I think I’ve finally arrived.

I have now joined the august ranks of journalists — including such luminaries as Tom Brokaw, New York Times environment reporter Andy Revkin, and AP science reporter Seth Borenstein — publicly attacked by the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works. They hate me! They really hate me!

Some background: EPW is chaired by everyone’s favorite flat-earther, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Mongo). A while back, Inhofe hired Marc Morano of CNS news — famous (if that’s the word) for writing this piece questioning whether war veteran Rep. Jack Murtha (D-PA) faked the wounds that got him two purple hearts — to head up his communications operation. Morano wasted no time firing off press release blasts attacking various reporters and public figures for "bias." (Remember, in the right-wing dictionary, "bias" means a stubborn insistence on distinguishing truth from falsehood.)

Today, I have the dubious honor of being the target of one of these attacks.

Now, Morano’s a standard-issue movement hack and Inhofe is increasingly regarded as a clown, even by his Senate colleagues, so the value of responding to this kind of thing is questionable. But Morano has accidentally raised an interesting point, so here goes.

What caught Morano’s attention is a blog post in which I, in the grandiose rhetorical style for which I am so marginally beloved, said:

When we’ve finally gotten serious about global warming, when the impacts are really hitting us and we’re in a full worldwide scramble to minimize the damage, we should have war crimes trials for these bastards — some sort of climate Nuremberg.

I was, as might be obvious, rather angry. I had just read an excerpt from George Monbiot’s new book Heat detailing the connections between the global warming denial industry and the tobacco industry. In some cases, the very same people instrumental in denying for years that tobacco is harmful are now denying that global warming is happening (or human-caused, or harmful, or whatever they can get away with). Again: the very same people.

Too often, this kind of thing is treated like a partisan political squabble, a game of rhetorical sparring between the "sides" of a debate. But those people who put so much money and time into confusing the public about the science around tobacco were not simply clever political operatives. They were responsible for delaying by decades the time when we turned our concerted collective attention to reducing smoking. They were responsible — indirectly, but not all that indirectly — for tens of thousands of needless deaths.

Most of them were never called to account. The tobacco industry itself paid dearly, eventually, but the network of think tanks, pseudo-scientists, and commentators who supported their efforts are merrily engaged in the very same sorts of deceptions today. It’s galling. They have blood on their hands. They should have been drummed out of public life. They should not be accepted in polite company.

The endless calls for "civility" among the nation’s political and media elite have become so numbing that it’s difficult to get out from under the haze and speak simply about this. But it needs to be said: These people are, morally if not legally, criminals.

And now they’re doing it again.

Let’s be clear: there are substantial debates about the severity of the effects of global warming, and the timing of those effects. There are substantial debates about the proper policy response. There are plenty of good-faith debates we should be, and are, having.

But these people — the industry-funded think tanks, their media representatives, and politicians like Inhofe — are not engaged in those debates. They’re throwing chaff in the air: misleading statistics, repeatedly refuted canards about medieval warming periods and water vapor and computer models (see here for some yeoman’s refutations), irrelevant charges about the allegedly sinister motives of global warming activists, and on and on.

They are attempting to confuse the public, score political points, and delay the day of reckoning for the industries that fund them. Period.

Is this "equivalent to denying the Holocaust," as Morano absurdly accuses me of claiming? No, of course not. But surely we can agree that there are many catastrophes short of the Holocaust that are worth avoiding. Surely we can agree that global warming denialists, while not "as bad" as Holocaust deniers, are nonetheless really damn bad.

Nuremberg trials? Eh, whatever. Sue me for rhetorical excess. But let’s not forget that a moral crime is taking place under our noses, and nothing is to be gained by being polite about it.

Update [2006-10-11 14:32:26 by David Roberts]: Oh, I forgot to include the funniest bit from Morano: “Gore and Moyers have not yet commented on Grist’s advocacy of prosecuting skeptics of global warming with a Nuremberg-style war crimes trial.” They have “not yet commented” on this obscure blog post?! They must endorse it, in whole and in part!