Freedom of Speech on the Backs of the World’s Poor
Practically speaking, I think Adam Weinstein’s rant is stupid and unhinged. It’s on par with the temperance movement’s screams of the end of civilization from drink. It shows a fundamental contempt for speech freedoms that are disturbing, and a level of arrogance in his basic rightness that’s scary.
That said, the more I read and think about disaster planning and the impacts of climate change related changes, the more I’m inclined to think that, yes, in fact there’s a serious moral problem with people who profit off of killing any attempts to address it.
And in this I’m not really making huge distinctions on the meaning of “Profit”. Unlike Weinstein, or even Tod (in one of his clarifications to his post) I’m not really concerned about malice or willfulness. This comes as no surprise to my poor D&D players, since intent has never mattered to me when deciding the alignment of an action. If you murder an innocent, you’re still doing evil, even if you claim it’s for the best of causes. No, from a simple moral perspective, I’m starting to feel that we in the developed world are all bloody guilty, and we’re going to be viewed (in the future) as the monsters we are when history looks back on us.
And so this raises the question: If indeed the costs of climate change amount to the staggering levels we’re seeing forecasted ($100 bn/year to the poorest countries in the world, for example), should there be a legal process under which these countries can look for some recompense from net greenhouse gas emitters? Because, frankly, the costs of the worst of these events aren’t going to be suffered by Americans, whether liberal or conservative, activist or denier, but those in South/Southeast Asia (Bangladesh, Cambodia, Nepal, Burma), Sub-Saharan Africa, and the like. Collectively we have this debate about freedom of speech, and whether or not it’s moral to allow denialists to willfully fund fake science and bunk advocacy groups on the backs of the actual victims while we pontificate about how these people should have the right to keep pushing whatever agenda they want.
So there’s that aspect.
The other aspect that I find a little weird, is that we talk about how “Would you trust someone else to determine what good and bad science are” when we debate whether we should take action on a particular issue. But when that debate’s being broached, we rarely then hear the question of: “Well do you trust who gets to make the call on whether your life is less important than someone’s right to seek a profit”. Because, really, that’s often what we’re doing. We’re debating that, as a society, we prioritize our right to expression and our right to business over unnamed people thousands of miles away. And in some ways that’s natural. But on some level, we’re talking about one of the greatest collective action problems in human history. An externality huge enough to cost many, many lives in the future, on the backs of people who did the least to contribute to the externality, and who gained the least from it.
Globally, it starts to look like a version of the hypocrisy of the Founding Fathers writ large. Those who talk about freedom while owning other human beings in bondage. Instead, we’re talking about the debate over a global externality, with only a third of the world participating in setting the policy.
When the bill comes due and they come looking for justice, what then?
As my friend Chris put it: “We will likely refer to it as “terrorism” and open the paper to see if Whole Foods has any sales on tilapia.”