Anti-coal campaigner Jonathan Moylan’s actions in disrupting the market for Whitehaven stock a few days ago was intended to be a moral action. It is not immoral to have principles and to take a strong stance against the use of coal given the imminent problem of climate change that the world now faces. On the other hand, it is unclear to me that Jonathan’s action itself was sensible given that it will have almost no impact on coal usage by electricity generators and no effects on the international coal trade. The main effect will be to increase community distrust in the general workings of our local securities markets and that is probably a negative. We need healthy private investments in non-carbon based sources of energy and other related private sector innovations to move successfully away from coal.
The climate debate has within it some climate science denialists mainly from the ideological right of politics. These people misrepresent climate science consistently and, by their actions, imperil the quality of lives of future generations. These people are substantial frauds without principles. By any standard they are genuinely immoral since they repeatedly state views revealled on many occasions to be lies. Yes, these people disgust me but I don’t see any feasible way of dealing with them apart from recognising their deceit and trying to expose and publicise it. They, themselves, won’t change their views. They are resiliantly opposed to rational argument because right-wing ideology, not rationality, drives their views. The difficulty is that their immorality and stupidity is preventing actions that might reduce the prospect of a future climate disaster.
The difficulty for Jonathan is that these genuinely immoral liars who will inflict huge damages on society are not disobeying any law and he did. Apart from not employing these liars in occupations that rely on veracity (education, financial institutions) we must wait for their lies to be revealled as such. The difficulty is that we are running out of time.
I can understand the moral tension Jonathan must have experienced.
Update: While it does not affect the principle here, as John Quiggin and others point out, the costs of Jonathan’s actions will be small. To work them out exactly you would have to know the volume of trades that occurred while the information about Whitehaven was being believed and multiply that by the losses that would have occurred if the stock had otherwise been held. These would provide an upper bound to the losses that accrued to those who sold because of that information. Of course there would be compensating and offsetting gains to those who made purchases. The likely total cost will be under $300,000.