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Canadian Climate Scientist gets hate mail

January 11, 2012

From the Globe and Mail,

She once was a science-minded undergrad who spent her nights minding the telescopes on the top floors of the University of Toronto’s McLennan building.

Katharine Hayhoe is now a figure of some fame and controversy in the United States, for her sin is that she is an evangelical Christian who is also a climate scientist trying to convince skeptics that climate change is for real.

Dr. Hayhoe made headlines after the Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich came under pressure and dropped plans to have her write an opening chapter on climate change for his upcoming book.

Now, her teaching duties at Texas Tech University have resumed and the sting from the Gingrich snub is fading. But the hate mail is still pouring in, dozens of insulting e-mails every morning.

“It’d be a lot easier to stay home. It’s not easy having people standing up and screaming at you. It’s not easy opening your mail in the morning and seeing a hundred e-mails, each one more hateful than the last,” Dr. Hayhoe said Monday, in her first interview with a Canadian news outlet.

“That’s not easy. And it’s not the science that motivates me. It’s what comes from the heart.”

That introduction to the sharp-elbowed world of politics was the latest blow for the 39-year-old, who already had a taste of hostile audiences from public speaking at Christian schools, seniors homes, farmers’ group and book clubs.

She was prepared to deal with emotional, unfriendly reactions. But she wasn’t expecting what came with the name recognition, she said.

“There’s a well-organized campaign, primarily in the United States but also in other countries, including Canada and Australia, of bloggers, of people in the media, of basically professional climate deniers whose main goal is to abuse, to harass and to threaten anybody who stands up and says climate change is real – especially anybody who’s trying to take that message to audiences that are more traditionally skeptical of this issue.”

It was even more shocking because she didn’t see herself as a “Godless, tree-hugging activist” but a scientist who also happened to be a member of an evangelical Bible church. She is also married to a pastor.

“The attacks’ virulence, the hatred and the nastiness of the text have escalated exponentially. I’ve gotten so many hate mail in the last few weeks I can’t even count them.”

On one occasion, after appearing on Bill O’Reilly’s show on Fox TV, she received nearly 200 hate e-mails the next day.

She sees her work almost like a pastoral mission, where she frames the issue as doing the right thing for the love of one’s children and neighbours.

“My own faith is the Christian faith and in the Christian faith we are told to love our neighbours as much as ourselves. And our neighbours, especially the poorer ones, are already harmed by climate change.

Most of her family still has roots in the Toronto-area. Her father is a retired science co-ordinator for the Toronto District School Board. An aunt is a sinologist at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.

Her parents were also missionaries and between the ages of nine and 18 she spent much time with them at a school where they worked in Colombia.

She graduated from the University of Toronto with a degree in physics and astronomy. With her father and a sister and another professor, Dr. Hayhoe co-authored a grade 10 Ontario textbook on climate change.

While doing graduate studies at the University of Illinois, she met her husband, a linguist.

Six years ago, the couple moved to Lubbock, after he got tenure at Texas Tech. Her husband is also the pastor of a local evangelical church.

Dr. Hayhoe says she had never met people who didn’t believe in climate change until she moved to the U.S. and began her public work.

Because she framed her concerns with optimism rather than doom, she was approached four years ago by Terry Maple, who was co-editing Mr. Gingrich’s book, to pen an opening chapter.

Mr. Gingrich, however, has struggled with some core Republicans who accuse him of harbouring environmental sympathies.

And thus, in mid-December, Marc Morano, a conservative activist, derided the planned book co-operation with Dr. Hayhoe, saying that it proved Mr. Gingrich was a “committed greenie” and a “warmist.”

Mr. Morano is a former Fox News contributor and his item was picked up by radio host Rush Limbaugh.

On Dec. 28, Mr. Gingrich was approached by a female supporter at an Iowa campaign stop. A video posted by the weekly The National Journal shows the woman telling Mr. Gingrich she wanted to talk about “Rush” and the global-warming book chapter.

Mr. Gingrich stopped her in mid-sentence. “It’s not going to be in the book. We didn’t know that they were doing that and we told them to kill it.”

“Good, that’s all I needed to know,” the woman said.

Afterward, Mr. Gingrich signalled to an aide. “Remind me when we’re back in the bus: ‘Rush’ and ‘global warming’,” he told the aide.

Dr. Hayhoe’s learned of the decision from the media.

“Nice to hear that Gingrich is tossing my #climate chapter in the trash. 100+ unpaid hrs I [could have] spent playing w my baby,” she wrote on Twitter.

She says that she now feels no grudge against Mr. Gingrich and that the incident is just proof of the acute polarization that has affected what should be a scientific debate.

“Attacking me and my colleagues and trying to intimidate us and trying to smear us is not going to change the facts of the situation.”

15 Comments leave one →
  1. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    January 11, 2012 11:49 pm

    I wanted to save this article on my niece somewhere since it will likely disappear from the Globe and Mail soon.

  2. January 11, 2012 11:59 pm

    Ah, I see — an article about one of your many illustrious relatives.

  3. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    January 12, 2012 12:11 am

    I am not sure if I would lose access to the article in a day or so. Also it seemed relevant to some of what we talk about here.

  4. January 12, 2012 1:12 am

    I knew many Hayhoes in the East – through a friend I worked with at IBM – Harold Smith of Ottawa.

