Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Former National Post & Toronto Star columnist, past vice president of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. New posts: Mondays & Wednesdays.
Climate activists are behaving like tyrants. If my four-year-old acted this way, I’d be worried.
In a recent article titled Divesting from Free Speech: How environmentalists shut down debate on campus, Rachelle Peterson highlights one of the green movement’s most troubling defects: it displays no commitment whatsoever to free speech and genuine debate.
Climate activists aren’t bad people. They therefore don’t want to admit they’re trampling all over other folks’ right to be heard. As a defense mechanism, they’ve constructed a series of flimsy arguments intended to obscure the fact that they’re behaving like tyrants. Today’s featured argument is known as The Debate is Over.
As Peterson writes:
If, in your own mind, you have won the substantive argument, but your opponent continues to persuade the audience to his side, what can you do? Declare the debate to be over?
Even children understand that, unless all sides express agreement with a proposition, a debate cannot be considered over. Your own depth of conviction is irrelevant.
Shall we watch the Bambi video or the Frozen video? If two kids want the first and a third kid wants the second, any pro-Bambi child who walks around declaring the debate over is being dishonest and disrespectful. They are, in fact, being a bully – the sort of person who steamrollers over others, who imposes their will through force.
Climate activists are so convinced of the righteousness of their cause they find it difficult to imagine that anyone might sincerely disagree with their analysis. This is a monumental failure of imagination, for which our educational systems and the mainstream media bear great responsibility. In fact, as Peterson observes, the demand that colleges stop investing in fossil fuel companies often encounters opposition that is “robust, thoughtful and well-armed with cogent arguments and compelling evidence.”
Many climate activists appear to rely primarily on emotional certainty. Their refusal to engage with other viewpoints, to even begin to “know thine enemy” (to understand the logical strengths and weaknesses of alternative lines of thought) reduces them to children in a conversation that warrants mature participation.
If my four-year-old stomped around the living room demanding to watch Bambi while simultaneously proclaiming her sister’s wish to watch Frozen unworthy of notice I’d be wondering what I was doing wrong as a parent. Tolerating that kind of behaviour wouldn’t be healthy – for her, for our family, or for our community.
A debate is not over simply because someone unilaterally declares that it is. For heaven’s sake, where are the grownups in the green movement?