William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

The limits of acceptable criminal behavior to combat global warming

I want to ask a favor of my regular readers and of those who occasionally come here to seek an alternate view. You can help me spread the word.

Yesterday, we discussed the sad plight of Dr X, a once eminent scientist who appeared in a British court with the express purpose to justify criminal behavior. His argument was that the crime committed was necessary to bring attention to, and to modify the consequences of, harmful global warming.

Let’s not talk about whether Dr X had the right to speak as he did (I would argue that he did; even if he represented his employer; others, obviously, take the opposite view). Let’s also not talk about whether Dr X’s climatological theory is sound (I would say parts are, parts aren’t; others religiously say all right or all wrong).

What I want to do is to build a list of what criminal behavior that supporters of Dr X would say is justifiable or acceptable with regard to anthropogenic global warming. The list of non-criminal behavior is obviously long and varied and not of interest here. This list will only include acts that are expressly forbidden by law (misdemeanors or felonies or their equivalents in other countries).

I do not want to be facetious nor do I want people who are not supporters of Dr X writing and saying “I think they would accept Y.” Let’s only use this list to keep track of criminal activities that are legitimately believed to be allowable or justifiable. Please send in real quotes and verifiable links. Let’s also keep this fair—no euphemisms.

So far, this is what we have:

Acceptable Crime Supporters
Vandalizing property belonging to energy companies.    Dr Hansen of NASA

Obviously, we can find lots of people on various message boards who would justify any behavior, so let’s try and keep this list only for people or organizations of authority (we can be somewhat loose by what that means).

Gav, Tam, what do you say?

48 Comments

  1. Given the argument apparently presented in court, it’s difficult to imagine any criminal damage that could not be justified.

    For instance, Rajendra Pachauri of the UN says we should eat less meat as raising animals for food contributes to global warming; fire-bombing butchers’ shops must be acceptable then.

    If flying across the Atlantic is as bad as child abuse (George Monbiot 1999) then detonating a bomb you’ve assembled in the toilet of an airliner is no longer terrorism but acceptable vandalism as it prevents a greater crime. It would be important that your intentions were made absolutely clear somehow or you could be mistaken for a terrorist. Mistaken?

    30% of human-generated carbon dioxide comes from cement production. This alone justifies breaking into cement works and using their own dynamite to blow them up.

    How do you do a reductio ad absurdam on something that’s already absurd?

    Rich

  2. Briggs

    September 12, 2008 at 7:34 am

    Rich,

    Do you have the full reference for that paper?

    It’s of interest, but doesn’t fit the table. That paper seems to be equating certain legal behaviors with (to the author) equivalent immoral and illegal behavior.

    Don’t forget the “philosopher” who equated debates in the US Congress with those of slavery. Yeesh.

    This soft of thing merits a study itself!

  3. Not sure what you mean by the “paper” so here’s links for everything:

    The court case: http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/climate-change/cleared-jury-decides-that-threat-of-global-warming-justifies-breaking-the-law-925561.html

    Rajendra Pachauri: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/sep/07/food.foodanddrink

    George Monbiot: http://www.monbiot.com/archives/1999/07/29/meltdown/

    Rich

    (I’m deleting stuff until this gets past the WordPress spam filter)

  4. And the bit WordPress didn’t like:

    Contribution of cement: http://cdiac.ornl.gov/ftp/ndp030/global.1751_2005.ems That seems to be limited to just some forms of CO2 production but this http://www.johnstonsarchive.net/environment/co2table.html uses the same data as “annual man-made CO2 emmission”. You load the data into R to get the figures and, repeating the exercise in order to reply to you I find that cement production peaks at ~4% CO2 of the total. Obviously I misplaced the decimal point last time I did this. About the same as air-travel then.

    Rich

  5. Possibly not what you want: please feel free to delete if you feel it is not helpful.

    As Rich said, it is difficult to see what is off limits now.

    Dr Hansen and others believe that we should prosecute oil industry executives for going about their lawful business and hence, presumably, in breach of the constitution and in breach of the law in the UK. Possibly blackmail? (If you don’t change the way you operate something nasty will happen).

    Similar statements have been made about it being OK to lie and deceive for the sake of the common good. Fraud? Deceit??

    Freedom of speech has been compromised. The use of the term “Denier” and association with Nazism verges on slander if written or libel if spoken. Threats of being brought before a tribunal for crimes against humanity.

  6. Briggs

    September 12, 2008 at 1:10 pm

    Rich,

    That’s what I had in mind, yes. Thanks.

    Alan.

    This is more the opposite side of the coin: claiming legal activities should be illegal or that they are equivalent to certain crimes.

    All else,

    We’re still waiting for Dr X supporters to contribute to this important topic.

  7. Acceptable crime:

    It is clear now that anyone in the UK can vandalize their neighbors SUV’s or anything that consume energy which is the reason why the coal power plant is needed for in the first place.

    The question that I have is how does he lives with himself with all his frequent flyer miles. The thing that bugs me about this pseudo-crisis is that those who reclaim action at all cost are usually the worst polluter.

  8. I live here in Eugene, Oregon, the capital of the tree huggers and eco-fools. The local hippie rag has lots of examples of what they have done and want to do. Here is the start of a series on their take of recent actions and the feds oppression of their efforts:

    http://www.eugeneweekly.com/2006/11/02/coverstory.html

    You can find the later parts in their archive after the Nov 2, 2006 issue (warning, the front covers may induce you to start taking drugs):

    http://www.eugeneweekly.com/2006/index.html

    They like to do fun things such as building fires under SUVs at the local auto dealers or burning down new homes being built amongst trees. They burned a local meat packing plant for their amusement. Of course, no humans were harmed or injured in their free expression of their beliefs.

