Mad, bad and dangerous

Australian climate scientists have been receiving abusive emails — even death threats — from people who mistake violence for political expression. Graham Readfearn provides some examples (not for the squeamish). The Canberra Times broke the story at the weekend and it’s been covered in depth at The Conversation (one, two). Tim Lambert comments on the vapid response from right wing commentator Tim Blair, but I was horrified by the unrepentant tone adopted by Joanne Nova:

This is sheer beef-it-up spin, making a mountain out of a molehill, clutching at straws in desperation to eek out a PR victory from the dregs of a fading scam.

I might have expected a ritual “we do not condone violence” from Nova and Blair, but it’s nowhere to be seen. Nor is this tactic new. It’s been a fact of life for climate scientists in the USA for years. That it’s crossing the Pacific and polluting the discourse in Australia should be a matter of shame for those opposing action on climate change.

It’s also evidence of how desperate the campaign of denial has become. Denied recourse to the evidence because it is overwhelmingly against them, they resort to bullying and hate speech. There’s a lesson here for those who would argue against action on climate change. When you make common cause with the crazies by invoking conspiracies as your case for inaction, then you open the doors on a very dangerous form of debate.

14 thoughts on “Mad, bad and dangerous”

  1. First of all, the individuals making threats need to be traced.

    Secondly, they need to be treated as cyber-terrorists and prosecuted to the full extent of the Law.

    Thirdly, it needs to be determined whether they were lone idiots, or part of a wider conspiracy, which I suspect some of them may be.

    Lastly, new laws need to be drafted to protect our science and scientists.

  2. It must be said that scientists who make false claims about the climate and broadcast false accusations about the alleged misconduct of scientists must presumably bear some responsibility for the hatred of climate scientists.

  3. Continuing my campaign against the sceptics of Southland, I have composed the following letter to the editor of the Southland Times. Could someone please have a look at it and tell me if I’ve got it right (I can never remember if coal releases CO2 or just C). Thanks.

    “Imagine if a massive deposit of undecomposed used toilet paper was shallowly buried under fertile Southland soil. An enterprising paper manufacturer proposed digging it up, recycling the paper and selling it to China – “After all, they are crying out for more toilet paper and we need the money.” He knows that the waste on the paper will have to be disposed of in Southland but explains, “On a global scale, it’s really a very small amount of poo.”

    This scenario is fantasy, but analogous to Solid Energy’s proposal to dig up lignite. Lignite is at the peat end of fossil fuels. It is undecomposed plant material that was quickly and shallowly buried a long time ago – a time when the earth had a warmer climate than today and the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was much higher than it is now. When that plant material was buried, a certain amount of carbon was buried with it. When the lignite is processed into briquettes, some of that carbon will be released back into the atmosphere.

    That is why the ‘coal should stay in the hole’. In the long run we are messing with nature’s rubbish dump if we dig it up.”

    I try to keep it simple for the locals. One is still asking why Dr Hansen’s graph of sea warming had the zero part way up the x-axis instead of at the bottom!

    1. Carol,
      About Lignite:
      Although it would be better if you could establish more about the particular Lignite of interest.
      Note: Wikipedia is unreliable as a primary source and it is always best to check the accuracy from reliable sources.

      Complete combustion of carbon fuels always produces CO2, but impure fuels will produce other nasties.

      As Dr Richard Alley says, we are digging-up Coal and burning it at a million times* the rate it was deposited.
      Richard Alley Dances to Explain Ice Ages, CO2 and Global Warming
      million times *@ 2.00 minutes but hey, watch the whole video, it’s only 4.51.

      If I were you, I’d contact the big guns, (I can’t promise help but I hope they will): may be able to help.
      Barry Brook at

      Remember you’ll doubtless be up against the likes of, Bob Carter and Ian Plimer who are not above spouting crap to confuse the public.

  4. Of course, it’s CO2 isn’t it? Sorry, I have had a distressing day and my brain is fuzzy. Anyway, what do you think of the anology?

  5. Carol – when coal, or other fossil fuel, is burnt, the carbon from it combines with two oxygen molecules in the air forming CO2. That’s why the amount of oxygen in the atmosphere is declining ever, ever so slightly (no need to worry!, there’s plenty left to go around)

    I don’t like the poo analogy (shakes head), I think it will turn off any prospective reader.

  6. Thanks for your replies, DW and Amoeba. Isn’t it strange how you can know something for years and then it suddenly slips out of your brain?

    I have been outnumbered at least 10 to 1 on the letters page and am not bothered by the numpties (put my name into the search at to see). My tactic is to always remain calm, polite and correct.

    There’s been a lot about poo in our paper recently – with the degradation of our local waterways by run-off from dairy farms. I thought the analogy might draw in readers who will not be expecting “another” global warming letter. Hmm, will think on it.

    Thanks again.

  7. So Jo Nova portrays herself as a writer (albeit a science writer). Still I can’t help thinking about what it might mean to “eek out a victory”. Sounds like something that might happen in a zombie movie!

    1. Looking at the smirk on Nova’s visage on her website I thought I had seen that sort of expression before. And yes: “Google Images clockwork orange”. Its the look in the eyes of the cynical playful and aggressive character of Alex, the villain hero in Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece screenplay of Burgess’s dystopian novel. I wonder if Nova ever saw the movie?

    2. Ah, Little Alex, one of the most genuinely hateful characters in the history of Cinema! The ‘oomny’ dama and her gloopy droogs sure do govoreet some sodding cal…

      “eek” indeed!

  8. The grotesque tactics now run right through the denialist camp from top to bottom, with Shadow science minister Mirabella now following the Murdochracy’s lead in blaming the victims!

    Pandering to what can only be described as a rabble is a very dangerous game, as history attests, and this is yet another example of how far these so-called ‘conservative’ institutions have drifted.

    Sadly, this is one ugly country at the moment. It may surprise many but will only be a matter of sad resignation to some; it seems that unparalleled wealth and affluence has transformed a land that was once an international bastion of restraint and the fair go into something mean-spirited, rancorous, and, I fear, genuinely dangerous.

    1. The hatred expressed in those evil emails is appalling. I gather that it is still illegal to threaten someone in this way – even if it is via electronic media. One would hope that the Australian Federal Police are investigating these missives with all vigour.

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