Your View: Intellectuals must help heal toxic discussion in climate debate

By Tom Harris
Posted Dec. 30, 2014 @ 2:01 am

The climate controversy is one of the world’s most important discussions. At stake are billions of dollars, countless jobs, and, if U.N. representatives meeting in Peru were right, the fate of the global environment itself. We need leaders in science, engineering, economics and public policy to contribute to the debate without fear of retribution.

Sadly, the opposite is happening. Because the issue is riddled with censorship, illogic, defamation and even death threats, many experts are afraid to comment publicly. No scientist wants to be called a “climate change denier,” as Steve Urbon labeled those who disagree with fashionable views about climate change in his Dec. 26 article (“Ocean climate change takes center stage in fishery research”).

Regardless, if today’s climate change discourse is an indication of where science-based policy making is headed, then we’re in big trouble.

Opinion leaders need to call for a change in the tenor of the debate. They should invite input from specialists on all sides of the issue and censure anyone who tries to suppress alternative views. Philosophers and other scholars who study rational argumentation have a duty to also get involved to help us overcome the fallacies that are sabotaging the discussion.

For example, when advocates are criticized as “leftist, foreign-funded eco-nuts” or “right-wing, oil-funded deniers,” philosophers should explain, “That is irrelevant. Nature does not care about the political orientation of the debaters or who funds them. All that matters is the validity of their arguments.” It is an error in reasoning to dismiss someone’s assertions because of suspected vested interests.

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