    If you want to have some fun, come here in the summer and go to the Oregon Country Fair. Feels like the 60’s never ended:

    http://www.eugeneweekly.com/2008/07/10/index.html

  9. See part IV of the article for actual ELF and ALF actions:

    http://www.eugeneweekly.com/2006/12/07/news1.html

  10. Well, for starters:

    Acceptable Crimes in support of AGW theory – slander and libel, false witness (perjury), looting the public treasury (graft), payoffs to public officials (bribery), use of one’s official position or powers to obtain property, funds, or patronage (extortion), fraud, secret activity undertaken by two or more people for the purpose of fraud (collusion).

    Supporters: most of them

  11. Dan H.

    During the Little Ice Age in Europe with people starving because of crop failures as the climate became colder and damper many were put on trial and burned as weather witches. When a very public scientist calls for energy producers to be put on trial for crimes against humanity you have to wonder what might happen should serious problems result from a warming world.

  12. “Earth Liberation Front sets off incendiary at Vail Colorado, damages estimated to $12 M” : http://www.factnet.org/cults/earth_liberation_front/vail_fire.html

    Now, they have a good excuse backed by Hansen, they set fires to others’ properties to prevent global … warming.

  13. Briggs

    September 13, 2008 at 12:01 pm

    All,

    ELF used to, in my head, stand for “extremely low frequency”. There’s a pun there somewhere.

    Well, we’re still waiting for any Dr X supporter to contribute. There must be at least one of you out there.

  14. Demesure, in the link you provided-

    Katie Fedor says

    “”They assured that no one, human or animal, would be injured, and they were successful. People should take comfort in the fact that this was a professional action.”

    Except that they did $12 m damage But that’s alright because as somebody else said that would be paid by insurance.!

    These people obviously think that they are committing some kind of victimless crime. But the insurance companies will put up their rates because of this and that will affect other people. Plus the company will rebuild the facility and that will require the use of more resources and thus, in their terms, contribute more to ‘climate change’ and environmental degradation.

    And how condescending is her remark that this was a professional action people should take comfort in? There are tinpot dictators around everywhere!

  15. Re George Nonbio,

    I read somewhere he is the cousin of the lovely Nigella Lawson who is daughter of Lord Lawson of Blaby. Something tells me there’s more to this extreme attitude, having more to do with party politics and jealousy than a wish to save the world. Just a wild guess.

    I can’t imagine James Handsome subscribing to this. There would be a high percentage of the British population that would fall into this group.

    Silly boy. Nothing like trivialising child abuse.

    How I’d love to ask James Handsome or Madonna to comment on this comparison.

  16. Briggs

    September 13, 2008 at 6:07 pm

    Joy my dear. Lord “Blaby”? Blaby? Are you sure that’s not from Wodehouse?

  17. John Brown’s body lies a moudering in the grave.

  18. Briggs:
    Absolutely true! It’s a cute title. Blaby is in Leicestershire.

    His Daughter is a famous cook and his son Dominic is a famous journalist who has apparently been linked with MI6. Perhaps he knows someone who could help.

  19. I highly recommend the book “In a Dark Wood” by Alston Chase for a historical view of ELF and other such groups. It covers the history of how they shut down logging in the public forests, takes a deep look at the philosophy and belief systems involved and how the scientists in the Forest Service and other agencies were gradually converted from supporters of silviculture to preservationists. The problem here is that biocentric “hands off” preservation may cause more problems for endangered wildlife than proper active management. Not exactly a book for tree huggers.

    This whole movement started back in the 70’s, and while it hit forestry first, it has now set the sights on consumers (AGW) and private land owners. The funny thing is, while some members have socialist backgrounds, not all follow a pure leftist viewpoint.

    They do know how to use the media, politicians and courts to get their way. This case in Blighty is just getting the toe in the court door. Once they pass cap-and-trade and other laws here, things will get very bad just like what happened in the 80’s with the loggers and then it will be too late.

    One of ELF’s pranks is dropping power lines into power plants. They have tried this with nuclear plants before with some success. Cutting the power lines to a nuclear plant is not a good idea. The auxiliary power supplies must work reliably to run the cooling pumps to properly shut down a nuclear plant, otherwise you get a melt-down. Are they nuts or what?

  20. From Wikipedia:

    “Nigel Lawson, Baron Lawson of Blaby, PC (born 11 March 1932), is a British politician, Chancellor of the Exchequer between June 1983 and October 1989. His tenure in that office was longer than that of any of his predecessors since David Lloyd George (1908 to 1915), though it was surpassed by Gordon Brown in September 2003.”

    So, Chancellor of The Exchequer under Margaret Thatcher, then. Well known AGW sceptic, often appearing on the likes of the BBC’s Newsnight.

  21. The legal system has handled the problem of breaking the law to prevent a greater harm for centuries.

    And the law has some pretty good guidelines. Apparently in this case those guidelines were ignored (nullified) or the jury did not understand them.

    Guidelines; You can break laws to prevent greater harm. But only if you must act immediately. And if there is no effective alternative.

    Both “immediately” and “effective” are subject the reasonable man test.
    i.e. could a reasonable person hold this belief.

    Now look at UK case. A band of activists planned the caper in detail. So they were not forced to act immediately. They could have acted the next night or the next week.

    Would a reasonable person believe there is no effective way to alert the world about global warming except to paint slogans on smokestacks? I doubt it. So the activists had alternatives.

