Texas Tech scientist sees intimidation effort behind barrage of hate mail

Texas Tech climate scientistHate mail in the inbox has been an occupational hazard for climate scientists in the public eye for some time now. Something about their endorsement and explanation of the mainstream scientific view that humans are heating up the earth’s atmosphere elicits that sort of response from certain people who disagree very strongly.

Lately, it has been Texas Tech University professor Katharine Hayhoe’s turn to be on the receiving end of an avalanche of venomous emails.

It happened after conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh ridiculed her as a “climate babe” and Republican presidential contender Newt Gingrich, apparently reacting to Limbaugh’s attack, revealed that he was dropping a chapter written by Hayhoe from his forthcoming book on environmental issues. She had been asked to write the chapter by Gingrich’s co-author. [News accounts here and here.]

Gingrich himself had come under withering attack by some conservatives who scoff at climate science as flawed or even fraudulent and oppose pollution-reducing action to mitigate manmade climate change.

The reason: The former House speaker – though hedging his stance on occasion – had taken the position that humanity’s emission of greenhouse gases, which the overwhelming majority of scientists say is causing global warming, warrants a preventive response. A cause of much derision by some conservative critics was Gingrich’s appearance in a video ad for Al Gore’s climate-action organization with Nancy Pelosi, the liberal Democrat who was then House speaker.

Hayhoe, a widely respected scientific expert on subjects including computer climate-projection models and the regional impacts of climate change, is director of Texas Tech’s Climate Science Center. In one regard, the Canadian researcher is like other climate scientists in that she endorses her field’s mainstream view that humanity’s production of greenhouse gases, particularly from the use of fossil fuels, is harmfully altering the climate. In another regard, however, she stands out in a way that has drawn considerable attention.

She is an avowed evangelical Christian, daughter of one-time missionaries, who publicly links her religious faith to her belief that people should work to reduce climate change. That distinguishes her from some evangelicals – and some other religiously conservative Protestants and Catholics – who have voiced skepticism about manmade climate change or rejected it outright because they think it conflicts with their religious beliefs. With her husband, Andrew Farley, senior pastor of an evangelical church and a professor of applied linguistics at Texas Tech, Hayhoe wrote the 2009 book, A Climate for Change: Global Warming Facts for Faith-Based Decisions.

They summed up the book’s call to climate action this way:

As Christians, we are free in Christ to reach out in love. Given His radical grace toward us, will we choose to serve one another, or will we live in a bubble of ignorance about the outside world? If decisions can be made on an everyday basis, decisions that make sense, and ensure a cleaner and better world for us, our children, and everyone else on the planet, then why not make them?

Let’s use our freedom to serve one another in love.

Whether one agrees with that message or not, there’s no denying that its tone is drastically different from much of the email Hayhoe has been receiving after Limbaugh’s denunciation, Gingrich’s decision to kill her book chapter, and the repeated publication of her email address by an influential conservative blogger who ceaselessly campaigns against climate science and climate action, Mark Morano.

Morano, who alleged that Hayhoe’s participation in the book project showed that Gingrich was a “committed greenie” and “warmist,” formerly worked for Limbaugh and then for Republican Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, who, like the radio pundit, calls the science of manmade climate change a “hoax.”

Reflecting on the flood of negative emails she has gotten recently, Hayhoe told Toronto’s Globe and Mail newspaper earlier this month, “The attacks’ virulence, the hatred and the nastiness of the text have escalated exponentially. I’ve gotten so many hate mail [messages] in the last few weeks I can’t even count them.”

At Texas Climate News’ request, she provided a sample of these emails to illustrate what she was talking about. Here are some excerpts, quoted verbatim except for bracketed material, with the eight writers’ own punctuation, spelling and other style features. Caution: The fourth item includes language that some readers may find offensive and presents a disturbing and violent fantasy by that email writer:

  • you are nothing but a liar; you lie
  • AGW [anthropogenic, or manmade, global warming] is a hoax […] Where are the facts? Prove your unproven hypothesis. Prove it. Show the world. You can’t. You are a fraud. […] Your name and the names of the other warming alarmists will be mud as the years go forward. You are a disgrace. You are a nut.
  • DUMPED FROM GINGRICH’S BOOK HA HA HA […] IT’S A GREAT START!!! SEE YA, FRAUDSTER – GET A REAL JOB, MCDONALD’S IS HIRING
  • [Misogynistic vulgarism] Nazi Bitch Whore Climatebecile […] You stupid bitch, You are a mass murderer and will be convicted at the Reality TV Grand Jury in Nuremberg, Pennsylvania.  AGW has never been anything but a Rockefeller depopulationary eugenical scam. […] After the Grand Jury indicts you, I would like to see you convicted and beheaded by guillotine in the public square, to show women that if they are going to take a man’s job, they have to take the heat for mass murder, just like the men do when they get caught. If you have a child, then women in the future will be even more leery of lying to get ahead, when they see your baby crying next to the basket next to the guillotine.
  • [This writer was reacting to a Twitter message that Hayhoe sent after learning from the media that her chapter would not appear in the Gingrich book. In it, she said the chapter represented “100+ unpaid hrs I (could have) spent playing w my baby."] I read your whiney comments about researching for a rejected book chapter instead of spending time playing with your baby. Perhaps you should take responsiblility how you choose to use your time. In my opinion, the problem with America is women refuse to stay at home taking care and nurturing their offspring while prioritizing their selfish ambitions attempting to carve out a career for themselves. Be a good mother or be a good researcher.
  • I am afraid [blogger Anthony Watts, a former television meteorologist and prominent climate-change skeptic] has exposed you as something of an academic fool. Try using actual data next time.
  • Stop using Jesus to justify your wacko ideas about global warming. First, it is an insult to the Lord Jesus. Second, it is insulting to those of us who actually take our Christianity seriously. Third, it is juvenile.
  • Do you believe in God? If you do, then you must believe that He is all powerful. But believing in AGW contradicts that, because to be able to change the climate in such a manner as you prescribe to would mean that we are more powerful than He is. I know better than that, but it would appear that you and your husband don’t. Maybe you should both take another look at your belief system. I think it needs some adjusting.

Hayhoe believes such messages represent efforts to intimidate climate scientists. She told The Globe and Mail:

There’s a well-organized campaign, primarily in the United States but also in other countries, including Canada and Australia, of bloggers, of people in the media, of basically professional climate deniers whose main goal is to abuse, to harass and to threaten anybody who stands up and says climate change is real – especially anybody who’s trying to take that message to audiences that are more traditionally skeptical of this issue.

In an interview by environmental advocate Peter Sinclair, posted last week on YouTube, she elaborated on that theme, saying she thought targeting climate scientists with harshly negative attention and email reflects an attempt “not so much to discredit the science or facts, but to discredit the messenger.”

In the same interview, she added:

I think that there is no question that much of this is intended to intimidate. Just think about it. You sit down at your computer and you write an email to someone you’ve never met and you tell that person that they are a liar, that you hate them, that you’re disgusted by what they do. What do you think you’re doing by doing that? You’re not setting the person up to have a great day. And I think there’s an extra dimension, because as a woman, most of the attacks that I’m receiving are from men. So that has a very different dynamic to it that honestly can feel very threatening and intimidating sometimes.

Mother Jones magazine reported this month that another prominent climate scientist – Kerry Emanuel of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a self-identified Republican – recently received a larger-than-normal number of hateful emails, some threatening his wife, after a video was posted online about a climate conference in New Hampshire. Emanuel spoke at the gathering, which was “run by a group of Republican voters upset by their party’s anti-science rhetoric.”

Prominent MIT researcher Kerry Emanuel has been receiving an unprecedented “frenzy of hate” after a video featuring an interview with him was published last week by Climate Desk [a journalistic collaboration about climate issues, including Mother Jones, The Atlantic, Wired, the Center for Investigative Reporting and others].

Emails contained “veiled threats against my wife,” and other “tangible threats,” Emanuel, a highly regarded atmospheric scientist and director of MIT’s Atmospheres, Oceans and Climate program, said in an interview. “They were vile, these emails. They were the kind of emails nobody would like to receive.”

“What was a little bit new about it was dragging family members into it and feeling that my family might be under threat, so naturally I didn’t feel very good about that at all,” Emanuel said. “I thought it was low to drag somebody’s spouse into arguments like this.”

Climate Desk has seen a sample of the emails and can confirm they are laced with menacing language, expletives, and personal threats of violence.

[…]

Threats are nothing new in the world of climate science. But Emanuel was surprised by the viciousness of the emails. “I think most of my colleagues and I have received a fair bit of email here and there that you might classify as hate mail, but nothing like what I’ve got in the last few days.”

“This was a little more orchestrated this time,” he said.

Last year, climate scientists in Australia were among experts moved to safe locations after receiving death threats during the heated debate that led to that nation’s adoption of a tax on carbon emissions to help fight climate change.

Australia’s Canberra Times reported last summer:

Australia’s leading climate change scientists are being targeted by a vicious, unrelenting email campaign that has resulted in police investigations of death threats.

The Australian National University has confirmed it moved several high-profile climate scientists, economists and policy researchers into more secure buildings, following explicit threats to their personal safety.

[…]

More than 30 researchers across Australia ranging from ecologists and environmental policy experts to meteorologists and atmospheric physicists told The Canberra Times they are receiving a stream of abusive emails threatening violence, sexual assault, public smear campaigns and attacks on family members.

[…]

Many scientists spoke on condition of anonymity, saying they feared the email attacks would escalate if they were identified.

Several scientists have installed upgraded home security systems and switched to unlisted phone numbers after receiving threats that their homes and cars would be damaged.

– Bill Dawson

Image credit: John Davis, Texas Tech University