The Authoritarian Impulse and Climate Change

March 13, 2012 at 4:18 pm

Remember that old adage – The road to hell is paved with good intentions? I wish there was a short YouTube video that made this point clearly, persuasively, and humorously. I’d direct folks to it all the time. Because some truly monstrous proposals are being advanced by people who seem to think that anything goes in the fight against climate change.

David Suzuki, Canada’s equivalent to Al Gore, wrote a blog post for the Huffington Post last week titled Deny Deniers their Right to Deny! Earth to Suzuki: I don’t care how important your cause happens to be. The moment you start urging your followers to deny other people their rights you’ve crossed over to the dark side.

If Suzuki can’t think of a way to save the world that doesn’t involve trampling on other people’s liberty that tells me everything I need to know about the world we’d all be left with. Unfortunately, he isn’t alone. Authoritarianism is alive and well in the green movement. Rather than lurking on the fringes, it’s center stage.

In an eye-opening piece about UN-accredited NGOs, Hilary Ostrov points out that the UN has a Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice. According to that body’s website, part of its mandate is:

promoting the role of criminal law in protecting the environment…

It isn’t good enough, you see, that countries around the world already spend millions on a long, long list of government agencies, ministries, initiatives, and regulatory frameworks devoted to protecting the environment. The UN thinks environmental transgressions should be a criminal matter. It wants people sent to prison. And it thinks that pushing for such a state of affairs is a good use of its resources.

Over in Australia, an Independent Media Inquiry report was released a few weeks back. As the report itself makes clear (on page 20 of the 474-page PDF):

the leader of the Greens, Senator Brown, called for a general inquiry into the newspaper industry…

and in the blink of an eye that inquiry become a reality. According to the recently-released report, among the issues Brown thought should be canvassed were

  • whether publishers should be licensed
  • and whether a ‘fit and proper person’ test should be applied to those seeking television licenses (see here)

The report continues:

Concern was also expressed by several politicians and others that certain [newspapers] were biased in their reporting on particular issues. Climate change [was one example]…

Which newspapers attracted such criticism? Why, the ones known for occasionally publishing the views of climate skeptics, of course.

Of the 11,000 public submissions received by the media inquiry the vast majority – 96% or 10,600 of them – were not original statements authored by individual Australian citizens (see page 355 of the PDF). Rather, they were:

facilitated by two advocacy organizations, Avaaz and NewsStand through the use of online forms.

One of those online forms sets all my alarm bells ringing. In the opinion of the activist organization known as Avaaz, access to the airwaves should only be open to those who’ve passed a ‘fit and proper person’ test. This, it says, would “ensure that those with the power to influence public debate are suited to this important responsibility.”

Say what? In societies in which free speech is cherished, every last person has the power to influence public debate. They may do so by standing on a stool in a public park and sharing their views with passersby. They may write letters-to-the-editor of the local daily, picket outside a building, organize a protest march, or write a blog. The belief that the government should decide whether people are suitable to influence public debate is practically the definition of authoritarianism.

And make no mistake – Avaaz is green to the core. Last year, despite the fact that two out of three Australians were opposed to a national carbon tax, Avaaz encouraged people from around the world to add their names to a declaration that applauded this tax and called Australia “the next great hope for climate.”

But getting back to the media inquiry, the report admirably rejects Green Party leader Brown’s suggestion that perhaps the press should be licensed, observing that

in a democratic society the government should not be involved in controlling who should publish news.

Some of the report’s recommendations are nevertheless outrageous. It says an “independent statutory body” known as the News Media Council should be established, consisting of a full-time chair (“a retired judged or other eminent lawyer”) and 20 part-time members (half of whom “should be women”).

This body would regulate not just traditional news sources but any “news internet site” with “a minimum of 15,000 hits per annum.” 15,000 divided by 365 days = 41.09 hits. In other words, Australia’s Independent Media Inquiry thinks that any blog that discusses current events and receives more than 41 hits a day should be subject to the same oversight as the website run by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Here’s a further quote from the report:

Another aspect of jurisdiction concerns how the News Media Council will exercise its power over all internet publishers. Foreign publishers who have no connection with Australia will be beyond its reach. However, if an Internet news publisher has more than a tenuous connection with Australia then carefully drawn legislation would enable the News Media Council to exercise jurisdiction over it. [bold added]

Since November 2009, the blog you are currently reading has mentioned Australia in 62 separate posts. Those posts have borne titles such as:

Additionally, I’ve written about:

When I look down the list of countries from whence readers of this blog originate, Australia ranks fourth. So tell me – does NoFrakkingConsensus have more than a tenuous connection with Australia? Will that country’s News Media Council insist that I defend myself in response to complaints – perhaps submitted by Avaaz activists?

Why would anyone think for one moment that an Australian body should have the right to order me to delete one of my blog posts should its members (who have not spent the past three years researching the climate debate as I have) decide that my coverage is biased? Chillingly, here’s what the report says at the bottom of page 304:

It is necessary, if the News Media Council is not to be a ‘toothless tiger’, to have a means of enforcing its decisions. There should be a legal requirement that if a regulated media outlet refuses to comply with a News Media Council determination the News Media Council or the complainant should have the right to apply to a court of competent jurisdiction for an order compelling compliance. Any failure to comply with the court order should be a contempt of court and punishable in the usual way… [bold added]

Which takes us right back to criminalization and imprisonment, doesn’t it? The UN, a media inquiry in Australia, the activist organization known as Avaaz, and a high-profile environmental activist in Canada all seem rather eager to regulate, squelch, and criminalize speech and behaviour they don’t agree with. More laws. More red tape. More risk of running afoul of the authorities.

This is called harnessing the power of the state to crush dissent. And it is the position to which climate change activists seem to retreat when they’re unsuccessful at swaying the public – when they can’t win the argument fair and square.

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David Suzuki’s blog post is backed up here.

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Entry filed under: David Suzuki, ethical & philosophical, free speech, media, NGOs. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , .

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