Catastrophic Anthropogenic Censorship: Part III

January 2019

“What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist.” —Salman Rushdie

The potential catastrophic consequences of censorship, both on and off campus, were outlined in Part I (SAFS Newsletter, April 2018). Academics, organizations and government efforts to suppress free speech on the topic of global warming/climate change were discussed, including aggressive calls for prosecution and imprisonment of global warming sceptics. In both Part I and Part II (SAFS Newsletter, September, 2018), survey results were cited that indicate students are now willing to accept greater limits on free speech than in earlier surveys, have a greater reluctance to express their opinions and are more accepting of attempts to block invited speakers through dis-invitations, shouting speakers down and even violence.


 (Footnotes available in the web version.)

 Students now value diversity and inclusion as more important than free speech and, although almost half of respondents recognize hate speech is protected by the First Amendment in the US, 31% of those think it should not be protected.

The belief that humans are the primary cause of global warming is so ensconced in prominent universities that debate about its accuracy seems moot. In both Canada and the US, the creation of “climate friendly” organizations and programs have shifted the argument from what is causing the observed warming to how to reduce it, that being the arguable culprit, CO2 emissions. Examples include: Harvard’s University Center for the Environment with its goal that the U. S. be fossil-free by 2050; McMaster’s Centre for Climate Change with its outreach to the public on “carbon accounting”; the Yale Climate Connection giving advice on how to break the bad news to students and the public about Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming (CAGW); and, Waterloo’s School of Environment, Enterprise And Development preaching social justice sustainability. Many faculties, administrations and students have become so invested in the assumptions, predictions and advocacy of CAGW that it has all but killed debate on the issue. Vocal exceptions are certain invited speakers, but they are often prevented from speaking.

Following the money often leads to motivating causes of behaviour. In the case of the “scientific consensus” on global warming, amounts in the hundreds of billions for research and activism explain much of how belief in CAGW has been built up and the censorship that now serves this new orthodoxy.


The lack of debate on the causes of a changing climate was noted some eight years ago in an article published by Russell Nieli entitled, “Global Warming: The Campus Non-Debate.” After raising questions that should be part of any honest exchange, he notes: “Alas, they are rarely asked today on college campuses due to what can only be described as the stifling dominance of a smug orthodoxy that is so cocksure of itself—and of the general ignorance and malevolence of its critics—that genuine debate and interchange between divergent viewpoints rarely takes place.”

In addition to the persuasive aspect of billions in grant money and its effect on beliefs in CAGW, Nieli points to a second cause: a belief that one is doing something noble, something that gives life meaning. Although not a novel explanation, Nieli frames it effectively: “radical environmentalism in various forms has taken [the place of Marxism and Freudianism] in the lives of many secular intellectuals as a source of existential meaning and purpose. The insular, defensive, cult-like behaviour displayed by so many global warming advocates when confronted with the concerns of informed sceptics reinforces that interpretation and explains their refusal to debate dissenters.”

Adding the weight of intimidating lawsuits in the broader culture to the absence of debate in universities means that it will be some time before the affect of global warming “informational hysteria” is mitigated.


 In the Soviet Union, sceptics of Trofim Lysenko’s misguided genetics were punished into silence by the State; in Western democracies, it has taken the combined actions of scientists, governments and media to foster an hysteria that brooks no legitimate sceptical voice. The latter’s half-life seems to be considerably longer.

Outside the academy, actions moving the culture in the direction of a catastrophic censorship have gone beyond verbal attempts to stifle sceptical speech to aggressive legal manoeuvres. The fossil fuel industry and governments have become the principal targets, allegedly responsible for disastrous climate change and inaction in preventing it, respectively. Relief is now sought in the courts to force industry to pay for climate events that have not yet occurred and to force governments to seek reparations from that industry and individuals through carbon taxes. As of November 2018, there were approximately 1500 global suits of which nearly 1,000 had been filed in the US.


Several lawsuits were mentioned in Part II of this series, e g., in September 2017, San Francisco and Oakland along with NYC filed separate lawsuits against the top five oil and gas companies over what they allege are the costs they will incur from climate change, specifically, in that case, sea-level rise. In similar actions, six other California cities and counties sued big oil for damage they claim will arise from human contributions to the changing climate.

Increasingly, children and youth are being used to front these suits in an attempt to create sympathy in the courts. In Canada, in November, an application to authorize a class action suit “on behalf of all young Quebeckers 35 and under” was filed against the government for its failure to take action to protect the rights of young people. In the U.S., a pro bono suit (Juliana et al. v. United States et al.) on behalf of young people is making its way through the courts. Twenty-one youths, ranging in age from 8 to 19 at the time of filing, accuse the government of failure to take adequate action to protect them against future effects of climate change. James Hansen, a prominent proponent of CAGW, is acting as a “guardian for future generations” in the case filings.

Despite the forces arrayed in support of CAGW, they do not occupy the whole ground. Suits against climate sceptics like Tim Ball in Canada and Mark Steyn in the US are providing hope that long-term outcomes may not be so bleak. Michael Mann, a vocal proponent of CAGW, brought those suits but has lost the one in Canada against Tim Ball because Mann refused to provide his “supporting data” to the courts. Suits against the fossil-fuel industry and governments also appear to be in trouble. At the end of December, 2018, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals granted the government an interlocutory appeal, creating uncertainty in the fate of Juliana v United States. Also in 2018, a federal judge granted motions to dismiss a case against Chevron, Exxon, ConocoPhillips, Royal Dutch Shell and British Petroleum.

Before Scott Pruitt’s departure as head of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), he considered establishing a “Red Team” to debate assumptions and policies of (C)AGW. Andrew Wheeler, the nominee to replace Pruitt, has remained non-committal on the Red Team/Blue Team proposal but is known to have views similar to those of Pruitt’s.

In contrast to the non-debate on university campuses and a plethora of climate-related lawsuits, there has been global push-back: Trump continues the U.S. commitment to a permanent pull-out of the Paris Agreement on climate-change; Trudeau seems to have bet his 2019 re-election chances on a carbon tax in Canada, but is finding critics on all sides of the issue; Macron has been forced to watch Paris burn over his attempt to impose a carbon tax on gasoline. Trump now appears to be more popular in France than Macron. France’s “yellow-vest” protests are now spreading to other countries; and, organizations like Turning Point USA, CFACT and FIRE are helping bring more diversity of ideas, including climate change, to universities.

Will CAGW proponents consolidate their wins and force governments and industry into carbon tax programs and silence sceptics or will efforts to counter the rush toward a catastrophic censorship result in more reasoned, open debate on the causes of global warming in academia and the broader culture? Despite how issues have roiled opponents, anything approaching resolution is likely a decade or more away.