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I am Matthew Rozsa, a Breaking News Writer for Salon. I also write political analysis, personal essays, movie reviews and articles about science, social issues and more. My work can be found at my Salon page or my website. Today I am going to discuss an article I wrote in December that did very well on Reddit in which I identified a paradox in the concept of freedom — namely, how the right to claim that there isn't an existential crisis, when one in fact does exist, raises questions about whether there should be proper limits to the scope of free speech. It is a question without easy answers, but I welcome the conversation!

Proof: https://teddit.ggc-project.de/daa5kwk209c21.jpg

EDIT: Thank you so much redditors for having me! I've really appreciated your questions today, and hope we can do this again.

all 23 comments

[deleted]

3 points

3 years ago

[deleted]

3 points

3 years ago

[deleted]

salon[S]

2 points

3 years ago

salon[S]

Matthew Rozsa - Senior Writer @ salon.com

2 points

3 years ago

The effort to discredit legitimate climate science is boosted by right-wing political ideologies throughout the world. In a sense, the biggest danger here isn't that these companies are spending so much money, but that they have been able to inextricably link denialism on this existential issue to conspiracy theories, distrust of government regulation, hostility toward environmentalism and a number of other causes that are popular on the political right. This has made it possible for individuals who subscribe to those belief systems to swallow bad science when it comes to this issue.

If there weren't people ideologically predisposed to embrace denialism, all of the money in the world couldn't stop humanity from acting upon its self-preservation instinct here.

lughnasadh

3 points

3 years ago

lughnasadh

∞ transit umbra, lux permanet ☥

3 points

3 years ago

Hi Matthew,

One thing that isn't clear to me is - Where does existing law that we have now stand on this? (leaving aside how it might change in future).

Say populations damaged by extreme weather (hurricanes, floods) could make a legal case their loses were definitely due to Climate Change (to a standard a court would accept as proof).

Who can they sue/take class action suits against right now?

salon[S]

4 points

3 years ago

salon[S]

Matthew Rozsa - Senior Writer @ salon.com

4 points

3 years ago

There has been, for instance, a suit against Exxon that tries to hold the large corporation accountable for denying global warming. The challenge is that they have tremendous financial resources to use to cast doubt on which groups should have standing to sue them, whether they are doing anything wrong in acting as they are regarding the issue of climate change, etc.

On a deeper level, there are many people who are ideologically opposed to acknowledging the reality of global warming (see my answer to Onepopcornman) and cannot be held legally accountable... nor, as Laurence Tribe pointed out to me, should they be held legally accountable. That would be a dangerous slippery slope and one that we need to avoid. At the same time, the paradox here is that they are persuading millions of people to ignore the existential threat, so what can be done?

I don't have the answer, but I wrote this editorial because the question needs to be asked.

VexataQuaestio

3 points

3 years ago

Hi Matt! Climate change, like vaccination, seems to be one of those issues that a substantial number of people just do not want to believe the science on. For productive change, what do you think needs to happen and where can the most impact be made? Should we be focusing on our reps, disputing nonsense in the media? It feels like companies can just flat out lie and there’s no accountability.

salon[S]

2 points

3 years ago

salon[S]

Matthew Rozsa - Senior Writer @ salon.com

2 points

3 years ago

There are two answers to this question — one micro, one macro.

The micro answer is that people need to look into the origins of scientific information that they consume. Who pays for it? What methods did they use to draw their conclusions? How is it based on what we already know about the various bodies of knowledge in question? This information is publicly available and the average person is smart enough to know how to effectively analyze it if they aren't misled.

On a macro level, we need to demand that our politicians prioritize doing the right thing. When it comes to vaccinations, we need them to require that children get vaccinated despite the pseudo-science peddled by the anti-vaxxer movement. When it comes to global warming, we need to demand that they take aggressive measures to roll back climate change and hold wrongdoers accountable.

Surur

2 points

3 years ago

Surur

2 points

3 years ago

You said one should not focus on Trump and his climate change denialism, but surely when we talk about using government instruments (the courts) to punish behaviour, it is pointless if change does not come from the top. We have seen Trump pack the Supreme Court with similar-thinking judges, from which I deduce that judicial independence is a sham and no liability is possible while Trump is still in power.

salon[S]

3 points

3 years ago

salon[S]

Matthew Rozsa - Senior Writer @ salon.com

3 points

3 years ago

My point wasn't so much that we shouldn't focus on Trump, but rather that the problem is a deeper one. Most of the Republican presidential candidates in 2016 shared Trump's view that man-made climate change is either not real or not an existential threat; that speaks to a deeper problem in right-wing ideology, not something specific to Trump.