    The case in the UK doesn’t interest me much. Something went askew in the prosecution. A malfunction. Devices failed, probably the brains of the jurors.

    Unfortunately some foolish activists will see this as a license to use similar tactics. They will find out otherwise. perhaps after causing great grief.

  22. The thing that gets me is that when eco-nuts do all this burning, they are creating more pollution than what goes into the making of what they burn, especially when they burn autos. There are some extremely nasty toxins released.

    So, can I assault and batter members of ELF to help prevent pollution?

  23. Paulus:

    Yes, the same Nigel Lawson. Nigella’s mother inherited Lyons bakery although don’t quote me on the company name.

    Using your “reasonable person” argument. Could not one say that the world is not supposed to be in peril until at least after next Friday? Therefore giving plenty of time to fine-tune such action without necessity to act that day. A sort of slow motion self defence for a slow motion problem. I don’t think that argument stands up in this case.
    The judge is usually careful to advise the jurors in how best to consider their verdict, pointing out emphasis where needed. I find it hardly likely that 12 people’s brains malfunctioned at the same time. More likely that the judge made his own error and I don’t mean to be hard on the judge as I haven’t read the transcript.

    If a reasonable person was told by “the top scientist in the world”, ”from NASA”! that this was reasonable as the world is heading for disaster on some fluffy future frosty Friday, a reasonable, although ill informed, juror may well have considered ~$£350,000 a trivial sum of money, when compared with the vandals’ superman stunt.

    The guilt needs to be placed squarely in the hands of the expert witness. Had a climate ‘inactivist’ been a juror, the outcome would have been different. Apparently 70%of the British public are not convinced that global warming is due to human activity (The Observer). How many people would argue with “the best scientist in the world”, that’s a big ask. They are asked to give a good verdict according to the evidence. How good was one of NASA’s best?

    This was public relations; a common and garden Greenpeace stunt. Greenpeace does not normally have the luxury of a “top scientist” that is prepared to rush to their defence. What sayeth that about James Handsome? He ought to be careful, he could be considered an activist. When he starts wearing his pants on the outside things will become more apparent.

    Sort him out America!

  24. Reasonable person argument was reply to Con not Paulus.

  25. I teach criminal law in American universities. In America, the issue is “notice” – an act or failure to act must be in the law before criminal sanctions can be applied. The ability to act without repercussion is more an exercise in the negative: Was the behavior clearly banned? That said, I work backward to see what “criminal behavior” may be tolerated.

    Harm to persons – homicide, battery, assault – no. Protection of property never justifies harm to an individual. Global warming, if accepted as a threat, begins with the threat to property. There is no direct nexus to human harm, only harm to humans through harm to property.

    Harm to property. This is where I see a much more effective slope – some harm should remain criminal, while some may be excused or permissible (because the law is silent on it).

    I think that an individual acting to further a message can claim that some property harm is an extension of free speech. Texas v. Johnson – http://www.oyez.org/cases/1980-1989/1988/1988_88_155/ – was criminalized behavior overturned on appeal because the criminal act was reclassified as free speech.

    The issue to me is how to get the message out. If a person blocks an entryway to a workplace just to get the press’ attention, and thereafter speaks his manifesto, the trespass may be viewed as free speech.

    I feel that property destruction to interrupt operations is simply property destruction. If an activity is legal – or if the actor wants to draw attention to the law with the hopes of changing it – then the issue is achieving a platform for his or her message. No more.

    What would be the standard for detemining if a criminal act could be excused because the motivation was good enough? What judge should overrule the legislature?

    I need my sleep because my job is important. I’m a doctor (only on the internet!). What if I safely operated on my neighbor’s dog so that it could no longer bark? Afterall, I remove cancers from very sick patients.

    I suggest that only criminal behavior that furthers a person’s ability to speak their facts and opinions is appropriate. Once their voice has had its space and time in the marketplace of ideas, then society either accepts, rejects, or modifies those and changes the law (or not) accordingly. I further suggest that multiple instances of property damage to achieve the very same platform should not be excused criminally.

  26. I highly recommend the book “In a Dark Wood” by Alston Chase for a historical view of ELF and other such groups. It covers the history of how they shut down logging in the public forests, takes a deep look at the philosophy and belief systems involved and how the scientists in the Forest Service and other agencies were gradually converted from supporters of silviculture to preservationists. The problem here is that biocentric “hands off” preservation may cause more problems for endangered wildlife than proper active management. There is much science showing that these methods are actually causing worse harm to the environment, so should I be allowed to take corrective counteractions against the ELF?

    This whole movement started back in the 70’s, and while it hit forestry first, it has now set the sights on consumers (AGW) and private land owners. They do know how to use the media, politicians and courts to get their way. This case in Blighty is just getting the toe in the court door. Once they pass cap-and-trade and other laws here, things will get very bad just like what happened in the 80’s with the loggers and then it will be too late.

    One of ELF’s pranks is dropping power lines into power plants. They have tried this with nuclear plants before with some success. Cutting the power lines to a nuclear plant is not a good idea. The auxiliary power supplies must work reliably to run the cooling pumps to properly shut down a nuclear plant, otherwise you get a melt-down. Are they nuts or what?

  27. Since it is common practice for the Vatican to assign a “devil’s advocate” when discussing the merits of canonization, and it is always good debate practice to argue the opposite side, I will make an attempt. From this point forward, I will do my best to remove the tongue from my cheek…

    While I have read the learned Dr. Briggs post and the follow-up comments, I would like to address something that you fine people have neglected to overlook. This is the fact that laws put in place to constrain a society to operate within acceptable bounds, should not apply, and in fact, should be subordinate to the Laws of Nature.

