

    It would certainly be nice if the occassional leftist didn’t simply echo the common mantras, but instead showed some sign of real thought.

  7. #7 Tilo
    December 3, 2008

    “Tilo, seriously, you would be more credible if you just said “nyah nyah I’m not listening””

    Apparently you just did, Coby.

  8. #8 Bernie
    December 3, 2008

    Tilo:
    I agree with you. Paul’s comments are simplistic and delusional. Hansen’s opinions are simply that: opinions.

  9. #9 David Wells
    December 6, 2008

    I just love it when guys like Hansen refer to people who disbelieve him dishonest especially when he had to frantically revise his own data upon which he based his predictions because it was incorrect. Hansen continues to push his hockey stick graph even that that was proven to be a complete nonsense. It was driven by an algorithm that whatever information you get it with still came up with the same answer, rubbish.

    If anyone should be kept under lock and key it should be Hansen.

    Why not send him up to the space station, he might appreciate the view, now the air is so clean, contrary to what he believes. Burning wood on the basis that you grow more so its OK is a nonsense, have a look at the toxins produced by burning wood, highly toxic, at least burning coal in power stations means that the worst effects are filtered, burning wood at home is exhausts toxins directly into the surrounding atmosphere causing localised polution that is very damaging and very hamful but because you can superfically make the ludicrous statement that it is co2 neutral is ok to send worse polution into the local area, utter madness!

    David Wells

  10. #10 Chris S.
    December 20, 2008

    David Wells stated that:

    “If anyone should be kept under lock and key it should be Hansen.”

    That statement more aptly applies to scientifically illiterate political extremist bigots who vote Republican…. and who will deny anything.Not that I call for going to the draconian extremes that Al Gore calls for.Both Rush Limbaugh and George W.Bush should have been kept under psychiatric lock and key along with all the rest of the radical WRONG – wing extremist loonies ages ago.Not that wacky people like Jane Fonda are all that bright,either.In fact,global warming makes a case for nuclear power.Although people are still hyterical about the very mention of anything radioactive.

  11. #11 TokyoTom
    February 5, 2009

    Coby, allow me to note that I also reviewed Hansen’s statement – from a quasi-libertarian standpoint – at my blog here, and also commented on a response by poor defenseless Peabody Coal here.

    While I think Hansen went a bit overboard, I think (1) he’s absolute right – like the Royal Socieity – to criticize and flush out fossil fuel company CEOs for deliberately promoting (via supposedly independent mouthpieces) false information about the reality and potential consequences of climate disruption from fossil fuel emissions, and (2) that it’s perfectly appropriate – and very libertarian – to try to use levers of public opinion against such behavior.

  12. #12 steve
    February 11, 2009

    I was thinking just a few months ago that trials for crimes against humanity would be very possible in the future. As fuel prices soared, food was diverted for ethenol and people in several nations were rioting over food prices it occurred to me that if I was a leading alarmist I would be a bit nervous and making sure not only that my numbers were right but also that they were easily available to any who might want to check them. To not do so would be to invite criminal and civil trials in the future should the world fail to warm as predicted.

  13. #13 mikatollah
    February 11, 2009

    Steve, I’m not too concerned about doing jail time for my position on AGW. President Bush promised that if we cut taxes during a war we could balance the budget and stimulate the economy. Well, the budget is a mess, the economy is ready to tank and he’s still walking around a free man.

    For now…

  14. #14 steve
    February 11, 2009

    mikatollah, it’s nice you aren’t worried about doing jail time. I’m not either. I assume you are as much a leader in the climate debate as I am. As far as Bush goes, maybe when things get as bad as they were under Carter we should have them both thrown in jail. Oh sorry, guess that can’t happen since Bush isn’t president anymore and there’s a long way to go before it gets as bad as it was then.

  15. #15 thtiger
    April 19, 2009

    Lets get some facts. Over and over I am told that the energy companies are paying scientists to promote denial. Every scientist I have seen in a documentary or news story usually mentions they wish they were getting funding as they are as poor as church mice. There is an old saying. Follow the Money. Seven hundred plus scientists have signed a petition they put before congress saying they think global warming is bunk. How about some hard evidence that some of them are in the pocket of the energy companies. Ten percent, seventy out of seven hundred. Prove that many are on the take and I’ll file that news story in the round file.

  16. #16 coby
    April 19, 2009

    Hi thtiger,

    I think you are talking about Marc Moranos list of 650 dissenting scientists, are you? If so, I think you would not find even 10 percent that are actually climate scientists. Check this post from Deltoid for a couple of examples of the caliber of people we are talking about and follow the links for further examination. http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/2008/12/650_international_scientists_e.php

    If you come back here with even one dozen names from that list who are climate scientists I will see what I can do to get you that news story for your file.

  17. #17 Richard
    May 27, 2009

    I never knew Hansen said that in the US Congress. That is actually very akin to religious persecution like the Catholic Church’s persecution of Galileo and is unacceptable.

    It echoes Al Gore’s view that AGW is not about science but morality. Global warming according to him is not a scientific issue its a moral issue.

    No matter that the vast majority of sceptics are dead against pollution. They just dont think the CO2 is a pollutant or indeed has any very great influence on global warming or the weather.

    “Hansen is quite clearly not talking about climate change skeptics, not even the blatantly dishonest ones.”

    What about blatantly dishonest AGW advocates?

    “He is talking about fossil fuel company CEOs who knowingly and deliberately promote false information and doubt about the reality and potential consequences of climate disruption from fossil fuel emissions.”

    How do you know they “knowingly and deliberately promote false information and doubt” about the “reality and potential consequences of climate disruption” from fossil fuel emissions?

