Sep 15, 2009

Free Speech Rules

I've stumbled across a brand new Facebook group. It's called End the Hate! and was started by Emily Chatman Duffy from East Bay, California. The description of the group is as follows:
It's long past time to put a stop to the cult of hating in our media. This style of so-called "reporting" which more honestly recalls it's roots from the Jerry Springer Show, than from the work of Walter Cronkite, began with FAUX (Fox) News owned by right wing Australian Rupert Murdoch. Hate is not a commodity to sell. It's a volatile emotional state that should be respected. It's not packaging for right wing dogma. THIS MUST END!
In a discussion board post titled "Clean Up the Media" Emily writes:
If we don't clean up the media then America's big issues will continue to be shown as screaming matches rather than actual debates. Facts will not be aired and wicked threats against the President and Congress will continue to be. The fact is, this shit SELLS! The best way to stop it is to make it UNPROFITABLE for the sponsors of hate media. I know many of you have some great resources to share on how we can do that. Let's get to work! I'm posting two of my favorite sites in the links section of this group. Please post any you have and also please share this group around even of you don't want to join yourself.
Let's get this done!
This is followed by a wall post from her that reads:
Two great organizations that research and report on the media:

Finally, under the page's Recent News heading, appears the following:
Already one of the biggest mouths in right wing TV, Glenn Beck, has lost 54% of his advertising for his inflaming of hatred against President Obama. Let's work together to get these haters off the public airwaves. [emphasis added]
Well, Emily, now would be a good time to recall those wise words from Noam Chomsky: "If we don't believe in free speech for those we despise, we don't believe in it at all."


Zero Visibility Possible

During my undergraduate years, one English course in particular left a lasting mark. Called the "Rhetoric of Fiction," it began by examining some non-fiction. We read George Orwell's thoughts on the importance of writing clearly. We read Martin Luther King Jr.'s masterful "Letter from Birmingham Jail."

We were encouraged to notice how such writers constructed their arguments - what techniques they used in their attempts to persuade the reader. Did they appeal to emotions or to the intellect? If they cited authorities and authoritative texts, how apt were their choices under the circumstances? Were they careful about not overstating their facts, charitable toward those with whom they disagreed, circumspect in their choice of words?

Today, two decades later, whenever I read a newspaper opinion piece, these ideas still jump to the foreground. They remain the criteria by which I judge a person's argument.

Sadly, there's no shortage of folks whose thinking doesn't measure up when judged by these standards. Yesterday, while conducting research for a book I'm writing about the global warming debate, I started keeping track of examples of the outrageous hyperbole that now dominates this topic in the popular media.

What struck me most is the tone of certainty with which people are making pronouncements. These folks sound as though they have access to a crystal ball whose reliability has been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt.

They know what the future holds. They know how a fundamentally unpredictable system such as Earth's climate is going to behave if we fail to reduce C02 emissions. They know the results will be catastrophic. They know, well before it has transpired, that humanity will have a last chance to avert disaster. They know, before future generations are even born, that those generations will be powerless to affect their own fates.

Right. And if the fortune teller down the street could actually predict the future, she'd buy a lottery ticket, collect her winnings, and abandon her tacky storefront.

Far too much of what is being published about global warming is utter nonsense. It's a waste of readers' time. The media needs to get a grip. Wild-eyed, apocalyptic predictions about the future are not news. They amount to overwrought speculation - nothing more.

So here's the list I compiled yesterday, as I worked my way through a few days' backlog of reading:

  • “We are rapidly losing time and options to save ourselves from the worst effects of catastrophic climate change.”- Canadian politician, Bruce Hyer

  • "If we have a catastrophic failure to reach an the end of that process there will be full climactic destabilization." - Tim Flannery, Chairman of the Copenhagen Climate Council

  • "To maximise our chances of preventing runaway climate change...we need a binding international treaty and the last chance we have to get that within the timescale of the physics of the planet is the United Nations climate summit in Copenhagen in December." - Franny Armstrong, UK filmmaker

  • "Two degrees is where we trigger runaway climate change: two leads to three, three to four, four to five, five to six … by which time it’s about over for life on earth. In other words, our elected leaders are giving us -- at best -- a coin-flip chance of avoiding catastrophe." - Franny Armstrong, UK filmmaker

  • "The people who came before us didn’t know about climate change and the ones who come after will be powerless to stop it." - Franny Armstrong, UK filmmaker

  • "...which gives us, at best, only a 50/50 chance of avoiding runaway global warming....CO2 levels must be reduced to below 350 parts per million to avoid climate catastrophe...required to avert catastrophic climate impacts..." - Amy Atwood, Center for Biological Diversity

  • "I write about the human migrations that will result from future environmental collapse of our continent in my forthcoming book, North American Ark, but most people, I believe, already share a vague sense of some overwhelming danger...My main point is that climate change is very real and is already causing disastrous, irreversible and extensive environmental change right here in North America." - Giles Slade, author

  • "A deal is not just desirable, but an imperative...on a par with the fight against terrorism...the effects on the planet could be catastrophic. Worse still, there is a sharply increased risk they will create vicious cycles that cause runaway climate change..." - David Miliband, UK Secretary of State

  • ..
    [hat tip to a gent named Tom Nelson, who collects these stories from far and wide and shares them here]