I wrote this post a day or so ago and then decided not to post it as there was still quite a lot of activity on other threads. Given that it’s quietened down a little, I thought I would post it now. It’s really just some thoughts about Lawrence Torcello’s recent article in The Conversation, which considers whether or not misinformation about the climate is criminally negligent? The article has various people – Anthony Watts, Jo Nova, Christopher Monckton and James Delingpole, to name a few – up in arms. My understanding, though, is that he’s not arguing that those who believe that climate change is not anthropogenic, or who publish papers diminishing anthropogenic influences, should be regarded as criminally negligent. He’s referring to those who are knowingly presenting misinformation for political or financial gain.
Let me get my personal view out of the way. Irrespective of whether or not there is an organised misinformation campaign, the evidence for anthropogenic global warming (AGW), and it’s associated risks, is overwhelming and – in my view – pretty obvious. We have a UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that has now presented 5 synthesis reports, each of which considers the physical science basis and the possible impacts. The number of obvious dissenters is small. Our policy makers really should be able to work out what is credible and what isn’t, and who is credible and who isn’t. It’s not that difficult. If they can’t work it out for themselves, they should have better advisors or they should talk to them more. If they choose not to, and don’t understand the scientific subtleties themselves, then that’s probably our fault for allowing our political system to evolve into one in which a PPE graduate from Oxford is much more likely to have a successful political career than someone with a background in a hard science. So, if I were to apportion blame, it would be to our policy makers for not properly assessing the evidence, and to ourselves for allowing our political system to become what it has become.
So, in a sense, I think that talking of possible criminal negligence may not really be relevant. But there is an interesting issue. Let’s imagine that at some point in the not too distant future it becomes obvious that climate change is real (as I, obviously, think it will), that it is damaging, and that the risks we face are consistent with that presented by the various IPCC reports today (i.e., is consistent with the scientific evidence present today). Let’s also imagine that there is convincing evidence that certain people/groups have actively engaged in misinformation campaigns, knowing that the risks were real, and doing so for their own benefit. Again, I’m not referring to those who simply turned out to be wrong. If anything, you may expect them to be the most infuriated by such a scenario, as they could well have been amongst those taken in by such misinformation campaigns.
If such a scenario does come to pass, surely – irrespective of our views today – we’d all agree that those who knowingly misinformed for their own benefit, should be held accountable. This isn’t about trying to punish those who chose poorly, believed something that turned out to be wrong, or made mistakes in their scientific endeavours. It’s about holding to account, those who – cynically – tried to influence policy makers, and society, for their own benefit. It’s my understanding that this is essentially what Lawrence Torcello is suggesting in his article in The Conversation and, if so, I find it hard that anyone can actually disagree. Of course, having been involved in this contentious topic for a while now, I’m sure there will be many who will find reasons to do so. Anyway, these are just my thoughts about this particular issue. If others disagree, feel free to make your case in the comments, ideally keeping the moderation and comments policies in mind.