    EVEN IF THEY DO THE SCIENTIFIC AND DEMOCRATIC WAY TO SETTLE SCIENCE IS BY DEBATE NOT BY THROWING DISSENTERS INTO JAIL!

    Hansen’s statement is unconscionable.

    What about vested interests in the AGW hypothesis? How much money do they have and are potentially at risk in losing if the hypothesis is proved false?

    How does that money compare with the “evil Exxon-Oil Group cartel”? Should there be a punishment for deliberate scare mongering to keep their jobs?

  18. #18 Adam
    May 28, 2009

    Richard -

    How do you know they “knowingly and deliberately promote false information and doubt” about the “reality and potential consequences of climate disruption” from fossil fuel emissions?

    http://www.desmogblog.com/when-deniers-deny-their-own

    EVEN IF THEY DO THE SCIENTIFIC AND DEMOCRATIC WAY TO SETTLE SCIENCE IS BY DEBATE NOT BY THROWING DISSENTERS INTO JAIL!

    The science has long been settled here, he’s talking about people who are actively misleading the public. In theory, this sort of misdirection is unlawful:
    “…unfair or deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce, are hereby declared unlawful.”
    http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/15/45.html

    In practice, however, it’s completely unrealistic to prosecute charlatans like this, since our prisons would be completely full.

    Get over your inauthentic, Fox-news style rage. It’s pathetic.

  19. #19 Adam
    May 28, 2009

    Richard -

    How do you know they “knowingly and deliberately promote false information and doubt” about the “reality and potential consequences of climate disruption” from fossil fuel emissions?

    http://www.desmogblog.com/when-deniers-deny-their-own

    EVEN IF THEY DO THE SCIENTIFIC AND DEMOCRATIC WAY TO SETTLE SCIENCE IS BY DEBATE NOT BY THROWING DISSENTERS INTO JAIL!

    The science has long been settled here, he’s talking about people who are actively misleading the public. In theory, this sort of misdirection is unlawful:
    “…unfair or deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce, are hereby declared unlawful.”
    http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/15/45.html

    In practice, however, it’s completely unrealistic to prosecute charlatans like this, since our prisons would be completely full.

    Get over your inauthentic, Fox-news style rage. It’s pathetic.

  20. #20 Adam
    May 28, 2009

    Richard -

    You say: “How do you know they “knowingly and deliberately promote false information and doubt” about the “reality and potential consequences of climate disruption” from fossil fuel emissions?”

    http://www.desmogblog.com/when-deniers-deny-their-own

    You say: “EVEN IF THEY DO THE SCIENTIFIC AND DEMOCRATIC WAY TO SETTLE SCIENCE IS BY DEBATE NOT BY THROWING DISSENTERS INTO JAIL!”

    The science has long been settled here, he’s talking about people who are actively misleading the public. In theory, this sort of misdirection is unlawful:
    “…unfair or deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce, are hereby declared unlawful.”
    http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/15/45.html

    In practice, however, it’s completely unrealistic to prosecute charlatans like this, since our prisons would be completely full.

    Get over your inauthentic, Fox-news style rage. It’s pathetic.

  21. #21 Nils Hafrolic
    March 8, 2010

    Hi Coby

    Your analogy with the fire in the theatre fails on one essential point : whereas your putative theatre director is sure of the reality of a fire on the premisses (he can see it I assume), we humans in the theatre of Earth are FAR from seeing our CATASTROPHIC (man-made) global warming fire. (No, there simply IS NO consensus, while you (and so did I) could argue that back in 2006, the position is simply not tenable today).
    Would you be evacuating every theatre where one spectator comes to you and says “I can smell smoke”, another “I can’t distinctly smell it” and the rest of the audience is (more or less) happily following the show.
    Maybe you’d do it the first time. The second. The tenth. But then you’d get nobody come to your shows any more.
    That’s called the “precaution principle”. It’s well-known to have devastating effects on anything.

    Regards,

    Nils

  22. #22 coby
    March 8, 2010

    Hi Nils,

    Can you please provide some kind of evidence for your contention that things have changed as dramatically as you claim since 2006, preferably on the “there is no consensus on global warming” thread?

    Also, forgive me for being -cough- skeptical, but maybe you have some postings somewhere that show you used to think differently. It is not really necessary for your arguments, but it is such a common falsehood in these online discussions (“I used to believe that too, but now [insert totally standard, long debunked talking point here]) that when I see it I usually assume it is a rhetorical device and nothing more.

    Back to the analogy: where are the first ten falsified alarms that would lead us to ignore this one? Also, we currently have at least 20 or 30 spectators smelling the smoke and one guy trying to sell popcorn saying, “what smoke? Sit down, relax! Do you want to super-size that order?”

  23. #23 mandas
    March 8, 2010

    Nils

    I am not sure on what basis you think the ‘precautionary principle’, is well-known to have ‘devastating effects on anything’. Could you show us some evidence please.

    I ask this question because it would appear from your post that you either don’t understand what the ‘precautionary principle’ is, or you are using a definition which is completely at odds with its common usage in environmental policy-making.

    For example, although the concept of precaution is used in many fields, its use in this context essentially stems from the 1992 Rio Conference, and states in essence:

    “….In order to protect the environment, the precautionary approach shall be widely applied by States according to their capabilities. Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation…”

    I won’t argue the semantics about the theatre fire analogy, but in the context of anthropogenic climate change, if you were a policy maker, how do you think the precautionary principle should apply? And remember, in framing your answer, the precautionary principle is now enshrined in law in many jurisdictions, including in the USA, EU and Australia.