Opinion

Global Warming's New Scopes Monkey Trial

As economy crumbles, US Chamber of Commerce will 'put climate science on trial'.

By Mitchell Anderson 7 Sep 2009 | TheTyee.ca

Vancouver-based journalist Mitchell Anderson is an occasional contributor to The Tyee.

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1925 editorial cartoon ridiculed anti-evolutionists.

Corporate giants like Nike and Johnson & Johnson must be wondering today why they are still members of the increasingly crazy U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The Chamber last week filed legal papers seeking to put climate science on trial by challenging the largest peer review exercise in scientific history in the US Federal Court.

Chamber officials say it would be "the Scopes monkey trial of the 21st century" -- complete with witnesses, cross-examinations and a judge who would rule, essentially, on whether humans are warming the planet to dangerous effect.

"It would be evolution versus creationism," crowed William Kovacs, the chamber's senior vice president for environment, technology and regulatory affairs. "It would be the science of climate change on trial."

Just when you think the climate denier crowd could get any loopier -- they do.

Last time US prosecuted science

For those who weren't alive during the infamous "Scopes Monkey Trail" of 1925, Tennessee high school teacher John Scopes was put on trail for the "crime" of teaching the theory of evolution to his students in violation of a state law called the Butler Act.

In what is now recognized as the low water mark in American intellectual history, the prosecution harangued the scientific community for teaching that humans descended "not even from American monkeys, but from old world monkeys".

The world was astounded that an enlightened country like the United States seemed to be slipping back into the Dark Ages. Many Americans were mortified at a spectacle the New York Times described as "the fantastic cross between a circus and a holy war."

The Baltimore Sun derided the local population as "babbits", "morons", "peasants", "hill-billies", and "yaps" (whatever they are). Their editors railed against the "degraded nonsense which country preachers are ramming and hammering into yokel skulls."

As with all forms of state-sponsored censorship, the concept of truth was irrelevant. The judge instructed the jury to ignore the merit of the law, and because the defense was prevented from submitting evidence, they did not even ask the jury to find their client not guilty.

The Tennessee court of appeal dropped this fiasco like a hot potato, stating, "We see nothing to be gained by prolonging the life of this bizarre case. On the contrary, we think that the peace and dignity of the state, which all criminal prosecutions are brought to redress, will be the better conserved by the entry of a nolle prosequi herein."

This remarkable historical embarrassment is what the U.S. chamber of Commerce wants to recreate in the 21st Century on behalf of their membership.

Why Chamber's willing to make a fool of itself

This cynical maneuver is in response to the long overdue finding by the US EPA that ballooning emissions are a threat to human health. This will open the door to CO2 being regulated as a pollutant under the Clean Air Act -- something some elements in the business community will clearly stop at nothing to prevent.

Personally, I believe it would be useful to see some of well known pseudo-scientists who make a lucrative living denying climate change dragged out their media bubble and grilled on the stand.

It might be illuminating to see them defend their shoddy credentials, dubious funding sources, and the strange coincidence that virtually everyone at odds with the vast scientific consensus of climate change is receiving dirty carbon money.

Not all US business backs this silly business

This bizarre move from the Chamber of Commerce also exposes the growing rifts amongst their membership. Earlier this year, Johnson & Johnson sent a letter demanding that the Chamber refrain from making comments on climate change unless they "reflect the full range of views, especially those of Chamber members advocating for congressional action."

Nike has also been vocal with the Chamber's leaders "about wanting them to take a more progressive stance on the issue of climate change."

Other prominent and progressive companies like Levi Strauss, Starbucks, Sun Microsystems, Timberland, eBay, Gap Inc., Seventh Generation, PNM Resources, and Symantec are likely wondering whether they want to continue to be associated with an organization that seems to hold the protection of the environment in such contempt.

As Obama moves the U.S. towards long-overdue policies to prevent the atmosphere from being used a free dumping ground for dangerous levels of CO2, it is fascinating to watch the political theatre that ensues. Groups like the Chamber of Commerce appear more concerned with preventing carbon pricing than protecting their own credibility -- or the planet.  [Tyee]

Read more: Environment

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