Again, before we get into this, here is where I am coming from: global warming is real; we are almost certainly causing it; it is very likely to be bad; proposed liberal solutions are terrible and often counterproductive.
A landmark bill allowing for the prosecution of climate change dissent effectively died Thursday after the California Senate failed to take it up before the deadline.
Senate Bill 1161, or the California Climate Science Truth and Accountability Act of 2016, would have authorized prosecutors to sue fossil fuel companies, think tanks and others that have “deceived or misled the public on the risks of climate change.”
The measure, which cleared two Senate committees, provided a four-year window in the statute of limitations on violations of the state’s Unfair Competition Law, allowing legal action to be brought until Jan. 1 on charges of climate change “fraud” extending back indefinitely.
“This bill explicitly authorizes district attorneys and the Attorney General to pursue UCL claims alleging that a business or organization has directly or indirectly engaged in unfair competition with respect to scientific evidence regarding the existence, extent, or current or future impacts of anthropogenic induced climate change,” said the state Senate Rules Committee’s floor analysis of the bill.
No no no no no no no no no no no NO NO NO! Bad legislature! Bad, bad legislature. Go sit in a corner and think about what you almost did.
I’m not going to mince words: this bill was (and probably will be again) a totalitarian piece of shit. It would have opened up climate skeptics to lawsuits because of their speech and opinions (keeping in mind that “climate skeptics” is class that often includes me because I oppose liberal solutions to global warming). Not only that, it would have extended that liability back for 30 years, allowing climate skeptics to be sued for statements they made when the science was way less certain.
Not only is the bill an attack on the First Amendment, it’s an attack on science. Science benefits from criticism, even criticism from cranks. In the case of climate science, methodology has been improved and data made more readily available to the public in response to skeptics. This has made the case that global warming is real stronger.
I understand where this is coming from. Climate scientists have found themselves the targets of a massive disinformation campaign. Garbage climate memes (polar ice caps are growing! Global cooling! It’s the sun!) proliferate no matter how often and how thoroughly they are debunked. In many cases, it’s gotten personal with online attacks and death threats.
But as Megan McArdle pointed out, fighting fire with fire isn’t helping:
There is a huge range of possible beliefs that go into assessing the various complicated theories about how the climate works, and the global-warming predictions generated by those theories range from “could well be catastrophic” to “probably not a big deal.” I know very smart, well-informed, decent people who fall at either end of the spectrum, and others who are somewhere in between. Then there are folks like me who aren’t sure enough to make a prediction, but are very sure we wouldn’t like to find out, too late, that the answer is “oops, catastrophic.”
These are not differences that can be resolved by name calling. Nor has the presumed object of this name calling — to delegitimize thoughtful opposition, and thereby increase the consensus in favor of desired policy proposals — been a notable political success, at least in the U.S. It has certainly rallied the tribe, and produced a lot of patronizing talk about science by people who aren’t actually all that familiar with the underlying scientific questions. Other than that, we remain pretty much where we were 25 years ago: holding summits, followed by the dismayed realization that we haven’t, you know, really done all that much except burn a lot of hydrocarbons flying people to summits. Maybe last year’s Paris talks will turn out to be the actual moment when things started to change — but having spent the last 15 years as a reporter listening to people tell me that no, really, we’re about to turn the corner, I retain a bit of skepticism.
(McArdle, who thinks global warming is real and we should take action just in case it turns out be very bad, was immediately branded a Koch shill and a denialist for having the temerity to suggest that calling every heretic a Koch shill and a denialist wasn’t a great way to promote science. So, yeah. She also links Warren Meyer’s outstanding series of posts on why is a “lukewarmer”. I don’t agree with everything he says, but he has a very good grasp of the science and makes the case for a conservative set of policies to address global warming.)
This is long past being absurd and going into territory that’s outright dangerous. We have Attorneys General investigating “denialists”. We have cartoons depicting violence against “denialists”. We now have a legislature trying to effectively silence “denialists” by gutting the First Amendment. Global warming is becoming less of a science/policy issue and more of a Culture War issue and we really can’t afford that.
Enough. It’s tiring, I know. But the only way to fight bad speech is with good speech. That has always been the case, it is currentlty the case and it always will be the case. If the global warming alarmists want to make some progress, decoupling the science case that global warming is real from the political case that we must do X, Y and Z would be far more beneficial than passing blatantly unconstitutional law to try to shut people up. You’ll get a lot more people to talk about global warming if talking about global warming doesn’t necessarily mean giving government even more power over our lives.
Update: In related news, Andrew Cuomo has issued an executive order to boycott businesses that boycott Israel. I support Israel. I think the boycott business is ridiculous. I think a government moving against boycotters is a horrific intrusion on free speech and free association.