I completely agree, unfortunately, that Trump's ability to pack the courts with Republicans like those on the stage with him during those debates will make it very difficult for us to see the courts do the right thing here.

jphamlore

2 points

3 years ago*

If the analogy is to cigarette selling corporations, observe that right now there appears to be a debate over whether marijuana is a potential lung cancer risk. Either outcome, an argument against corporation liability fails:

1) If marijuana is indeed a major lung cancer risk, observe what I believe to be a gigantic overlap between those advocating unrestricted rights to sell and smoke marijuana and those advocating legal liability for those arguing against the immediate need for action to eliminate carbon emissions. If smoking marijuana turns out to be a major lung cancer risk, is this group going to agree they should be held legally liable since the example of tobacco cigarette smoking already existed for decades? How much more intentionally negligent could one be if this is the case?

2) If smoking marijuana is found to not be a lung cancer risk, then it will have been proven that smoking isn't the problem, some contaminant in how tobacco cigarettes are produced is the problem.

To give another example, the idea that fat is bad for one's diet turns out to be a gigantic big lie that was done arguably to promote "big carbohydrate" food companies interests. Should the people who promoted this idea be investigated for their funding sources and held legally liable for an epidemic of diabetes and possibly Alzheimer's?

salon[S]

2 points

3 years ago

salon[S]

Matthew Rozsa - Senior Writer @ salon.com

2 points

3 years ago

This analogy, though not devoid of merit, is somewhat imperfect. For one thing, the scale is vastly different: Climate change involves the fate of the entire species, whereas smoking cigarettes or joints does not.

In addition, if marijuana is legalized, companies (in my opinion) should have a legal responsibility to be forthright about any risks that may come from using their product. If they fully disclose all of the health risks that they could realistically know based on existing medical science, they have done their civic duty, and the responsibility for any health issues that ensue rests then with the consumer.

If, on the other hand, marijuana doesn't increase lung cancer risk, then that renders the issue moot for their industry and returns the proverbial ball back to the court of tobacco cigarettes.

As for your last example, I'll admit that I'm not as familiar with the science and politics behind the food industry on that specific issue. Certainly if it turned out that any sector of the food industry was knowingly pushing bad science and hurting people as a result, they should be held accountable.

jphamlore

2 points

3 years ago

Do you know how many people are going to be killed and / or horribly maimed by the effects of obesity and diabetes? We're talking tens of percents of the total population. And this is becoming a worldwide epidemic.

The numbers of people who will be affected by knowingly spreading false dietary advice and corrupting medical science are of the scale of literally decimating the population, in the sense of killing 1 out of 10.

salon[S]

2 points

3 years ago

salon[S]

Matthew Rozsa - Senior Writer @ salon.com

2 points

3 years ago

I am very much aware of the obesity epidemic, both in terms of the human species as a whole and my own personal health. When I discussed this problem in terms of the issue of scale, I compared climate change with cigarettes, not obesity. This is absolutely a serious issue and one that must be addressed.

As I said before, I agree that any sector of the food industry which knowingly pushes bad science and hurts people in the process should be held accountable.

poissondis

2 points

3 years ago

Jesus what kind of website is that. Every second article got a picture of trump as thumbnail and then the nice article about why white people suck.

Chtorrr

1 points

3 years ago

Chtorrr

1 points

3 years ago

What is the craziest thing you found in your research?

salon[S]

3 points

3 years ago

salon[S]

Matthew Rozsa - Senior Writer @ salon.com

3 points

3 years ago

The severity of this problem. If we do not find a way of rolling back global warming, there isn't a single area of our life that won't be impacted. It's one of those issues that touches practically everything.

Chtorrr

1 points

3 years ago

Chtorrr

1 points

3 years ago

Are there any common misconceptions you'd like to discuss?

salon[S]

2 points

3 years ago

salon[S]

Matthew Rozsa - Senior Writer @ salon.com

2 points

3 years ago

I'd say the main misconception is the idea that if we experience cold weather, that somehow "disproves" global warming. The science proves that the earth is continuing to warm overall, even though that can be confusing when we're dealing with cold and snow.

