Image credit: numb3r, used under Creative Commons license.
Perhaps predictably, the debate over heated environmental rhetoric continues. When I noted that an angry tone can come from greens too, I quoted George Monbiot as claiming that "every time someone dies as a result of floods in Bangladesh, an airline executive should be dragged out of his office and drowned." This was, I suggested, evidence that environmentalists can use some pretty inappropriate language. But Monbiot takes issue with critics of these remarks—noting that, in context, it was clear these were words meant to be ironic , unless someone is being "willfully stupid". And he contrasts these words with some very real, somewhat worrying death threats he's received from those who do not believe in man-made global warming. Whether or not Monbiot's original comments were meant ironically (it's always been clear in my mind that they were), I would stick by my assertion that they were less than helpful. The science surrounding global climate change is compelling enough as it is—by resorting to hyperbole and exaggeration too often, we environmentalists risk turning a lot of people off. (I learned this when my own post on guest bedrooms as the enemy of sustainability was taken just a little too literally.)
But Monbiot—who already stirred the pot last week by claiming that eco-terrorism was a non-existant threat—makes the case that it is those who claim global warming is a hoax, a conspiracy and a sham who most often resport to violent rhetoric in support of their cause. In a piece titled, provocatively enough, let's debate the environmental issues and drop the death threats, he shares some recent personal experiences to back up his claims, relating how an online chat about a forthcoming debate tour he is organizing soon turned to a discussion about a violent response:
Readers of the motoring website Pistonheads picked up on the debate tour, and responded as follows:
audidoody: "Glocks are plastic and impervious to metal detectors aren't they?"
Tsippy: "Molotov Cocktail?"
pilchardthecat: "I do hope some crazed yokel turns up and shoots the ---- in the face. If he could pop 'round to Toynbee's house on the way home and beat her to death that would be doubly awesome."
To be fair, online discussions about fantasy violence are hardly the same as death threats. I know from my own experience with a post I wrote on 5 things I hate about America that anonymous debates can quickly turn very nasty. But, says Monbiot, he has also received direct threats on his life:
"I've never taken them seriously. Most appear to come from the other side of the Atlantic and generally involve hastening my demise by inserting some oversized hardware into a secluded part of my anatomy. Why this should be I don't know, but psychologists would probably find it interesting."
None of this should be taken to suggest that violence and violent language are the exclusive domain of anti-environmentalists. My colleagues at Discovery know only too well that environmentalists can get violent too.
But it is an important reminder to call out violence, hostility and threats when we see them—wherever they may come from.
More on Debate, Disagreement and Environmental Politics
Angry Rhetoric Can Come from Greens Too
Is Eco-terrorism a Non-Existant Threat?
Violent Climate Change Video Lands 10:10 in Trouble
Can Trolls Be Green? The Role of Debate in the Environmental Movement
Will Calls to Tone Down Rhetoric Lead to Civil Climate Debate?