    While Dr. Hansen has received numerous flames on this site and many others, I would like to point out that any individual, regardless of how nefarious you may deem their actions, are only acting in the best interest of our planet.

    In addition to those that you enjoy lampooning, the aforementioned Dr. Hansen, Dr. Mann, Tamino, Dr. Schmidt, and many others, let me draw your attention to the International Climate Change Taskforce, led by respected members of the US Congress (Sen. Olympia Snowe) and British Parliament (MP Stephen Byers). In 2005 they pointed to a Tipping Point. As Mr. Byers points out, “With climate change, there is an ecological time bomb ticking away, and people are becoming increasingly concerned by the changes and extreme weather events they are already seeing.”

    I would argue that the actions taken by members of Greenpeace are no different than a preemptive military strike against a country that is presumed to be a threat to the interests of the US. But with respect to the actions taken by Greenpeace (and others with a similar mindset), the interest is the earth. In the US, equal rights was a struggle, a struggle that included episodes of violence (both to property and to those who refused to accept a changing world), in a similar vein, what these groups are trying to accomplish is no different, with the exception that the entire world is in balance!

  28. Briggs

    September 14, 2008 at 1:06 pm

    Clyde,

    Thanks very much for an interesting argument. I think—and I admit I could be wrong—it appears the argument you outline has two separate parts. (1) Whether the act is illegal, and (2) The punishment for the act. You are saying that sometimes a criminal act can be excused in the name of free speech. That is, you are not saying the act is not criminal, merely that it should go unpunished. Is that fair?

    Vandalism is clearly illegal. As far as this case goes, the 6 Greenpeace members are certainly guilty of vandalizing private property; that is, (1) is true here.

    I don’t think it can be claimed that the “word isn’t out on global warming”, so their act was also frivolous. Punishment, in this case, should have been to requiring Greenpeace and the 6 to pay for restoration and inconvenience.

    I’m trying to imagine what situations might warrant somebody breaking the law to warn somebody of an imminent danger. I can think of plenty, actually: somebody busting a door down to warn of a fire; a person blocking a path because of unforeseen dangers ahead; and so on. So, in these kinds of cases, while (1) holds, no punishment should occur.

    But I can’t see how this applies to global warming. The “common wisdom” is that man-made global warming is true and dangerous. C02, like the kind issuing from power plant smokestacks, is thought to be the main culprit. Greenpeace was not telling anybody anything they didn’t already believe.

    So while I am sympathetic to your argument, I don’t think it works in this case.

  29. Dear Advocate of Beelzebub,

    Your argument subsumes the accuracy of the claims that man’s impact on global warming is material. Once the political positions are stripped away and science is the only thing viewed, the jury is still out – and if it isn’t out, the balance of evidence seems to support natural cycles. How else does one explain the correlation of Sun spot activity to Earth’s cycles, and the mirroring of ice caps adjustments between Mars and Earth? Further the claim has been that the ice coverage will recede, yet in response to the expansion of the Antartic ice cover, the pro-manmade GW say, “Oh, yeah, well that can happen, too!”

    I do not mean to enter into a global warming argument with you. My point is this: Laws change in response to discourse; science and facts and knowledge all evolve over time as theories are vetted; as a society, we mature ethically. All of these things help us to move beyond a rudderless society driven by issues of Natural Law, to an organized society – also driven by Natural Law (ala John Locke).

    I agree that sometimes laws take a while to catch up with society. it is easy enough to find examples where the law could have been quicker – however, the converse is also true.

    So I do not agree that individuals should act outside the law on a routine basis. Global warming is a theory with plenty of critics. Racial segregation was wrong – but the conclusion that it was wrong did not need scientific studies to understand … so it was more appropriate to act in defiance of those laws. And remember, the defiance was civil disobdience. The defiance was, as I discussed above, a way to get the expression of political speech heard. Schools that segregated students were not burned down.

  30. Briggs, you write – “That is, you are not saying the act is not criminal, merely that it should go unpunished. Is that fair?” Yes, that is precisely correct.

    Concerning situations where a harm can be inflicted to prevent a greater harm, a common example is starting a fire to establish a fire line. It is possible that four homes are burned – arson in another situation – and not be punished because 50 homes were saved.

    American law demands, however, that in the 20/20 view of hindsight that the actor be absolutely right. It is a high standard.

    I don’t want to get into a discussion of global warming and man’s contribution only because I have seen hysteria on both ends of the discussion. Rational thought is present, as well, on both sides of the discussion.

    So let’s take a hypothetical issue ABC. The implications of ABC being real are egregious indeed. There are plenty of critics on both sides of the issue. The complicating issue is that the effects XYZ are seen – are clear – are quantifiable. The question is whether or not XYZ is caused by ABC, by DEF, or a combination of the two, and if a combination – in what mix.

    While no one argues the existence of XYZ, only some people believe that it is attributable to ABC in such a way that if ABC were eliminated that the remaining effects of DEF (if any) would not cause a re-emergence of XYZ. These people believe, honestly and fully, that if ABC were elimnated, then XYZ would also be elimnated.

    The proponents of eliminating ABC are violating various laws designed to protect property – trespass, waste, etc. – to get their message out. There has not been any shades of the days in America where doctors were murdered on their way to work at the abortion clinics. The law-breaking has a deminimus effect on society at large.

    Should the malfeasors be excused? What if it is proven in five years that these individuals had it completely wrong? Clearly new malfeasors would be punished, but why? Criminal culpability reflects state of mind. Today’s malfeasors and tomorrow’s malfeasors equally believe themselves to be right. We would have to go as far as to find a “delusion” in order to mark a distinction. I don’t think anyone is going there on either side of the argument – it is merely reasonable minds differing.