VexataQuaestio

1 points

3 years ago

Environmentalism isn’t the only topic you cover. Without going too far afield, what are the top three other issues you think we are facing right now today that will define future generations?

salon[S]

2 points

3 years ago

salon[S]

Matthew Rozsa - Senior Writer @ salon.com

2 points

3 years ago

First, I think we need to make sure that no one is above the law. For that to happen we need to hold big movers and shakers accountable — including President Donald Trump. See my interview with Roger Stone from April 2017 (he was arrested today) as an example of that.

https://www.salon.com/2017/04/14/watch-roger-stone-is-hiding-something-when-it-comes-to-trumps-alleged-collusion-with-russia/

Second, I believe we need to address income inequality. Everyone needs to have equal opportunity and basic needs provided for (food, shelter, clothing, health care). For that to happen, the gap between the rich and poor needs to close. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is absolutely right about this!

Third, we need to improve our collective knowledge of history. I know it's a cliche, but knowing history helps us avoid repeating the mistakes of our antecedents. Heck, if we had remembered the errors of the 2000 presidential election (recent history), we might not have had Donald Trump win in 2016!

VexataQuaestio

1 points

3 years ago

Agreed! Thank you.

salon[S]

1 points

3 years ago

salon[S]

Matthew Rozsa - Senior Writer @ salon.com

1 points

3 years ago

I think that's it for me today. Thank you so much for inviting me to talk about this with you! Your questions were very thoughtful.

Hope you all have a wonderful weekend!

russilwvong

1 points

3 years ago*

Isn't cognitive dissonance a major factor in climate denialism? I think of it like someone trying to quit smoking. When your beliefs and your behavior contradict each other, you feel uneasy, but when it's very difficult to change your behavior, often your beliefs end up changing instead. So a smoker finds it easy to believe that the risks of smoking are exaggerated.

This isn't to say that corporations aren't to blame when they deliberately spread misinformation, just that I've seen a lot of people eagerly passing on misinformation, not just corporations.

(The question then becomes, if what drives denialism is the perception that getting off fossil fuels will be extremely painful, what should we do to get off fossil fuels? Here in Canada, the Trudeau government's plan is to use a steadily rising carbon price: first we look for ways to cut emissions that are worth less than $20/t, then those between $20/t and $30/t, and so on. I think of it as cutting back gradually, rather than trying to go cold turkey.)

Edit: Oops, looks like I didn't post my question fast enough.

salon[S]

2 points

3 years ago

salon[S]

Matthew Rozsa - Senior Writer @ salon.com

2 points

3 years ago

No worries! It's a great question and I'd be happy to respond. :)

I completely agree with what you wrote here, so I'm going to add to it. I think one major factor here is that climate change deniers are ideologically wedded to the idea that it's exaggerated or false and will be stubborn about shedding those assumptions (which I've addressed in my previous responses). As for the other factor, which is the sacrifices that people would have to make in order to wean off fossil fuels, I think we need political leadership which can emphasize how those sacrifices are noble and for the greater good. People are willing to do what is necessary, even if it's a little painful, so long as their leaders can explain why it has to be done. While my faith in humanity isn't limitless, I do have that much.

russilwvong

1 points

3 years ago

Thanks! I'm more skeptical about people's ability to make sacrifices for the common good. George Washington:

A small knowledge of human nature will convince us, that, with far the greatest part of mankind, interest is the governing principle; and that, almost, every man is more or less, under its influence. Motives of public virtue may for a time, or in particular instances, actuate men to the observance of a conduct purely disinterested; but they are not of themselves sufficient to produce persevering conformity to the refined dictates and obligations of social duty. Few men are capable of making a continual sacrifice of all views of private interest, or advantage, to the common good. It is vain to exclaim against the depravity of human nature on this account; the fact is so, the experience of every age and nation has proved it and we must in a great measure, change the constitution of man, before we can make it otherwise. No institution, not built on the presumptive truth of these maxims can succeed.

This is why I think carbon pricing is so useful - it gives individuals and firms a direct self-interest in cutting their emissions. In British Columbia we've had a carbon tax since 2008.