Understanding Climate Risk

Science, policy and decision-making

climate of violence

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One of the main tasks in undertaking research on important scientific issues is communication. However, communicating climate carries a certain level of risk. Scientists in the public eye on occasion receive threatening mail and email, so if they are to communicate, have to accept this risk. These threats come from people who believe they are themselves threatened by the message, or by subsequent actions if that scientific message is taken to heart.

Recently, threats to Australian scientists have been escalating. Roslyn Beeby of the Canberra Times has spoken to about thirty scientists researching climate, bioversity and ecology around Australia. A serious pattern is evolving. Threats involve death threats, violent sexual imagery, threats to person, family and property. Security has been stepped up in ANU and other universities around the country. Scientists who carried out their research openly are withdrawing into anonymity. The worst are those to family, because the risk that an individual accepts when communicating publicly is one thing, having that risk transferred to loved ones is unacceptable.

Much of this is coming from the anonymity of the internet. Frequently changing sock puppets and proxy servers are being used to send emails that are difficult to track.

University of NSW senior psychology lecturer Jason Mazanov said the emails were indicative of a ”closed room” mentality where people have lost all sense of what is normal.

This mentality can be seen on unmoderated blogs where climate denial is openly voiced. It is aggressive, misogynistic and violent. On blogs maintained under the aegis of media organisations – News Limited, I’m looking at you – this violence is allowed to flourish, albeit in written form. And not as direct threats, which aren’t permitted, but obliquely threatening and thoroughly nasty. This, I believe, gives licence to certain individuals in that “closed room” to take the further step of making direct threats.

This isn’t unique to Australia. Many of the scientists named in the stolen CRU emails were threatened and continue to receive threats.

It is time for all the various advocates in the climate debate to say clearly and loudly that this type of behaviour is totally unacceptable. Ad homineum attacks from either side need to stop. All those attacks achieve is to say to those making the threats: their actions are fine because everyone else is doing it, too. The closed room is a strange and bizarre place.

It may also be possible to use some of the technology that Google and others are developing to track and curtail such threat-making, under magistrate’s orders of course.

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Written by Roger Jones

June 4, 2011 at 2:46 pm

Posted in Australia, Denialism, Risk

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