    So it would seem that from a criminal mens rea analysis, the prevailing correctness of ABC or DEF causing XYZ in whole or in part is irrelevant. The only issue is the state of mind – the belief – of the actor.

    So now what?

  31. Clyde:

    In England, vandalism is illegal, period.

    Freedom of speech means just that. It does not mean “express yourself all over your neighbours property”. Or get creative with the word “speech”,and expect that the law will support such action.

    All such protesters in the past have been punished, quite rightly for their actions no matter whether one should sympathise with the action. It was up to the Judge to make this clear to the jury.
    We are hearing all about this precisely because it is an unusual outcome.
    US precedents are irrelevant.

    In one way, they lose their martyr status by not being given or being prepared to take their punishment or put another way,
    “I want to save the world, but not enough to go to prison for it”

  32. Joy,

    I agree with you. Vandalism is per se illegal here, too. The cases are few where the underlying criminal activity is excused because of some “greater cause.” And the greater cause has – to my knowledge – been wholly couched in other constitutional freedoms. That is why the freedom-of-speech issue arises.

    The only other avenue I see for excusing otherwise-criminal behavior is the discussion of arson above. Burn a few houses to create a fire line to protect many houses – but even then the law requires the actor to be absolutely correct with an after-the-fact analysis.

    In America, one of our biggest poliitcal arguments is on the appointment of appelate justices. In that argument, the Repubicans/Conservatives want jurists that are guided by “strict constructionists.” The Constitution limits judicial action, the argument goes. The legislature is the place for law to be made; the judicial branch merely makes sure the law does not violate the constitution. The Democrats/Liberals want jurists that are “living constitutionalists.” These folks routinely “find” new rights and laws within the Constitution.

    It is in the latter group that we find jurists excusing criminal behavior in the name of greater goods such as a current political argument over global warming.

    I like your statement that “US precdents are irrelevant.” I feel the same way about UK precedents. There is, however, a voice within our liberal community that wishes to look outside our borders for a sense of what the world is doing – and to use that to determine what the common sense of decency is. It has come up often in death penalty issues. I disagree with that view – we are all sovereign nations. We cooperate on international issues, but should remain apart on internal issues (but not in the sense of China and human rights!).

  33. Then we agree. Thank you for explaining this difference between the two political parties in the US.
    It is for the jury to decide on guilt according to the current state of the law and the evidence presented to them. It is for the Judge to be merciful if this is appropriate. The two roles are different and my view is that the judge should make this clear to any jury.

  34. I have a few question/comment about what Mr ClydeM introduced in the discussion.

    First, my personal opinion is that act discussed here should have been judge criminal, but the punishment should have been limited. The act after all was to apply paint to a chimney which, I believe, didn’t impair in any way the power plant activity. I also believe that the not guilty verdict will be reversed on appeal, if the losing parties choses to appeal the verdict.

    I find two dangerous precedent in this verdict:

    1) It decriminalized an act that is ordinarily seen as criminal.

    2) The use of “predictive science” to justify a criminal act.

    For example, Here we can read that:

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/main.jhtml?xml=/opinion/2008/09/07/do0707.xml

    “Mr Hansen told the court that the new power station alone would be responsible for the extinction of “400 species”.”

    Now a few question are:

    1) Isn’t it possible that other more serious crime could become legal, with the same argument of the greater good.

    2) Isn’t it misleading if the prediction that scared the jury aren’t confirmed in the future.

    3) Isn’t law usually limited to facts. Since when something hypothetical is considered factual.

    For example in the case of the 400 species going extinct and since it doesn’t seems that any single of those 400 species were identified, how anyone supposed to know when and where the prediction comes true?

  35. Sylvain, let me see if I can address these questions from an American perspective.

    1) Isn’t it possible that other more serious crime could become legal, with the same argument of the greater good.

    I agree with your sentiment. Here, as Joy apointed out as in the UK, we have both a jury and a judge. The jury is the finder of fact – applying the facts to the law, and seeing if the behavior and state of ming met the body of the crime. If so, the finding needs to be guilty. We have had through time the issue of jury nullification – when the jury ignores an obvious crime and returns a not guilty verdict. This happened often in the late 1800s and early 1900s on the issue of abortion. A woman was charged with the crime of having an abortion, but the jury despite the facts returned not guilty. The studies have suggested that the jury was sympathetic to the defendant because of the hard economic times and the burden of having an additional child.

    Jury nullification aside, if the facts meet the crime, the return should be guilty. In fact, arguing to the jury that the potential sentence could be harsh is not allowed.

    Could nullification get out of hand? Clearly. Interestingly, if a jury finds a defendant guilty, the defendant can request the judge to overrule the jury finding. On a finding of not guilty, the same request is not available.

    2) Isn’t it misleading if the prediction that scared the jury aren’t confirmed in the future.

    I agree compeltely. That is why, to me, predictive issues should not be allowed to in open court. Criminal guilt is historical – completed or attempted act compared to existing law. Further, why is the jury hearing anything of a predictive nature? The finder of fact must determine the facts. If the actor was convinced that he was acting because of some greater good, that is not relevant to the issue of guilt. It bears on state of mind only – whether the actor’s state of mind was grounded or not. It seems to be applicable only to the wonderul McNaghten Rule you all gave to us in 1843 or so.

    3) Isn’t law usually limited to facts. Since when something hypothetical is considered factual.

    Continuing from above, after the facts are determined by the jury – after the state of mind is assessed in some measure – then the judge gets his or her shot. THIS is where the motivation issue comes in. This is the sentencing phase.

