Policing the Climate Debate

“You are an ignorant liar who doesn’t care about the unemployed or the suffering of people in the developing world!”

“You are an evil climate change denier who is unconcerned about carbon pollution or future generations!”

These are the depths to which the global warming debate has descended. Whether one supports the hypothesis of human-caused climate catastrophe or believes that global warming is a fabricated hoax, vicious personal attacks have become commonplace.

Even if you merely express doubt about either extreme -- the most sensible approach if you do not closely follow the field -- leaders in our society rarely come to anyone’s defense when they are condemned for questioning the supposedly settled science of climate change. “Climatism,” as author and executive director of the Climate Science Coalition of America Steve Goreham labels it, is like a fundamentalist religion that rejects all contradictory evidence and ferociously attacks those who challenge it. The message to the general public, as well as to political, corporate, academic, and media leaders, is brutal: fall in line with political correctness on climate change, or face an avalanche of unbridled criticism and perhaps the loss of your teaching, research, journalism, or government job.

Unconstructive personal attacks also originate from some of those who oppose the climate scare. These too must be denounced. Confronted with these attacks plus the shrill harassment from climate campaigners, the public may tune out the debate entirely -- something we can ill-afford. Considering the enormous stakes involved -- an outcome ranging from an alleged man-made environmental catastrophe to the waste of literally trillions of dollars worldwide – the participation of thoughtful, concerned citizens of all political and philosophical persuasions in the debate is crucially important.

And we need proper leadership. Rather than join in the attacks or simply hide when the going gets tough, our leaders -- politicians, university administrators, and media -- must set the stage so that all those who want to can easily take part in climate discussions.

Our leaders must define the problem, encourage constructive debate, and establish firm ground rules of productive discussion within their spheres of influence. They need to create an atmosphere in which reputable climate experts -- regardless of their stance on the issues -- are rewarded for helping educate the public, media, and government about this complex field. Otherwise, the outcome of the climate debate -- like so many other controversies -- will be determined merely by the relative strengths of the competing lobby groups with little regard to scientific or economic realities.

Our leaders need to help the public zero in on what the global warming debate must be about. We are not discussing whether climate change is “real” (climate always changes on planets with atmospheres), or even whether human activity contributes to these changes (of course it does, especially in urban areas). Only one question matters:

Are human-produced carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions causing -- or likely to cause in the foreseeable future -- dangerous global warming or other problematic climate and weather effects?