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Australian Scientists Threatened Over Climate Research

June 5, 2011

Climate researchers from Australian National University (ANU) have been rushed to a secure location after reportedly receiving death threats as debates continue over plans to instate a carbon pollution tax.

The scientists were wisped away following mounting abuse, with menacing email and phone call threats stating they would be attacked if they didn’t halt their research, said ANU vice-chancellor Dick Young.

The threats had intensified in recent weeks amid heated public debate over Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s plans to introduce a tax on carbon emissions with goals to reduce pollution.

“Obviously climate research is an emotive issue at the present time,” Young told ABC television. “These are issues where we should have a logical public debate and it’s completely intolerable that people be subjected to this sort of abuse and to threats like this.”

Following the barrage of threats — which have included sexual assault, attacks on family and public smear campaigns — scientists, economists and policymakers have been forced to work in secrecy and be surrounded by heavy security.

“If you want to find me, it’s impossible unless you make an appointment, sign in with some form of photo identification, and are personally escorted to my door,” one of the researchers, speaking anonymously, told the Canberra Times newspaper. “That’s directly as a result of threats made against me.”

Other victims said they have upgraded security systems in their homes, unlisted their phone numbers and deleted their online profiles, with one describing threats of sexual violence against her children after she promoted a local tree-planting day.

“These hurtful attacks are intended to intimidate scientists, to scare them off and stop them from participating in public discussions on climate change. They are the antithesis of democratic debate,” said ANU chief scientist, Ian Chubb.

“The whole scientific process is one of open debate and discussion but the concept that you would be threatened for your scientific views and work is something that is completely foreign to them,” said Young, adding that ANU has been rattled to the core with the barrage of threats.

“I think it is totally outrageous and the vast majority of Australians would think it is totally unacceptable for anybody in society to be subjected to this sort of behavior,” he said.

Prime Minister Gillard wants to tax carbon polluters beginning in 2012 with a fixed price tariff which would give way to an emissions trading scheme within three to five years, hoping that will lead to reduction in emission blamed for global warming.

Australia, which relies heavily on coal-fired power, is among the world’s worst per capita emitters. But the carbon tax proposal has met strong opposition from conservatives and big business — especially from the mining industry — who say it will cost jobs and drive investment offshore.

Oscar-winning actress Cate Blanchett offered her support of the carbon tax this week, appearing in a television campaign advocating action on climate change.

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