Climate Deniers’ Toolkit: Threats, Violence, Lawsuits, Harassment

‘Popular Science’ takes aim at climate-change skeptics hell-bent on debunking settled science.
(Photo: Maciej Frolow/Getty Images)
Jun 28, 2012· 2 MIN READ
A six-time grantee of the National Geographic Expeditions Council, Jon writes about all things ocean.

“Climate scientists routinely face death threats, hate mail, nuisance lawsuits and political attacks. How much worse can it get?”

In a thoroughly reported feature in Popular Science—“The Battle Over Climate Science”—Tome Clynes throws back the curtain to illustrate a variety of the most insidious efforts used by climate-change deniers to take focus off reality.

  • Michael Mann, director of Penn State’s Earth System Science Center and the author of The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars, was mailed a letter filled with an anthrax-like powder.
  • A climate modeler at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory was delivered a dead rat on his doorstep.
  • Billboards, paid for by the conservative think tank Heartland Institute, compared climate-science advocates to Unabomber Ted Kaczynski and mass murderers Charles Manson and Osama bin Laden.
  • An MIT hurricane researcher’s inbox was flooded for two weeks last January with hate mail and threats directed at him and his wife.
  • In Australia in 2011, several climatologists were moved to a secure facility after climate-change skeptics began a barrage of vandalism, noose brandishing, and threats of sexual attacks on the scientists’ children.
  • Texas Tech atmospheric scientist Katharine Hayhoe was hassled by a conservative think tank, threatened with FOIA requests and lawsuits after agreeing to help Newt Gingrich write a chapter on climate change for a new book (which he subsequently trashed once running for president). “I can delete the hate mail calling me a ‘Nazi bitch whore climatebecile,’ ” she says, “but responding to nuisance lawsuits and investigations takes up enormous amounts of time that could be better spent teaching, mentoring, researching, doing my job.”

Those incidents, reports Clynes, lie on top of the run-of-the-mill daily harassments, like the filing of nuisance lawsuits and “onerous” Freedom of Information Act requests, all in an effort to derail the real work of climate scientists.

How onerous?

The University of Virginia, Mann’s former employer, spent nearly $600,000 in a court fight to keep him from having to turn over personal correspondence in a lawsuit. “Yes, there’s been a toll on me and my family,” Mann told Clynes. “But it’s bigger than that. Look what it’s doing to science, when others see this and see what happens if they speak up about their research. These efforts to discredit science are well organized. It’s not just a bunch of crazy people.”

Who are these disruptors, these climate-change deniers? Former Fox news commentator Steve Milloy, for one, whose website leads the attacks on what he calls “global-warming alarmists.”

“I’m happy to be a denier,” he tells Clynes.

These so-called “realists” are aided by the Internet, which often gives their well-aimed anti-climate change messages equal weight to real science. A Republican-led House, various committees of which in recent months have called for budget cuts and program terminations directly targeting climate-science research, also helps them.

Who pays for some of the denier’s campaigns? The names of Charles and David Koch surface frequently. These are the same brothers intent on pushing Obama out of office, even if it costs them well over $100 million.

But with each week bringing new stories of sea levels rising faster than ever and temperatures soaring across the country, around the globe, it’s only a matter of time—not money—before the realities of climate change will no longer be arguable.

How fed up are you with climate-change deniers and their increasingly dirty tactics?