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.
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.
Emanuel began receiving emails "almost immediately" after the video was posted on January 5, and the volume peaked at four or five emails a day. The threats have now petered off.
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.
The video—"New Hampshire's GOP Climate Hawks"—documented a climate change conference run by a group of Republican voters upset by their party's anti-science rhetoric. Kerry Emanuel was a keynote speaker along with former Republican congressman Bob Inglis from South Carolina (who, incidentally, has not received any threats since the video).
In one clip, Kerry Emanuel says, "It makes me feel to some extent disgusted with politics and to some extent ashamed to be an American."
The comments were seized upon, Emanuel suspects, by "bloggers bent on distorting that message and amplifying it." One website, Climate Depot, posted Emanuel's email address.
Emanuel notes that in the full video he went on to explain that the Republican candidates "have either been misled in which case it's not great to be part of the political system where candidates for the president of the United States could be so misled on such an important issue, or they were dishonest, in which case equally bad in my view: How could we live in a country where candidates are being dishonest about an issue of such importance?"
Kerry Emanuel was featured in Climate Desk's story about Republican "climate hawks." James West
Another website, Junk Science, raised questions about his wife's anti-war feelings in the 1960s.
"Somebody came to the conclusion that back in the '60s she was a Marxist—which she was back then," Emanuel said. He notes that "conservative heroes of today like Norman Podhoretz [and] Jeane Kirkpatrick" were also socialists in the '60s. "So I don't quite know what the problem was there!"
In June 2011, top Australian climate scientists said they had been targeted by death threats and menacing phone calls, including threats of sexual attacks on family members. Australian National University in Canberra reacted by tightening security, and the police began investigating. US researchers received a torrent of hate mail in the wake of "Climategate," in which a trove of emails were stolen and released at the University of East Anglia in the UK.
Emanuel decided not to alert police.
Emanuel says climate scientists are not used to the intensity of political debate around climate change: "We scientists are usually not in any kind of heated public debate as is the case in climate; we're not used to this, we're not trained for it."
"I've done a lot of public speaking, and I've spoken to many types of audiences, including audiences that are very conservative, and while I certainly have people push back—which is understandable and encouraged and people debate that's all part of that, that's fine—I've never ever encountered in direct contact with the public any behavior that I thought was bad or threatening or vile or anything like that. So I don't have any trouble communicating directly with the public. I think it's the distortions that occur sometimes in certain formats that are the root of the problem."
Kerry asked me to publish the full audio of our interview, which you can listen to below.
James West is senior digital editor for Mother Jones, and before that, the senior producer for its reporting project Climate Desk. He wrote Beijing Blur (Penguin 2008). James has a masters of journalism from NYU, and has produced a variety of award-winning shows in his native Australia, including the national affairs program Hack.
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