After exposure of his death-penalty dissertation on several sceptical blogs yesterday, Prof. Richard Parncutt took down and rewrote the page on the University of Graz website. I have reproduced his reconsidered Christmas message to the climate debate below. He makes much of his membership of human rights organisation Amnesty International. (I’ve been a member in the past too). Gone is the link to DeSmogBlog’s ‘little list’ of deniers. Prof. Parncutt now acknowledges there are areas in which he is no expert. So what’s left? Has he recognised the logical and ethical fallacies in his original? Does he recognise that advocating the killing of people for the views they hold is itself a crime in many civilised countries? Has he ever heard the advice “When in a hole – stop digging” ?
You be the judges.
Death Penalty for Global Warming Deniers?
by Professor Richard Parncutt
An objective argument…a conservative conclusion
last updated 25 December 2012
I have been a member and financial supporter of Amnesty International Austria since 1998. Previously, I was a member and financial supporter of Amnesty in the UK from 1994 to 1998. Like Amnesty I have consistently opposed the death penalty in every case, and this is still my opinion.
In discussions about the death penalty, it is important to acknowledge that it may be inconsistent to completely reject the death penalty in all cases. Imagine a situation where one person or a small group is in a position to kill millions of people. Imagine that there is also clear evidence that they intend to do so. Murder of that person or that small group could be justified on the grounds that it would save the lives of a large number of people with a high probability.
If the government of a country was somehow responsible for that murder, it could be considered a justified act that is related to the death penalty. Of course there is a big difference: the death penalty is always applied after a serious crime has been committed. In this case we are talking about preventing a serious crime.
This example is not completely imaginary. In the near future it is possible that terrorists will get hold of weapons of mass destruction. If there was strong evidence to believe that those terrorists were able to use those weapons to kill millions of people, and intended to do so, a government could be justified in killing them. This is a very difficult issue for pacificists like myself to talk about. But to avoid the issue is not an option either.
Another non-imaginary example is global warming. According to mainstream scientific opinion, global warming is happening already, and if things do not change radically in the coming decades, it will indirectly kill hundreds of millions of people later this century.
Many people believe either (i) that global warming is not happening, (ii) that the problem is much less serious than predicted, or (iii) that the effect is natural – not a product of human activities (especially CO2 emissions). Since scientists have been known to be wrong in the past, it is important first to acknowledge that the skeptics might be right. Moreover, they have the same rights as everyone else to express their opinions and arguments. Skepticism is an important part of science.
It is also important to acknowledge that the discussion about the existence or nature of global warming is not an abstract argument. It is not merely about who is right or who is wrong. The discussion has enormous implications. If mainstream scientific predictions are correct, global warming will seriously affect billions of people, and hundreds of millions could die as a result.
Let us assume for the purpose of argument that the global warming skeptics are right with a probability of 90%. That is a very generous assumption, if we consider that hundreds of highly qualified, internationally leading scientists have devoted their lives to this problem, and in general disagree. According to this assumption, the scientists are right with a probability of 10%. Let us also assume that 10 million lives are at risk as a result of global warming in coming decades, which is also a very conservative estimate. In this case denying the existence of global warming – in a way that slows down current attempts to stop it – is directly risking the lives of one million people (10% of 10 million).
I am not saying the skeptics are wrong. I am talking on a different level. All participants in this debate, including the global warming skeptics, acknowledge that there are significant uncertainties. We are not completely sure whether we are risking these future lives or not. And as long as we are unsure, global warming skepticism, when coupled with attempts to stop measures to stop global warming, should be considered a crime. We have no right to gamble with the lives of millions of people.
To protect future generations, our legal systems urgently need extension. They should include measures to protect future generations. Exactly what penalties should be applied in what situation is a question that is beyond my expertise. I have no expertise in international law or criminal law. But I can imagine that it might be legitimate to consider the question of the death penalty in such discussions – at least as an extreme with which other more moderate penalties can be compared. It might also be interesting to consider the power of different kinds of penalties as deterrents. The primary aim should not be to punish a small number of individuals (in the sense of exacting revenge). The primarily aim should be to prevent serious consequences for a very large number.
In closing, let me repeat that I am in general opposed to the death penalty in every case. I am also very concerned that global warming is threatening the quality of life of billions of future people, and the lives of hundreds of millions. I often worry about this problem and I wish I had a good solution. For me, the discussion about global warming is not an abstract discussion about how much snow there will be when I want to go skiing in Austria, or how long heat waves will last when I am with my family in Australia. It is a matter of life and death, for millions of people. We should have the courage to treat it as such.
The opinions expressed on this page are the personal opinions of the author. _____________________________________________________________________________