―The truth is that promoting science isn‘t just about providing resources—it‘s about protecting free and open inquiry. It‘s about ensuring that facts and evidence are never twisted or obscured by politics. It‘s about listening to what our scientists have to say even when it‘s inconvenient— especially when it‘s inconvenient — President Barack Obama, December 20, 2008
There has always been the presence of debate within climate science, not least around the topic of global warming and the sceptics are both numerous and defiant in their approach. However it has in recent years materialised that what was a topic for ‘healthy’ contention and debate has now become a breeding ground of crude and vicious attacks directed at climate scientists and their families. Michael Mann, a paleoclimatologist and joint Nobel Peace Prize winner of 2007, tells of the hate mail he has increasingly received throughout his career. The most recent account is that of him opening a hand addressed envelope to find a white powdery substance cascading from the unfolding letter inside. When questioned about this incidence the current director of Penn State Universities’ Earth Science Centre, claims that it is “so much a part of his life that I don’t even realise how weird it is”. Weird is a somewhat demure word to use when describing an anthrax scare, this conveys the context within which climate scientist are currently existing, death threats are becoming the norm for most scientists brave enough to be outspoken about how they interpret the ‘truth surrounding climate’.
In Australia, officials were forced to relocate several climatologists to secure facilities after they were bombarded with “barrage of vandalism, noose brandishing and threats of sexual attacks on the scientists’ children” at the hand of climate change sceptics. Surely this is the height of aggressive oppression, the implementation of fear into communities in an effort to repress arising views unfavourable to those in power, which has been the choice method of dictatorships and oppressive systems the world over. It is interesting then that the Heartland Institute, the refuted home of climate change scepticism, claims that “the people who believe in man-made global warming are mostly on the radical fringe of society, the most prominent activists of global warming are not scientists, they are murders, tyrants and madmen”. It is this sort of rhetoric that fuels global warming deniers hatred for climate science, overlooking the obvious crimes of slander, generalisation and falsity in the statement, it is inherently aggressive in its unanimous approach, with no room for enlightenment, scientifically supported of otherwise. This begs the question, as to how long is it before climate scientist are in line for danger pay?
There is fast emerging a situation where the line between science and politics is increasingly blurred, and scientists are having to cope with being in both realms. They are now progressively being faced with lawsuits and criminal charges, mostly pertaining to FOIA (Freedom of Information Act), “they are simply there to disrupt a scientist work” claims Katherine Hayhoe, another victim of vandalism involving emails mentioning her child and the guillotine, “These lawsuits are generally seen as a disturbance but can be incredibly disheartening. Such was seen in 2006 with Jeffery Gleason and Charles Monnet. Monnet and Gleason were scientists working in Alaska when they published an article describing the floating polar bear corpses they witnessed in the Artic Ocean. Following publishing they both came under investigation by the US Office of Inspector General for what was termed “integrity issues”, which eventually resulted in Gleason resigning from his post in Alaska, Monnet was equally affects and has not published and article since. According to their representative Jeff Rush, “after more than two years of investigations there have been no charges”, thus it was simply a ploy to halt their research, but does that warrant the resignation of a scientist, a commodity increasingly rare in the world.
The culmination of such phony charges was seen in the actions of senator James Inhofe’s infamous “list of 17” in which what is being described as a McCarthyite Witch-hunt, Inhofe listed 17 prominent climate scientists, who he publically claimed “may have been involved in potentially criminal activity”. The undoubtedly increasing role of politics in science is having an adverse effect, especially seeing as though more often than not scientists are being halted whilst sceptic activists are able to pounce on any lose material they can get their hands on. Websites are emerging such as climate depot.com, the birth child of Marc Morano, which is probably best known for its sporadic leaking of climate scientists’ private emails. These are then flooded with hate mail, such as was received by a MIT hurricane researcher who had his mailbox flooded for two weeks with hate mail threating himself and his wife. Let it be known I in no way refute the necessity of scepticism within climate science it is an integral part of any good scientists approach, the problem however is when it becomes an obsession mimicking those of fundamentalists. The point is the truth is being stunted, and if the sceptics were so secure in their stance on the issue, as the claim to be, surely hate mail would be superfluous. On the plus side though, for the climate scientist in the face of hate mail nuisance lawsuits and political attacks, how much worse could it get?
Increasingly people refuting climate change and global warming are opting to drop the label of ‘denier’ in favour of ‘realist’ or ‘sceptic’. This it is claimed by Tom Clynes in an article for popular science is because sceptics claim “the denier label too closely relates them with Holocaust deniers.” I am not even going to attempt to draw the natural conclusions made possible by this statement.
Human history is littered with falsehoods circulated by those in power to stay in power, denialism in the face of adversity and change and the embarrassing truths revealed decades later, that we look back to with our heads hung in shame. Is Global warming to become just such a topic, will future generations look back and judge our lack of courage and determination to do what is right in the face of hardship. I do not think it unlikely.