Global Warming Skeptics Linked With Holocaust Deniers, Labeled Violent Threat
(WASHINGTON POST) The scene: A crowded room at the American Meteorological Society’s 91st Annual Meeting in Seattle last week, where the theme was “communicating weather and climate.” Climate scientists and weather experts from the U.S. and around the world, along with a sizable contingent of communications specialists from various media outlets, government agencies and academic institutions, are listening to a presentation by Kevin Trenberth, a climate researcher who heads up the Climate Analysis Section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colo.
Trenberth, whose accent betrays hints of his New Zealand heritage, is delivering a presentation in memory of his friend and colleague, Stephen Schneider, a Stanford University climate scientist who died suddenly last year. Schneider was a passionate advocate of communicating climate science to the public and policymakers.
The question: Will Trenberth refer to those who disagree with the scientific consensus – that human activities are very likely warming the climate system – as “climate deniers,” which he did in an earlier version of his talk, thereby raising an outcry and a fusillade of emails from the climate skeptic blogosphere?
The answer: Yes, he most certainly will.
Perhaps it’s just human nature to dig in your heels when under attack for holding a particular viewpoint, or maybe Trenberth really believes that it’s useful to use the term “denier” when discussing certain people who disagree with him. Whatever the reason or reasons, Trenberth does indeed show a slide entitled “The Deniers” during his wide-ranging talk, which touches upon the changing nature of extreme weather and climate events in a warming climate.
Defending his use of a term that many climate change skeptics say they find offensive due to its association with those who deny the Holocaust, Trenberth defiantly tells the audience: “My reaction to some of them is, ‘well, if the shoe fits, wear it.'”
Trenberth continues, “Indeed they are deniers. They deny rather basic information about climate science.” Without going into specifics, he says he does distinguish between “climate skeptics” and “climate deniers.”
Trenberth notes that, leading up to the AMS meeting, he received hundreds of angry, and occasionally even threatening emails regarding his presentation. These emails arrived in his inbox after two popular climate skeptic websites – Climate Depot, which is the climate skeptic equivalent of the Drudge Report, and Watts Up With That – harshly criticized him for his use of the term (among other things).
Both sites published his email address and encouraged readers to contact him regarding the upcoming presentation.
The Background: The Trenberth dustup is only the latest skirmish in an increasingly heated climate of confrontation between mainstream climate scientists and climate skeptics. Ever since the so-called “climategate” emails in 2009, the intensity of the climate debate has reached new levels, with climate scientists receiving not only insulting emails, but even threats of bodily harm, with some threats referred to the FBI.
Climate researchers have found their work under attack by skeptic bloggers who, unlike them, do not need to be published in peer reviewed scientific journals in order to have their work taken seriously by their readers and the media. Drawing large audiences, these bloggers wield significant influence, and the rhetoric they use can be alarming, particularly in light of the national conversation on civility in public affairs spawned in the wake of the attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) earlier this month in Tuscon. In general, there is a strong undercurrent of conspiracy theory present on many climate skeptic blogs, which tend to portray climate scientists as cooking the books to prove that manmade climate change is occurring, in order to justify certain government policies or obtain more research funding.
Blogs like Watts Up With That (known in climate circles as WUWT), which is run by former TV meteorologist Anthony Watts, helped propel the climategate story onto front pages in late 2009 and early 2010.
A brief search of the comments section below one WUWT post regarding Trenberth’s AMS presentation turned up several comments that raise some concerns – a couple of them border on making direct threats of physical violence against Trenberth.
For example, reader John Kehr wrote in to say, “Trenberth is a bad guy. No one should be surprised by anything that this consummate liar does or says. He keeps digging the hole deeper and deeper. He will be buried when it all collapses. I look forward to that day.”
Trenberth laments the hate-filled emails directed his way, but says they aren’t going to change the focus of his climate research. “There are some threats and obvious attempts to bully me into various actions, most don’t work. But some do have side effects. Mostly I recognize that this is ‘politics’ and is not me personally – although it has been getting a lot more personal with some name calling and abuse,” he says.
No climate researcher has more experience dealing with harsh criticism and threats than Ben Santer, a climate researcher at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. Santer was a lead author of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Second Assessment Report in 1995, which concluded for the first time that human activities were having a “discernible influence on the climate system.” Several years ago, he experienced an alarming incident at his home.
“In my case someone did cross the line between email threats and actually doing something,” he says. Santer says someone knocked on his door late one evening, and when he answered it, there was a dead rat on his doorstep, with “some fellow driving off at high speed in a yellow hummer shouting curses at me.” The experience was jarring, and left Santer convinced that he and his loved ones are at risk of violence and intimidation due to his climate science work.
