Are climate-change deniers guilty of treason?
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So now a few environmentalists have envisioned the state wielding its coercive power against those who doubt that humans activity is destabilizing the Earth's climate.Skip to next paragraph
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James Hansen, who heads NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies and is regarded as one of the world's leading climate scientists, last year called for CEOs of oil companies to be put on trial for crimes against humanity for their well-documented efforts to spread doubt about global warming.
In a similar vein, in 2006 British journalist and environmental activist Mark Lynas, whose book, Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet, plausibly details how climate change could unleash a major extinction event, imagined a future climate court putting the deniers on trial. He writes:
I wonder what sentences judges might hand down at future international criminal tribunals on those who will be partially but directly responsible for millions of deaths from starvation, famine and disease in decades ahead. I put this in a similar moral category to Holocaust denial – except that this time the Holocaust is yet to come, and we still have time to avoid it. Those who try to ensure we don’t will one day have to answer for their crimes.
According to Guardian environmental columnist Leo Hickman, climate-change deniers love this kind of rhetoric, because it portrays them as "brave, 'truth'-wielding Galileos standing up against a wave of pseudo-scientific indoctrination." Writing in response to Krugman's column, Mr. Hickman says that deniers faced with accusations of treaon will inevitably "trot out the predictable comparisons to the Salem witch trials and McCarthyism."
Of course, it's only a small fraction of environmentalists who have openly called for jail time – or worse – for climate-change deniers. After all, the environmental movement has benefited tremendously from laws that protect freedom of expression. Far more importantly, refraining from "hanging" people for what they say – even if you believe that what they say amounts to a destructive campaign of disinformation – is a hallmark of civilized society.