  5. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    January 12, 2012 1:20 am

    Since my father was adopted, our relationship is not close, but I do know who you are talking about.

  6. January 12, 2012 9:11 am

    Her parents were also missionaries

    I take it that this is also no throw away line by Globe and Mail reporter, Tu Thanh Ha. Interesting! I’ve bought and am reading Dr. Hayhoe’s book, A Climate for Change: Global Warming Facts for Faith-Based Decisions. thanks to your sharing this article, Suzanne.

    She (and her co-author, her husband, with whom she doesn’t not agree about everything related to their topic) starts the Preface:

    Bike to work. Hug a tree. Eat granola. Live off the grid. Wear hemp. Bathe in a stream. And worship the earth. We often find ourselves labeled—just because we think global warming is a serious problem people should know about.

    I’m liking candidate Gingrich less and less these days. Does he (“‘Rush’ and ‘global warming’”) play no part in the labeling and “the acute polarization that has affected what should be a scientific debate”?

  7. January 12, 2012 12:27 pm

    Suzanne – I’m wondering what evidence you would accept that I am NOT part of a “professional campaign” if I were to enumerate my reasons for being skeptical of the arguments that “climate change” is 1) exacerbated by human activity, 2) inevitably harmful to human existance, and thus 3) requires vast governmental and economic intervention.

    The problem with complaining about threats from climate change skeptics is that various people on the non-skeptic side have explicitly equated (highly informed) skepticism about the issue with *Holocost denial* — one D. Suzuki, for example. You can’t do this and then complain about a little name-calling yourself.

  8. January 12, 2012 1:41 pm

    Gordon, do you “abuse, harass, and threaten” people? If not, then I think it should be clear from what I said that you are certainly not part of the campaign I referred to. I completely understand how people can not agree on this issue, and I believe the way forward is civil and respectful dialogue. What I don’t accept is the type of hatred and ad hominem attacks my colleagues and I have been receiving over the last few years.

    I believe it’s important for all of us to explore the facts and data for ourselves, rather than going along with others’ feelings and opinions. The website “Skeptical Science” by John Cook, himself an evangelical Christian, does a great job at pulling together all the latest information on climate data and research and making it very accessible to anyone who wants to make up their own mind. If anyone is interested in a copy of our book, which has a long reference list for self-study, I’d be happy to send them one.

    JK, glad you are enjoying it!

  9. January 12, 2012 3:16 pm

    Dr. Hayhoe,

    I see that long reference list for self study and am indeed enjoying your book (yet just a few pages in). Your offer to send it to interested readers is generous (and those who want it right away might get it in kindle, nook, google books, and even Apple ibooks format — the link in my comment above is now correct).

    BTW, I’m also an MK.

  10. January 12, 2012 5:30 pm

    Dr. Hayhoe — may I ask, why did you think that Bill O’Reilly’s show would be a good forum for you? My understanding is that he is a demagogue — did you think that there was any way that you might be portrayed as a “good guy” in your interview with him?

  11. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    January 12, 2012 9:02 pm

    Hi Kathy

    So happy to have you join the conversation!


  12. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    January 12, 2012 9:07 pm


    I am sympathetic with your point. I heard funny thing today and had to restrain from blurting out. In a nutrition workshop, the presenter cited Suzuki as her main source. She then said that any food that was grown in a manner that was good for the environment was good for us to eat. That is “organically grown” meaning grown in a way that is good for the earth, is also maximal for consumption. We all know that there are vast numbers of natural and organically grown food items that are not good for our health.

    Perhaps climate change is natural, perhaps not, perhaps bad for us, perhaps not. I could debate each point.

    But what interested me in the article was the extent to which people take on ad hominem attacks, to derail certain topics.

  13. January 12, 2012 10:27 pm

    “The problem with complaining about threats from climate change skeptics is that various people on the non-skeptic side have explicitly equated (highly informed) skepticism about the issue with *Holocost denial* — one D. Suzuki, for example. You can’t do this and then complain about a little name-calling yourself.”

    The issue with this paragraph is “you can’t do this” when the person who did this isn’t anyone here. The climate change debate has too much polarization already – it does no one any favors to assume that everyone who agrees that climate change is real, anthropogenic, and dangerous agrees with the tactics employed by every other person who also thinks that.

  14. Chrysostom permalink
    January 19, 2012 9:53 am

    I’ll take a book if any are still left. From what I’ve read of global warming, both the history of climate change “alarmism” (cooling and warming) and a bit of the science, I don’t believe it’s anthropogenic, I doubt that it’s dangerous, and I lead to the “probably not even real [i.e. statistically significant]” side. However, if the book is scholarly and well-referenced, I’ll read it and see – at one time I was an atheist, and if I didn’t read literature that didn’t agree with my held beliefs, I would still be. So, in my mind, I’m much better off for reading at least some literature that offers opposing points of view (and learning something in any case), than doing nothing but sucking in pap that does nothing but stroke my ego and reinforce my preconceived notions (as many people do with the news-media, and even in their selection of reading material).

  15. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    January 19, 2012 2:45 pm

    I am so sorry, but I don’t know that Kathy will be checking back in here to read comments. She is at a conference at the moment and very busy. I don’t have any information about her book, or getting it for free, but will check on that.

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