As climate sceptics you’ll be no strangers to the idea of institutional authority clamping its hand over unwelcome mouths. The softly-sabotaging tactics now applied to Peter Tatchell and Germaine Greer are what critics of climate change alarmism have faced over many years. Fancy debating all this? Forget it: I won’t dignify your argument by even sharing a stage with you.
It was no surprise, then, to see Dr Benny Peiser at a recent debate on the growth of these speech-muffling tendencies. The debate was organised by online magazine Spiked and focussed on the growing popularity of ‘safe spaces’ on university campuses – that is, spaces where students can gather safe in the knowledge that their views won’t be challenged. As Dr Peiser points out, building a safe space is nothing new: academics and scientists, especially climate scientists, have been into the idea much longer than the current student body.
Transcript by Alex Cull
IW: So we’re here at the Spiked conference on free speech and safe spaces – what relevance does this have to climate, the climate debate, do you think?
BP: Well, climate issues obviously are part of the taboo issues that can’t be discussed freely on campus, the problem not just limited to students and their activists trying to prevent a debate, but the scientific community itself creating a space where the debate cannot occur. So we are concerned, not just what’s happening among the student body but also among academics themselves, and you could argue that the students are essentially copying the tactics of some of the scientists who have prevented critical speakers and sceptical speakers from voicing their opinion or asking questions. So it goes much deeper than just the student body.
IW: So the kind of – the whole thing is a lot older than – it goes back generations, this encroachment on… free speech.
BP: Yes, of course it goes back much longer, but it has been very successful. And that was one of the things I wasn’t too happy with speakers here saying if – you know, even if you prevent speakers from speaking, they will then make their views noticeable on the web, or so.
BP: I think this is a very successful strategy in shutting down views you don’t like. The climate debate shows how you can intimidate all society in not speaking freely. It works, unfortunately, and unless we learn the lessons of how the stifling and the intimidation and the demonisation of certain topics actually not only stifles debate but intimidates a whole group of people, this will be used by activists as a very strong tool to force down their views. It’s not about preventing debate, it’s about really enforcing what is acceptable and what isn’t.