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OPINION

BLM to Sheldon Whitehouse: “Silence Is Violence!"

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

National Review’s Jim Geraghty posted to his Facebook page photos he’d taken at the Black Lives Matter rally in Philadelphia during the Democratic National Convention. One was of a woman wearing a T-shirt with the message, “Silence Is Violence.”

That’s a message Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) needs to hear after his article in the Columbia Journalism Review calling for publications to refuse what he deems “phony op-eds about climate change” and defending his call for investigations and possible prosecution of those behind them for fraud.

Maybe being a member of the world’s most exclusive club has gone to the Senator’s head. Who is he to decide what op eds are “phony”? And what is his criterion?

Apparently the Senator thinks an op ed is “phony” if it satisfies one or more of the following criteria: (1) it disagrees with his assessment of the causes, magnitude, risks, and benefits of, and best responses to, climate change; (2) it points out that there are benefits as well as risks to fossil fuels; and (3) its author might be supported, however slightly or indirectly, or even simply associated with someone else who is supported, by some element of the fossil fuel industry.

As if there were no scientific debates over how what is probably the most complex natural system we’ve ever studied responds to added carbon dioxide.

As if there were a mountain of evidence proving conclusively that fossil fuels were as dangerous to human health as cigarette smoking—and the fossil fuel companies knew it and were hiding it.

As if no maker of a product had a right to spend anything defending it in the public sphere against charges made there, and no one had a right to accept payment to help in that defense.

(And as if the same criteria didn’t apply to supporters of alternative energy sources, but we won’t go there. After all, the Senator likes those!)

In short, the Senator acts as prosecutor, judge, and jury, and he wants to make sure the public hears only one side in the trial. And he’s managed to persuade some attorneys general and other Democratic Senators, including Hillary Clinton’s VP running mate, Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, to join him.

To those who respond that there’s something called free speech, that it is protected by the First Amendment, and that they are threatening it, Whitehouse and his cronies respond that the First Amendment protects free speech, not fraud, and there’s fraud behind these op eds, as there was behind attempts to defend the tobacco industry in the past.

But to prove fraud, you must prove “intentional misrepresentation of material existing fact made by one person to another with knowledge of its falsity and for the purpose of inducing the other person to act, and upon which the other person relies with resulting injury or damage.”

There is an enormous range of opinions among scholars about

  • how each of the thousands of subsystems of the climate system will respond to rising atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration,
  • how much warming will come from the added CO2;
  • how much harm and benefit will come from that warming,
  • how much benefit will come from the fertilizing effect of rising CO2 on almost all plants;
  • how to balance those harms and benefits against the benefits of the energy derived from fossil fuels; and
  • what would be the costs and benefits of efforts to reduce CO2 emissions by substituting other energy sources for fossil fuels.

Proving that anyone who holds any particular position in that controversy committed fraud would be next to impossible. It would take decades or centuries to determine, because damage justiciably traceable to human action rather than natural factors won’t be clear for that long.

So comparison to the tobacco industry is absurd. The connection between tobacco smoking and cancer is infinitely simpler and more straightforward than the connection between CO2 emissions and (not simply global warming but) dangerous, manmade global warming.

Climate is one of the most complex natural systems ever studied. We still don’t understand many of its thousands of subsystems—how strong they are, and even whether they increase or decrease warming.

Providing energy to everyone is one of the most complex activities ever undertaken. The cost of reducing fossil fuel use—about 85% of all energy generation in the world—is scores of trillions of dollars.

In the face of all the uncertainties, to prove fraud would, as I said, be almost impossible, and to insist that any side in the debate be silenced is simply wrong. “Silence is violence.”

We don’t need a “Ministry of Truth” out of George Orwell’s 1984. We need free, vigorous debate without possibly felonious intimidation.

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