I knew that climate scientists were on the receiving end of some nasty emails, but it was still a shock to read James Hansen’s recent communication, in the course of which he gives a sample of the emails that he’d had in just the one week. They’re a dismal example of the unfettered rage which marks at least some sectors of the denialist world. Imagine receiving this sort of thing in your mail not just on the odd occasion but regularly:
- You rework your temperature data sets every time Mother nature proves you wrong, in an effort to force Her to agree with your ill conceived ideas about energy and nature. You, in fact, are the one committing crimes against humanity by lying, conniving, and concealing the truth about climate change on our world.
- What a pile of nonsense, Hansen. You take money and junkets hand over fist from people who pay you to mouth off trash like that. You aren’t exactly “forthcoming” about the “sources and amounts” of your graft – I mean, “gifts.” You ought to be ashamed of yourself,
- You sir are a walking crime against humanity and you know exactly why. You lie constantly about man-made global warming.
- You are not a scientist by any stretch of the imagination. You are a global warming shill and a con-artist.
- Are you some kind of lunatic??
And those are just my extracts from his selection from a week’s haul.
Hansen is not asking for sympathy, though I must say he has mine. His sharing of the email sample is offered as an indication of the lengths to which the denial of climate science is being carried. He also reports that in the past year he has been bombarded by numerous Freedom of Information Act demands for his emails and other correspondences and suits have been filed against NASA for his personal information. “Information obtained in these ways seems to be fed to people or organizations that broadcast a distorted picture of reality and question my ethics.” He references a post in Watts Up With That? last November which claimed on the basis of records obtained from NASA that Hansen had not been reporting some income as required by law.
A friend advised him not to respond to the attacks, but Hansen sees them as part of a professional effort to discredit climate science and is concerned that if he does not respond “their whoppers are ratcheted up, bigger and bigger,” and public confidence in the science is affected. He has therefore made a point-by-point reply to the specific allegations. I won’t detail them here, but needless to say they show the accusations to be groundless, as well as malicious.
Hansen is a notable scientist, but he’s not a lone scientist. He’s one representative of a now substantial body of climate science. Denialists frequently try to isolate him and a few others as if they were a small cabal working to undermine the economic fabric of society. Against the implacable fury of their attacks Hansen, in this communication as always, repeats the basic scientific reality from which his concern arises. Earth is warming, with most of the warming caused by human-made greenhouse gases, overwhelming natural variability. There is substantial global warming still “in the pipeline”. Extreme climate anomalies have increased in frequency to such a degree that they can be ascribed to global warming with a high degree of confidence. Paleoclimate data show that additional global warming of even another degree Celsius would cause irreparable harm to humanity and other species.
“The upshot is that we cannot burn and emit to the atmosphere most of the remaining fossil fuels.”
There’s the rub. That’s the reason for the vicious and determined campaign to deny the science and prevent governments from acting rationally to protect the human future. Hansen writes trenchantly:
“…fossil fuel kingpins manipulate public opinion and the government into supporting policies that are great for fossil fuel billionaires and awful for the public.”
He aims to help people recognize manipulation of public opinion that corrupts government energy policies to favour special interests of the few over the general good. There’s a great deal more at stake here than in the political argument which normally accompanies democratic dialogue. In fact Hansen describes himself politically as a moderate conservative, not the flaming radical that some like to accuse him of being. It’s the enormity of the issue which elevates it to unprecedented importance. In this document he repeats yet again what those who lobby for business as usual are steering towards:
“Burning all fossil fuels would create a very different planet than the one that humanity knows. The paleoclimate record and ongoing climate change make it clear that the climate system would be pushed beyond tipping points, setting in motion irreversible changes, including ice sheet disintegration with a continually adjusting shoreline, extermination of a substantial fraction of species on the planet, and increasingly devastating regional climate extremes.”
It’s a fearful prospect. Yet it’s still one that many vested interests are prepared to deny, furiously if need be, rather than turn their backs on the profitable industry of mining and burning fossil fuels.
Hansen and the many other scientists equally concerned — and equally abused — can do little more than keep on telling us what the science reveals. We must keep hoping that the message will finally break through to wide and rational acceptance, but for the time being it struggles to make itself heard against the power wielded by the heedless wealthy and against the inertia of politicians and a media which generally does not communicate adequately what the science is saying. And for the time being respected scientists continue to endure contumely from the acolytes of denial.