Is promoting climate change disinformation a new type of crime against humanity?

Donald Brown,a professor of law and environmental ethics at Penn State University,on his blog Climate Ethics wonders whether funding climate disinformation is A New Kind of Crime Against Humanity?. He writes:

On October 21, 2010, the John Broder of the New York Times, reported, that “the fossil fuel industries have for decades waged a concerted campaign to raise doubts about the science of global warming and to undermine policies devised to address it. According the New York Times article, the fossil fuel industry has ” created and lavishly financed institutes to produce anti-global-warming studies, paid for rallies and Web sites to question the science, and generated scores of economic analyses that purport to show that policies to reduce emissions of climate-altering gases will have a devastating effect on jobs and the overall economy.”

Without doubt those telling others that there is no danger heading their way have a special moral responsibility to be extraordinarily careful about such claims. For instance, if someone tells a child laying on a railroad tracks that they can lie there all day because there is no train coming and has never checked to see if a train is actually coming would be obviously guilty of reprehensible behavior.

Disinformation about the state of climate change science is extraordinarily if not criminally irresponsible because the consensus scientific view of climate change is based upon strong evidence that climate change harms:

(1) are already being experienced by tens of thousands in the world;(2) will be experienced in the future by millions of people from greenhouse gas emissions that have already been emitted but not yet felt due to lags in the climate system; and,

(3) will increase dramatically in the future unless GHG emissions are dramatically reduced from existing global emissions levels.

These harms include deaths and harms from droughts, floods, heat, storm related damages, rising oceans, heat impacts on agriculture, loss of animals that are dependent upon for substance purposes, social disputes caused by diminishing resources, sickness from a variety of diseases, the inability to rely upon traditional sources of food, the inability to use property that people depend upon to conduct their life including houses or sleds in cold places, the destruction of water supplies, and the inability to live where has lived to sustain life. In fact, the very existence of some small island nations is threatened by climate change. …

The October 21 New York Times article … concludes that some US corporate sponsored activities are helping elect politicians that have been influenced by the most irresponsible climate change scientific skeptical arguments. These corporations are clearly doing this because they see climate change greenhouse gas emissions reduction strategies as adversely affecting their financial interests. This fact leads to even greater moral culpability for American corporations because their behavior is as offensive as if the person who tells the child train that no train is coming when they don’t actually know whether a train is on its way makes money by misinforming the child.

The October 21 New York Times article concludes that the oil, coal and utility industries have collectively spent $500 million just since the beginning of 2009 to lobby against legislation to address climate change and to defeat candidates who support actions to reduce the threat of climate change. It would be one thing for an American corporation to act irresponsibly in a way that leads to harm to Americans, but because of climate change’s global scope, American corporation’s have been involved in behavior that likely will harm tens of millions of people around the world. Clearly this is a new type of crime against humanity. Skepticism in science is not bad, but skeptics must play by the rules of science including publishing their conclusions in peer-reviewed scientific journals and not make claims that are not substantiated by the peer-reviewed literature. The need for responsible skepticism is particularly urgent if misinformation from skeptics could lead to great harm. For this reason, this disinformation campaign being funded by some American corporations is some kind of new crime against humanity.

2 thoughts on “Is promoting climate change disinformation a new type of crime against humanity?”

  1. We could not blame them. It is failure of our education to cultivate people the ability to differentiate truth and false, and sense of ethics that look beyond individual, nations and short time span. This is increasingly important in a more interconnected world and our impacts can last for longer time. When we have more population, we should have better education. Unfortunately, the importance of this fundamental education is often overlooked, probably due to limit of our evolution.

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