Big Picture News, Informed Analysis

Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise has been watching the climate world since 2009. What she sees isn't pretty.

If We Are Not Free to Disagree, We Are Not Free

The 10:10 Campaign video advertisement featuring people being summarily executed for disputing the need to reduce their carbon footprint has caused a stir during the past 24 hours. Earlier today it was removed from YouTube by its creators, who’ve issued an apology.

That apology sheds no light on how the dozens of people involved in its production could have believed the ad’s message was remotely appropriate. The apology’s breezy conclusion:

Oh well, we live and learn. Onwards and upwards…

suggests that the undersigned “Franny, Lizzie, Eugenie and the whole 10:10 team” still don’t get it. They’re clueless about how deeply offensive it is, in a free society, to suggest that people with alternative points-of-view deserve to be liquidated. If we are not free to disagree, we are not free. Period.

This video has, no doubt, caused problems for large numbers of good people. The 10:10 Campaign has been endorsed by corporations such as Sony, educational institutions such as Oxford, and religious groups such as the scrupulously non-violent Quakers. A variety of other organizations – from ambulance attendants to London’s Royal Opera House to a long list of UK local governments – are also associated with it. They had no idea, when they signed up for what they believed to be a good cause, that a lurid video would leave all of them splattered with blood and gore.

That being said, some of the comments left on blogs and news sites in reaction to this video have themselves been ill-advised. Some people seem to think the proper response to offensive speech is to grasp at some lever of the state – the police, obscenity laws, broadcast regulators – to shut it down or prosecute it. This is a waste of resources.

Offensive speech needs to be met with alternative speech. Those of us who are alarmed and offended need to use our own voices. We need to explain to all of those individuals and organizations who have publicly aligned themselves with the 10:10 Campaign that the world is now watching them.

This is their moment. They need to disassociate themselves from this video. They also need to convince the 10:10 Campaign‘s leadership that a more persuasive apology is required – an apology that demonstrates that this organization actually has learned from this debacle.

CREDIT WHERE IT’S DUE
There are reasons to feel hopeful. Climate change activist Bill McKibben and activist-scientist-blogger Joe Romm have both repudiated this video. Which makes it clear that people on different sides of the climate debate are united on this, at least. The former describes the video as “gross” and says:

It’s the kind of stupidity that hurts our side, reinforcing in people’s minds a series of preconceived notions, not the least of which is that we’re out-of-control and out of touch…

It’s a shame McKibben felt the need, in the same statement, to refer to those with whom he disagrees as “climate deniers.” These sorts of casual insults are surely part of the same continuum of dehumanization that leads to the production of videos such as the one under discussion. McKibben describes himself as “a mild-mannered guy, a Methodist Sunday School teacher.” How does calling people names, rather than treating them with courtesy and respect, mesh with that?

Romm’s repudiation is even more robust. In his words:

The video is beyond tasteless and should be widely condemned.

Too bad, he too, then hurls insults of his own at people he calls “anti-science, pro-pollution disinformers.” Why is it so difficult, gentlemen, to connect the dots? Simplistic, black-and-white caricatures of opposing voices. Graphic blood-soaked videos. Hmm, might they be related?

This has been called a “teachable moment.” What lessons shall we take away?

screen capture of 10:10 campaign's "No Pressure" video on YouTube as it appeared on Sept. 30, 2010

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