    An example I use in class is the person that goes into a store to steal bread. His wife has passed, he lost his job, his children are hungry. He stole based upon need.

    I then explain a second person that steals the same product. Only this theft is because he was in too much of a hurry to stop at the bank and cash his paycheck. Well, could have stopped at the bank, but he has a date tonight and wants to relax as long as possible before he goes out.

    Under American criminal law, both gentlemen are equally guilty. It will be up to the judge to mete punishment in a fashion that more clsoely meets their motivations.

    I suggest that the same issue applies in this matter of GW activists. Guilty – end of story. Let the judge cater a sentence that takes into account the defendant’s fears of rising waters.

  36. Dear Clyde,

    You took my bait, and for that I am much appreciative, for now we can discuss the crux of this matter.

    As you so eloquently state, “I do not mean to enter into a global warming argument with you. My point is this: Laws change in response to discourse; science and facts and knowledge all evolve over time as theories are vetted; as a society, we mature ethically. All of these things help us to move beyond a rudderless society driven by issues of Natural Law, to an organized society…”

    I have a difficult time agreeing with your statement as it implies that this is simply about global warming. And while it is true that global warming caused by the increase of CO2 in the atmosphere is a serious issue, it is just that an issue, not the problem at large. Just as the case was with CFCs in the 1970s, and we were able to pass the Montreal Protocol, there is a larger picture that we feel will never be addressed without the sort of methods that we feel are necessary.

    This larger picture is none other than our species. We have caused more damage to the earth than can ever be justified. We built cities where there were once forests causing the extinction to both flora and fauna; we dam rivers with no regard to the effect on fish and amphibian species that continue to feel this decimation as we speak; in order to increase our overly comfortable lifestyle we build nuclear and coal burning power plants; nothing to mention of our incessant desire to procreate to the point that we must genetically alter our crops to ensure that people receive the nourishment required to continue procreating.

    This madness must be stopped, and I will reiterate once again that in order to restore balance to our planet (which, I might add, we do not own, but are only inhabitants), it is my ferverant belief that laws of this society must be ignored.

    Kindly,

    DA

    (note: While most of you may scoff and laugh at the above, know that what I am saying is the mantra of so many environmental organizations. Case in point is Matt’s earlier post of the video of those “mourning” for earth. If the venom of this debate regarding AGW doesn’t reduce itself, many of those “true believers” may end being drawn into groups like ELF in the same way that gangs draw those disaffected youth into their ranks. Just some food for thought.)

  37. Dear Solicitor of the Damned,

    My friend, whose bait was dangling? The trap you so graciously set was detected well before the spring was sprung.

    Before you go off so quickly about all of the man-made deforestation and river pillage, let’s look at America, which I am certain is considered to be one of the greatest contributors to pollution. The density of the population of the United States is quite misunderstood. If we relocated every American to the single state of Texas, all 300 million of them, each individual would live on a half acre lot. Of course, a typical American family of four would get two acres. And 36.7 Billion acres of land mass on Earth, the ratio per person worldwide exceeds that of the United States.

    So yes, you can look at your town or city and see higher densities, but not in the totality of the planet. We are discussing the planet here, right?

    As a side note, I noticed that you did not address the receding ice caps of Mars in correlation to ours – science claims a similarity. Why did you not address that? I think if you admitted the veracity of the issue, then you need to leave the man-made argument on the table for the moment … can you? Same works with the temperature fluctuations on Earth as they cycle with Sun spots.

    I have looked at your thoughtful posting again (3d time). I must say, if you will so graciously accept this comment, dear Barrister of the Banned, I did not find any facts. I saw generalities and emotion. While I accept emotion tied to any issue of import, and commend you for you it dearly, I would sorely enjoy something of substance.

    Shall we begin with Mars’ ice caps and Solar cycles? Shall we withdraw to twenty paces and google?

    Yours kindly, Clyde

  38. Devil’s Advocate,

    You’ve attempted to present a case that man is destroying the planet, but of course you don’t really believe that.

    But on the off chance that you do, please visit the site below and follow their instructions:

    http://www.vhemt.org/

    Then write back to us and tell us all how it went (oh, wait, you won’t be around – nevermind).

  39. Ok…enough playing devil’s advocate!

    The point I was trying to make, which Clyde pointed to when he said, “I saw generalities and emotion. While I accept emotion tied to any issue of import, and commend you for you it dearly, I would sorely enjoy something of substance.” was that facts mean little to most of the “ordinary” folks involved in this debate… emotions are everything.

    While we can watch Steve M make a mockery of Mann et al’s latest reconstruction, or read Briggs’ insightful posts on smoothing, it means nothing to a larger group of people who are spoonfed their opinions by the MSM, the UN, Gore, and others. In fact, I would argue that truth (facts) is of little consequence and the aforementioned groups are well aware of it. Like the somewhat famous quote from the movie Liberty Valence, “When the legend becomes bigger than the truth, print the legend.”

    As long as the MSM, the UN, and the G8 decide to promote AGW as the only acceptable theory for climate change, the facts will be of little consequence. The important issue for those of us who want to believe that this sect of science will right itself in due time is…how do you penetrate this wall of PR??

    Most environmental groups…The Sierra Club, Greenpreace, Earth First!, PETA, etc. have a very positive mission that draws people and their wallets in, and a much darker mission to those true believers. Take the words of Paul Watson (Sierra Club) in Earth First! Journal, “Right now we’re in the early stages of World War III, it’s the war to save the planet. This kind of action will be getting stronger. The environmental movement doesn’t have many deserters and has a high level of recruitment. Eventually there will be open war.”

