One of the central environmental debates in recent years among the nation’s politicians – if not the scientists – is whether human activity is actually causing climate change. Or, in some cases, whether climate change is real at all.
The topic is especially hot among pundits and think tanks on the conservative side of the political aisle. For example, the Heartland Institute recently said it will challenge Pope Francis’ plan to make fighting climate change a part of the Catholic Church’s mission by “educating” him on the truth: “human beings are not causing climate change on God’s green Earth – in fact, they are fulfilling their biblical duty to protect it and use it for the benefit of humanity,” the Chicago-based think tank said in a news release.
Meanwhile, Ted Cruz, a Republican presidential candidate, told the Texas Tribune in March 2015 that satellite data showed no significant warming of the planet in the last 17 years and called people who believe in climate change “global warming alarmists.”
Should politicians and business leaders who take this position pay a price? Some believe that, because of the price they are enacting on the planet, the answer is, “Yes.”
Al Gore wants climate change deniers punished
In a presentation earlier this year at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, Al Gore – the former vice president who narrowly lost a presidential election to George Bush in 2000 – gave a presentation on the latest effects of climate change.
Gore said climate change has helped spur violence in the Middle East, where drought has led to refugees fleeing to cities already overcrowded with refugees from the Iraq War. He also suggested that governments around the world should “put a price on carbon” fuels to accelerate a growing trend of investors backing renewable energy sources.
Perhaps most provocatively, Gore – who heads the Climate Reality Project – said that those who deny human involvement in climate change should be punished and that those who reject what he called “established science” should also pay a price.
This is not a new idea. As part of the cap-and-trade system proposed by the Obama Administration, companies who have carbon emissions that exceed certain levels would be fined.
Environmental activist Robert Kennedy has talked about the need for legal punishment for deniers, while in one extreme case, an Austrian professor called for the death penalty for climate change deniers, arguing that if something is not done about climate change, these people will be responsible for the deaths of millions of people. He later retracted the statement.
However, since Gore – a lightning rod for the environmental movement since his Oscar-winning documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” – said it publicly, there was an immediate and strong reaction. Online, some said he had “gone off the deep end” while others accused him of assaulting free speech by trying to keep deniers from voicing their opinions.
Most effective course of action
Right now, President Obama is already going after climate change deniers. In addition to the cap-and-trade proposal, he has taken more direct action on his website, www.barackobama,com. On it, he has simply listed all the politicians he says are climate change deniers.
According to the site:
“97 percent of climate scientists agree that climate change is real and man-made, and affecting communities in every part of the country. Yet too many of our elected officials deny the science of climate change. Along with their polluter allies, they are blocking progress in the fight against climate change.”
The president encourages people to “call them out” by contacting them directly. The site also provides quotes from the politicians in which they deny climate change, and then offers information about how climate change affects their area.
For example, Cruz is quoted as saying that there “remains considerable uncertainty” about what causes climate change. The site then lists some of the impacts of climate change in Texas, including the hottest summer on record in 2012 and $20 billion in climate and weather-related disasters.
Until there is a law that punishes deniers, Obama may have come up with the best way to directly make politicians pay for denying climate change: vote against them.