Like Trenberth, Santer has been on the receiving end of more recent criticisms from Morano’s Climate Depot website. “[Morano] attacked me in a very unjust way on his website and posted my email address, and in my view such behavior is basically an incitement to hatred,” Santer says.
“Those [emails] are of concern,” Santer says, “particularly when you have loved ones and it’s clear that some of these people out there are not very rational.”
Santer points to Morano’s work as a major source of worry. “If something were to happen I would hold people like Mr. Morano personally responsible.” As a general practice, Morano prominently posts the email addresses of those he takes issue with, as if to incite the masses into writing hate mail. He even copies his opponents on blast emails he sends out criticizing them, as if to taunt and intimidate them.
“There is this incredible asymmetry here in what is occurring,” Santer notes. “[Climate scientists] are being subject to really intolerable nonscientific interference in their work simply because of what they’re doing and what they’ve learned.”
“If you do certain research and come up with results unpalatable to these forces of unreason they are sending the message that they will come down on you like a ton of bricks,” Santer says.
Morano, for his part, says his criticisms of mainstream climate scientists are within bounds.
“I am amused about how the insane actions of a lone nut gunman in Arizona is generating so much flowery pabulum from many quarters about the sudden need to tone down language,” Morano told me in an email message. “When climate con men like Michael Oppenheimer, James Hansen, Ben Santer, Michael Mann, Paul Ehrlich and Kevin Trenberth squelch debate and use the media to promote their insular views on climate, responding in toned down language should not be a top concern. We have scientists claiming the ‘debate is over’ and actively promoting regulations on every aspect of our lives to fight the phantom menace of man-made global warming. Public outcry against these scientists and their tactics is a very healthy and welcome development.”
Watts, who, unlike Morano, has a background in atmospheric science and writes long and detailed posts discussing various climate science concepts or debunking certain climate science studies, defends his work as well. In an email conversation, he noted several times that Trenberth had ample opportunities to alter his AMS presentation and take out the term “denier,” but he chose not to.
“I did ask Dr. Trenberth, who is at the top of the climate food chain, to stop using a derisive term. He clearly refused. I also sent him an email offering my forum for rebuttal should he wish. No answer. This speaks poorly for his leadership, it speaks equally poorly for the rest of the climate science community that they haven’t asked for him to publicly stop using a term,” Watts wrote. “In the climate science debate, the scientists are the leaders, yet they have embraced this word, ‘denier’ with all of its holocaust connotations. Dr. Trenberth’s AMS address using that word six times is the pinnacle of abuse of that word so far.”
Aside from the small, but very real, possibility that someone will cross the line and physically harm a climate scientist, excessive criticism of mainstream climate scientists may also have other detrimental impacts by jeopardizing scientific recruitment and research funding.
As Trenberth says: “The side effects come from when I submit a proposal and it has multiple anonymous reviews that are polarized with several excellents and very goods and then 2 poors. There are several emails to me about people working to make sure I can’t get funding and to go back to New Zealand. The funding issue is a delicate one because it means that my organization, NCAR, may be reluctant to step up and defend scientists if they feel it will jeopardize funding from NSF [the National Science Foundation] or elsewhere to the whole organization.”
Of course, the skeptics aren’t the only ones who are crossing, or at least blurring, the line. Blogs like Climate Progress harshly criticize the skeptics, using over-the-top language. For example, in criticizing AccuWeather meteorologist Joe Bastardi, Climate Progress’s Joe Romm called him, “probably the worst professional long-range forecaster on Earth” noting that this judgement was “based purely on the objective evidence.”
Simply put, the rhetoric on all sides has been out of hand for far too long, and it needs to be reined in, not only to avoid something horrific – a climate science equivalent to the Arizona shootings – but also because of the damage it’s doing to the public dialogue on climate change. At the end of the day, when climate scientists are fearful of engaging with the media or the public, it’s the American public that loses out on potentially critical insights into what is happening to the climate system and what would best be done about it.
As Ralph Cicerone, President of the National Academy of Sciences, explained to a House committee last year: “I worry about this type of intimidation,” particularly concerning its potential to stifle recruitment of talented scientists. “An atmosphere of civility and of encouraging scientists to seek the truth and to share their findings is always needed.”
Fortunately, there are some efforts springing up to foster a more civil dialogue on climate science, as exemplified by a recent conference in Lisbon, Portugal, which may be the start of an ongoing effort towards nonviolent conflict resolution in the climate arena.