    How do you have a civil open debate with goups like these that could care less about facts becuase they know emotion is a much more powerful motivator than truth??

    Sorry if this is a bit OT, but it seems somewhat germaine in comparison to the discussion at hand.

  40. I find myself coming to the defense for the Attorney for the Abominator. Makes me feel dirty!

    I think myself to be well-informed, well-read on the various topics importance to my life. But I know my limits, too. I enjoy science, can study it and absorb its lessons. A hobby of mine is to study physics only because I love the logic of it. But I stuggle with the basics.

    On global warming, I would truly like the Defender of the Despicable to be right. I would like things to be in our control. But I cannot agree with it. The Earth is a magnificient creation well beyond our ability to understand, let alone manipulate. Yes, temperatures cycle. But where is the logic where I hear screamed from the rooftops, “Highest temperature since 1824?” I think, “um, ok, what were we pumping into the atmosphere in 1824?”

    Of course we need to be careful. We are caretakes of the Earth only. But to think that the sky is falling is something every generation has felt – just the reasons have changed.

  41. I kind of feel the need to set the record straight as my last post may come across a bit psychotic!!

    I believe in the scientific method (I am not a statistician though), and am well versed in the literature with respect to AGW. Over the years, I have become very disenchanted with the science of climatology. And as I sit here, I am amazed that Mann, Wahl, Amman, and others have not been professionally excommunicated for their lack of integrity (I am way past making mistakes at this point).

    I am in no way a denier, I just happen to believe that CO2 forcings are a rather minor driver of regional climate (it’s not quite as well mixed as some may infer).

    My biggest concern is that environmental goups will see what happened in England last week and infer from that decision that they should push the envelope further in the name of “saving the planet.” These groups have no regard for the actual science, especially when it doesn’t favor them. As I have been saying for over two years, these groups would make for a wonderful study of Cognitive Disonance!

    If you really want, I can put the horns back on and we can continue to debate the merits of “legal” disobedience. 🙂

  42. Clyde_M and LeeW,

    I first got interested by AGW after reading States of fear by the evil sinner Michael Chrichton, 2 or 3 years ago. I already add an opinion on the subject before reading the book. My opinion didn’t change after that for this subject, although it has change toward human impact on regional environment. Now, I think I’m pretty an up to date average Joe on this subject.

    I believe that there are some discrepancies about the theory of AGW. The theory itself hold true. Where their is much disagreement is in the prediction of the impact in the future and what was happening in the past. It always amazes me how the climate science community refers to anyone, or discipline outside the limited circle, has not being an expert on the subject, while it doesn’t prevent them to claim that they are statistician, historian, etc.

    Briggs, I think we can say of him that he is an expert in statistic (or at least not a novice like someone on another forum claim LOL), has written a great post on the risk of smoothing. Smoothing is commonly used in climate science which deal with vast data set, and some even pretend that smoothing is essential to detect signal??? (they obviously didn’t get the memo). I am far from being an expert statistician but still a light came on when I saw the strange handling of the data in climate science where anything seems to be appropriate (mixing tree rings with ice core, boreholes, ocean sediment and instrumental readings to claim the recent temp has being the warmest in millennia, and still getting through peer-review within the limited circle of climate science and being published), as long as the conclusion are the right one. I wonder if such paper who deals with a vast amount of statistic would get through peer review in a statistical journal.

    Climate science seems to only deal with fictional data (how else could one claim that 400 species will go extinct, if not by ignoring that the smoothing is the “average” of several years of data. If the smoothed data rarely visit the optimal condition for any given species the real data visit it regularly.

    I am presently a history student. From what I see in class, historian are vastly skeptic of the AGW catastrophe. The principal reason being that throughout what artifact or text historian discovers, their is numerous mention of past caprice of mother nature, either hurricane which a drawing made by the Mayans or Incas several millennia ago shows of a great storm which created havoc, or mention of heat wave, cold spell, flood, drought, etc, nature affected mankind from time immemorial and are not new phenomenon that man created. Also for as long as we can see mankind has been fascinated by weather/climate.

    The religion of climate isn’t a new phenomenon either, from the amerindian dance for rain to the european sacrifices to the different gods of weather.

    What maybe a new phenomenon is the demonization of our way of life in the name of climate. And this is actually scary.

  43. If you really think that abortion is murder, does that make Eric Rudolph, John Brown?

  44. Francois Ouellette

    September 20, 2008 at 9:42 am

    Devil’s advocate,

    There is an interesting point here, since this is about legalities, and it is the concept of “Natural Law”. The full acceptance of this concept in modern science seems to come from Newton. He stated the famous three “laws of motion”. What is interesting is that Newton was looking for a way out of Descartes’ purely mechanistic view of the world. Descartes assumed that the universe is broken down is small units of matter that collide deterministically. This, Newton thought, led directly to atheism, which he abhorred. So he viewed his laws of Nature really as the laws of God, ever present, ever making sure the Universe is acting in orderly fashion. Newton’s concept of “action at a distance” was originally taken with great suspicion, as it was akin to magics. It took a long time after Newton’s death for science (and society in general) to rid his ideas of their religious overtones, and more or less revert to Descartes’ original deterministic, mechanistic, and ultimately atheistic vision. I’m not sure Newton would have approved at all.

    But the environmental movement now seems to revert to this idea of a “law of Nature” that is above human law. The interesting question is: who would have written that law? And maybe also : where is it written? When we’re told that we must save the planet, we might respond “Says who?”. I’m wondering what would be the environmentalists response to that.

