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Matt Welch: Will American Judges Jail Global Warming Deniers?

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Matt Welch, Reason Online

Should we just go ahead and throw global warming deniers in jail?

A surprising number of pundits and politicians suddenly seem to think that’s not such an outrageous idea. “Was it appropriate to jail the guys from Enron?” Bill Nye, a.k.a. the Science Guy, mused in an April interview with Climate Depot. “We’ll see what happens. Was it appropriate to jail people from the cigarette industry who insisted that this addictive product was not addictive, and so on?” Nye, the former host of a popular PBS show in the 1990s, maintains that those who doubt the severity of, and human impact on, the warming climate, “are leaving the world worse than they found it because they are keeping us from getting to work. They are holding us back.”

In March, Al Gore appeared at a remarkable meeting of state attorneys general in New York City. Gore’s casually authoritarian remarks at the conference—the former vice president insisted that “we cannot continue to allow” the fossil fuel industry to pursue its current pastime of mislead[ing] the public about the impact they have on the health of our people and the health of our planet”—echoed the intolerant sentiment that Nye had displayed in a Salon interview five months prior. “Part of the solution,” the Science Guy said then, “is getting the deniers out of our discourse. You know, we can’t have these people—they’re absolutely toxic.”

This sore-winner urge to censure, untethered to government force, would merely be repugnant, an example of what critics during the Bush administration once decried in other contexts as “eliminationist rhetoric.” But Gore was standing literally side by side with power-wielding politicians who brag about making life a living hell for the incorrectly opinionated. “Our offices are seriously examining the potential of working together on high-impact, state-level initiatives,” New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman crowed at the March conference, “such as investigations into whether fossil fuel companies have misled investors about how climate change impacts their investments and business decisions.”

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