When Bill Nye and physicist William Happer argued the merits of climate change on CNN last week, Nye told the hosts he believed they were intellectually dishonest by fostering a one-on-one debate between himself and a climate change denier.
“You’re doing a disservice by having one climate change skeptic [on the show], and not 97 or 98 scientists or engineers concerned about climate change,” Nye said. He was referencing an often-cited statistic that posits upwards of 97 percent of the scientific climate, meteorology and ecology communities agree with manmade climate change.
And Nye is exactly right. CNN was hosting a “debate” over what is undeniably a scientific consensus. Happening at the same time, tens of thousands of people marched in the streets advocating objective science-based policies over partisan politics as part of the “March for Science” movement. In my mind, the only foreseeable reason to host a climate debate with a skeptic during such an event is to stir up ratings and controversy. With a news outlet like CNN, I can’t say I’m surprised.
But to those of us who agree with the avalanche of scientific evidence concluding anthropogenic causes are behind the earth’s rapid warming event, putting up a climate change denier to contest its legitimacy is as asinine as inviting a flat earth-believer to explain how he thinks sunsets and time zones work.
In the case of climate change denial, it’s not only unproductive, but downright irresponsible. For many scientists who have spent their careers trying to get word out on this — admittedly — unpalatable reality, it has become more of a morbid comedy. Here we have all the proof we need to make a foundation for rapid solutions in the face of the greatest hurdle humanity will overcome, but mainstream media outlets still host people who, in my opinion, are no different than flat-earthers.
That right there is the heart of Bill Nye’s argument. It’s not an attack on free speech to disparage a news corporation for hosting a climate change denier. The protection of free speech as outlined in the constitution is designed to keep a citizen safe from government censorship, not from private entities denying him or her a platform. If CNN or any other news outlet that gives opportunities to fringe climate deniers were to put their foot down and refuse to host them, it would be a step in the right direction.
If so, Happer has all the right in the world to take to the streets, host a gathering in a public park or find any number of other platforms to explain his skepticism.
Happer, whose specialties are in atomic physics and spectroscopy, at best is a highly dubious authority on the topic of climate change, and a dishonest one at worst. His ties to political positions in both George W.’s administration and now the Trump administration should immediately raise a red flag. Point to any scientist who publically denounces climate change, and I can almost assuredly find you a sycophant with deep connection to the Republic party, oil or manufacturing conglomerates.
Furthermore, Happer’s scattershot writings on the subject of climate are not backed up by any evidence other than a cherry-picked study that has since been debunked by multiple scientific teams.
And don’t get me wrong; “fringe” scientific thinkers have historically been the cogs in the wheel of innovation. In the 1970s, the scientists who first started revealing CFCs were contributing to the depletion of Earth’s Ozone layer were fringe minds of their time. Biologist Rachel Carson, whose seminal work in the 1960s laid the foundation for pesticide and herbicide regulations, was initially attacked and denounced as a kook through massive lobbying efforts by the chemical industry.
Some of the first philosophers and early scientists to put forward the idea the Earth isn’t the center of the universe, or any other concepts that challenged the religious dogma of the time were occasionally put to the stake, tortured or hung. It’s safe to say we’ve come a long way since then.
But we’re at a point now that the climate deniers — almost universally people who have economic or political stake in the upkeep of the fossil fuel industry — are stagnating progress, not innovating in the name of it.
We look back at the aforementioned great minds of their time — who were publically denounced or even killed, and think just how backwards the status quo was back then. In the same vein, history scorns the segregationist politicians who voted for “separate but equal” institutions. Unfortunately, history won’t have anything to say about the climate change deniers and insatiable corporations if we continue down our current path.