Several Australian climate scientists have released email extracts that demonstrate the vitriol that fills their inboxes daily, saying the number of abusive emails has increased since the carbon tax was proposed.
Climate scientists from the Australian National University, the University of Queensland, the University of NSW and the University of Melbourne have reportedly received emailed death threats, threats of sexual assault and threats of attacks on family members from critics opposed to their findings.
Now several of the abusive emails have been published on a blog by environmental writer Graham Readfearn, after the scientists agreed to release the poison pen letters.
Most are little more than swearing and insults, but several correspondents had a more chilling message for the scientists.
“Just do your science or you will end up collateral damage in the war, GET IT,” reads one email.
“If we see you continue, we will get extremely organised and precise against you,” reads another.
Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, a marine scientist at the University of Queensland and a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), said he had agreed to the publication of some of the emails so people understand the abuse scientists face in their work.
“It’s a very small group of organised people behind these emails,” he said.
“Airing these emails is important - if only to show how disgraceful the tactics of those that deny the reality of climate change are becoming. I think this is a sign of desperation by a group of people associated with special interests.”
“People need to know what our scientific community is going though for the mere fact that we are sticking up for the truth,” he said, adding that most came from a group that appeared to have organised a campaign of spamming an email list of climate scientists and economists, including Ross Garnaut.
“They are pumping out on a daily basis almost as if it is a nine-to-five job for them,” he said. “It is hard not to watch your emails on a hour-by-hour basis.”
Professor Hoegh-Guldberg said he had handed some of the more threatening emails over to the Australian Federal Police and had upgraded security at his home after it was egged one night.
“There seems to be an escalation in the last couple of months in the number of emails I have received and I am hearing the same from my colleagues,” he said.
“Whether these individuals are in the pay of special interests or not is an interesting question - it is certainly suspicious that this type of activity is ramping up as we near the conclusion of the political process regarding the carbon tax.”
Despite the threats, climate scientists were unlikely to change their tune, he said.
“It’s really important to point out that the scientific community would be the last to respond to these attacks. They happen to be very stubborn and are not known for moving from these positions that are based on peer reviewed research. They are not going to move because someone sent them an angry email,” he said. “(ANU Climate Scientist and Climate Commission chief) Will Steffen is not going to retract the Climate Commission report because of some emails.”
He said it was regrettable that Daily Telegraph columnist Tim Blair had failed to condemn the emails in a recent column in which he said the emails had “scared climate scientists clean out of their laboratories.”
“To imply that scientists going about their job deserve this type of behaviour is unconscionable,” Professor Hoegh-Guldberg said.
Blogger Graham Readfern said he published the emails to show how unacceptable some of the language of the debate had become.
“What particularly motivated me was the nature of the public debate on climate change has become so debased that we are almost in danger of seeing this as part of an acceptable debate. It is not,” he said.
“I have no idea whether people with other views receive similar threats. Maybe they do and that isn’t right either.”