Image credit: The News in Photos
TreeHugger has been no stranger to heated climate debate in recent times. From bringing up climate conspiracy theorist Nick Griffin's past of holocaust denial, to suggesting that false balance does not equal good reporting, some angry commenters have accused us of behaving like Nazis for daring to side with the scientific consensus on climate change. (I was compared to Leni Riefenstahl by one angry reader.) It seems we are not alone. The inevitable debate about what the cold snap in the UK means for climate science has seen Sociology Professor Frank Furedi comparing "climate alarmists" like George Monbiot to 16th Century witch-hunters. Monbiot hit back, suggesting skeptics are trumpeting free speech when it suits them, and claiming victim status when it doesn't. It seems the debate between Monbiot and Furedi has been boiling for some time, with Monbiot taking issue with Furedi's intellectual background as a contrarian left-winger who, he says, has slowly moved to the far right (Furedi denies this description):
"Living Marxism (later called LM), which Furedi founded and which was run by the RCP, campaigned against gun control, against banning tobacco advertising and against banning child pornography. It argued in favour of global warming, human cloning and complete freedom for corporations. It defended the corrupt Tory MP Neil Hamilton, denied the Rwandan genocide and supported the Bosnian Serb ethnic cleansers. Its offshoots attack all attempts to protect the environment as "anti-human", though nothing damages the interests of humans as much as destroying the biosphere."
Monbiot's point is that the movement in which Furedi is a core player has always argued that people should not be seen as victims deserving protection, but rather they should be encouraged that there are no limits to what they can do or say. And yet, when Monbiot covered the movement's moves to infiltrate the political mainstream, Furedi accused Monbiot of being part of "a network of McCarthyists" trying to discredit him at all costs.
I don't know enough about Furedi's background to weigh in on the details of Monbiot's accusations or Furedi's counterclaims. (Though I did once buy a Living Marxist magazine back in the early days of my 'radica youth. I wasn't impressed.) Either way, this is an environmental website, not a forum for discussing the finer points of differentiation between far-right libertarianism and anti-state leftism.
But Monbiot's assertion, that the skeptics are quick to claim victimhood when it suits them, does have a ring of truth to it. If the angry comments we receive are anything to go by, many in the skeptic/denialist community are indeed convinced of their status as victims. From skeptic science being locked out of the peer review process (as opposed to just failing to pass muster), to Wall Street's collusion to get rich from carbon trading, to Siemens skewing the entirety of climate science so it can sell windmills, the conspiracy theories have been flowing thick and fast. (That fossil fuel lobbies might lobby against climate action, or that oil-rich nations might bankroll "grassroots" clean energy reform opposition is, however, just way too crazy to even contemplate.)
The idea that the climate consensus exists only because dissenters have been victimized is a tempting meme for skeptics and denialists to push—everybody loves a plucky victim, right? But when those 'victims' tout freedom of speech on the one hand, and then cry foul when it is used on the other, it seems only fair to call them out. And when they accuse others of being Nazis (or witch-hunters or anything else) simply for subscribing to a different version of reality than themselves (that just happens to have the support of the vast majority of the scientific establishment), they do themselves or their 'skeptic' compatriots no favors on the credibility front.
But what would I know? I'm a follower of Leni Riefenstahl after all.