    In reality, “written” laws are a human invention (think Moses), though unwritten social laws themselves are not a human invention, but rather emerged within all social species. We formalized the concept, thinking we invented it, but it is really the expression of our social instinctive behavior. You can read “Chimpanzee Politics” of “Baboon metaphysics”, two excellent books, if you want to learn more. So if laws are only an emergent feature of social species, then the whole idea of a “natural law” above all species falls apart. There was, indeed, no law to protect the dinosaurs from extinction. 98% of all species who lived on our planet are now extinct, and not because of us, since we were not even there. If an asteroid smashed the Earth tomorrow, that would be it, and nobody would be there to drag it to court for damages (talk about vandalism!). We’re not living in a “Hitchhiker’s guide” universe!

    To claim that humans have some kind of “legal” responsibility towards the Earth is giving us a status that we do not have. It is to say that we are Gods for some reason. Why us? A much more pragmatic view would be to say that we have a respnsibility not to drive ourselves to extinction, but only because our natural instinct tells us so. If that requires a clean environment, well so be it! Not very godly, I admit. But you can’t have it both ways. You can’t have a “science” that draws most of its status from an “atheistic” and “mechanistic” view the natural world (and that includes humans of course), and on the other hand make religious-like claims, and base them on the same science!

  45. In the movie “Hot Fuzz” the town council of Sanford, Gloucestershire decided that it was OK to murder and destroy private property for the “common good.” The difference between Sanford and Hansen is that their cause actually had a factual basis.

  46. According to Roger Pielke Jr, Al Gore is right up there supporting civil disobediance of this kind:

    http://sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/prometheus/al-gore-on-breaking-the-law-4587

    Fascinating quote from Gore:

    I believe for a carbon company to spend money convincing the stock-buying public that the risk from the global climate crisis is not that great represents a form of stock fraud because they are misrepresenting a material fact

    Two questions; firstly, since when did model predictions become “material fact”, secondly, what about carbon offset companies (and their owners) making alarmist claims? Is that bad too, or is that okay because model predictions are “material fact”?

  47. Briggs

    September 29, 2008 at 5:22 pm

    All,

    I had a very knowledgeable soul (who wishes to remain anonymous) email with a bunch of possibilities for our list. Here they are.

    Here are some environmentalist quotes, many of which can be construed to advocate or condone various kinds of criminal behavior (e.g., murder, fraud, vandalism, etc.).

    I haven’t verified them, but some of them I’ve seen before and are
    definitely authentic.

    “[W]e have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we may have. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest.I hope that means being both.”
    –Stephen Schneider,

    “Childbearing [should be] a punishable crime against society, unless the parents hold a government license…. All potential parents [should be] required to use contraceptive chemicals, the government issuing antidotes to citizens chosen for childbearing.”
    –David Brower, Friends of the Earth

    “The planet is about to break out with fever, indeed it may already have, and we [human beings] are the disease. We should be at war with ourselves and our lifestyles.”
    –Thomas Lovejoy, tropical biologist and assistant secretary of the Smithsonian Institution

    “I honor Earth First for having the guts to do the things they do. It’s not for me, but I understand why they do what they do. And, ultimately, we all help each other.”
    -Brock Adams, VP, Audubon Society, quoted in the Los Angeles Times.

    “The only hope for the world is to make sure there is not another United States: We can’t let other countries have the same number of cars, the amount of industrialization, we have in the U.S. We have to stop these Third World countries right where they are. And it is important to the rest of the world to make sure that they don’t suffer economically by virtue of our stopping them.”
    — Michael Oppenheimer, Environmental Defense Fund(and now a
    Princeton professor)

    “To feed a starving child is to exacerbate the world population problem.”
    –Lamont Cole

    “Cannibalism is a radical but realistic solution to the problem of overpopulation.”
    –Lyall Watson, The Financial Times, 15 July 1995

    “If you ask me, it’d be a little short of disastrous for us to discover a source of clean, cheap, abundant energy because of what we would do with it.”
    –Amory Lovins, Rocky Mountain Institute.

    “The only real good technology is no technology at all. Technology is taxation without representation, imposed by our elitist species (man) upon the rest of the natural world”
    –John Shuttleworth, founder of Mother Earth News.

    “Isn’t the only hope for the planet that the industrialized civilizations collapse? Isn’t our responsibility to bring that about?”
    –Maurice Strong, Secretary General 1992 UN Earth Summit

    “We have wished, we ecofreaks, for a disaster or for a social change to come and bomb us into the Stone Age.”
    –Stewart Brand

    “Everything we have developed over the last 100 years should be destroyed.”
    –Pentti Linkola

    “Phasing out the human race will solve every problem on earth, social and environmental”
    –David Foreman, founder of Earth First!

    “If there is going to be electricity at all, I would like it to be decentralized, small, solar-powered”
    –Gar Smith

    “Man is always and everywhere a blight on the landscape.”
    –John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club.

    “Every time someone dies as a result of floods in Bangladesh, an airline executive should be dragged out of his office and drowned.”
    –George Monbiot

    Gore urges civil disobedience to stop coal plants:
    link

    Hansen implies it’s “appropriate” for scienctists to exaggerate (i.e., lie about) the dangers of climate change in order to get the public’s and policymakers’ attention:
    link

    (From Hansen) “Emphasis on extreme scenarios may have been appropriate at one time, when the public and decision-makers were relatively unaware of the global arming issue, and energy sources such as “synfuels,” shale oil and tar sands were receiving strong consideration. Now, however, the need is for demonstrably objective climate forcing scenarios consistent with what is realistic under current conditions.”

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