Debate. It's the hallmark of an open society. We may hold different points of view on a certain topic, but we can express those views freely, without fear of repercussions.
Unless, that is, you dare to question the idea of man-made global warming. That, apparently, puts you beyond the pale. You can insist the 1969 Apollo moon landing was staged, or that 9/11 was an "inside job," and it's "live and let live" time. But disagree with the view that climate change is not only occurring but is caused by human activity, and you invite a stay in a rubber room.
Or a jail cell, to be more precise. That's what 20 academics at such prestigious universities as Columbia, George Mason and the University of Washington have in mind for those who disagree on climate change. They recently wrote a letter to President Obama and Attorney General Loretta Lynch requesting that dissenters be criminally prosecuted.
How, you may ask? They actually want the government to target climate-change skeptics with the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. That's right. They want to cap the critics with a law created specifically to go after organized crime. Their opponents are no better than drug cartels and the Mafia, apparently.
And why? Because, they claim, the skeptics have "knowingly deceived the American people about the risks of climate change." It's their contention that certain companies and industries know that their activities are causing global warming, but are determined to cover it up because it would hurt them financially.
And you know what? They're welcome to hold that point of view. My question is, if these academics are so certain they have the truth on their side, why are they so concerned about the views of dissenters? Oh, the dissenters slow progress in addressing the problem, the academics reply:
"It is imperative that these misdeeds be stopped as soon as possible, so that America and the world can get on with the critically important business of finding effective ways to restabilize the Earth's climate, before even more lasting damage is done."
So nothing can be done until the entire planet is united in a full-throated chorus of kumbayas, crying out to stop the scourge of man-made global warming? Interesting. Because I'm pretty sure history shows that such unanimity has never occurred on any major issue — and somehow people still get things done.
In reality, of course, these academics simply can't abide having anyone disagree with them. So away with the skeptics. Make them disappear.
So fierce is their righteous indignation at those who commit environmental heresy that it's blinded them to the fact that their proposal clearly infringes on the free-speech rights of others. And what irony: If anyone should be fostering a free exchange of ideas, it's those who work at our nation's universities. Instead, they're leading the charge against debate.
Just ask Philippe Verdier, who for many years was France's chief weatherman. His nightly forecasts have been a national institution. But Philippe isn't on the job anymore. He was dismissed after he wrote in a book that climatologists have "taken the world hostage" with misleading data.
"We are hostage to a planetary scandal over climate change — a war machine whose aim is to keep us in fear," he writes.
Whatever the aims of the climate-change crowd, it's obvious that they will not tolerate dissent. The academics who wrote the president insist that "an overwhelming majority of climate scientists are convinced about the potentially serious adverse effects of human-induced climate change on human health, agriculture, and biodiversity."
They're wrong about their numbers (many climate scientists disagree with them), but surely they believe it. If so, why worry? If they enjoy an "overwhelming majority," why urge the president to prosecute the tiny fringe that opposes them?
Whatever the reason, prosecution is not the answer. If you can't stand the heat in the debate room, don't try and bar the doors to others.
-Ed Feulner is founder of The Heritage Foundation.
This piece originally appeared in the Washington Times