Recently, scientist Bill Nye debated on CNN about how we should respond to climate change. What role do you feel the media should play in conveying climate change information? In what ways is it legitimate to limit individual freedom to respond to climate change?

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On the level of media coverage of global climate change, I agree with Bill Nye's position that the media should focus on reliable information by scientific experts, serving to educate its audience rather than pander to ignorance and prejudice. While it is important that media coverage be balanced, given limited space and time, that should be a balance among credible accounts with genuine evidence. Balance does not mean treating flat-earthers, creationists, UFO enthusiasts, anti-vaxxers, or conspiracy theories as though they somehow are on the same level as scientific studies. Nye is doing important work in trying to educate the public about climate change and the way it affects our everyday lives.

In terms of individual freedom, a generally accepted ethical standard is what John Stuart Mill termed the "harm principle" in his seminal work On Liberty. We all accept that our freedom to act ends where it impinges on other people's freedom or causes them harm. I have the freedom to own my own car. I do not have the freedom to steal someone else's car or to drive drunk or to text while driving or to run red lights, as those acts would harm others. In the same way, as Nye points out, carbon emissions harm others. Thus, just to use cars as an example, eliminating lead in gasoline, tightening MPG standards, and limiting emissions all are ways of reducing the harm caused by cars to our environment.

Other measures being advocated by Nye and others concerned about global climate change use scientific evidence to follow this principle that we should be free to take any actions that do not harm others, but that we are not free to act in ways that harm others. Pollution, which degrades the air people breathe and the water people drink, and climate change, which destroys people's homes and increases severe weather events, are examples of harm in the same way drunk driving or stealing are.

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