“KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Shortly after the New Year, I was fired from Oak Ridge National Laboratory after urging fellow scientists to take action on climate change. At the American Geophysical Union meeting in December, just before speakers took the stage for a plenary session, my fellow climate scientist Peter Kalmus and I unfurled a banner that read “Out of the lab & into the streets.” In the few seconds before the banner was ripped from our hands, we implored our colleagues to use their leverage as scientists to wake the public up to the dying planet.
Soon after this brief action, the A.G.U., an organization with 60,000 members in the earth and space sciences, expelled us from the conference and withdrew the research that we had presented that week from the program. Eventually, it began a professional misconduct inquiry (it’s ongoing).
Then, on Jan. 3, Oak Ridge, the laboratory outside Knoxville where I had worked as an associate scientist for one year, terminated my employment. I am the first earth scientist I know of to be fired for climate activism. I fear I will not be the last.”
David Lindsay: This is a complicated story, and I had to take a breath, since my sympathies do not lie with the scientist making a scene at the conference.
Here is one of several good comments that articulate some of my concerns:
I think this is a case where the agency acted properly. As Federal Employees we are not permitted to use official time, money or authority to advance a personal cause. Based on the author’s own comments she was at the event on travel and in an official capacity. There was no way to separate her official role from her capacity as a private citizen. Removal (firing) was a proper response for anyone improperly using official time and resources. This rule exists so that the public can have confidence government employees are acting impartially when they do their jobs. You can’t mix activism and the public business on the clock. I note the agency did not discipline her for her off duty activism even when it subjected her to arrest. They acted only when the activism occurred on public time. This seems to me to be reasonable even though they might have been able to make out a case that this off duty conduct adversely affected the efficacy of the civil service. They didn’t do that here and I applaud that decision For the record I am a layman when it comes to climate science. Having said that I fully support urgent action to address this existential crisis.
I also am a geologist and emeritus professor with years of experience and more than 100 scholarly, peer reviewed publications. I and my students have given innumerable presentations at scientific meetings, at the local, national and international level. I do not know the particulars of the incident at the AGU meeting in question but having attended many AGU meetings and having been a member of AGU, I know that AGU and it’s membership are certainly not “climate deniers” and generally support peaceful political action regarding climate. I suspect that something more than holding up a sign happened at this particular meeting. I also know that scientific societies do not tolerate disruptive and violent behavior at their meetings. Not ever and not for any reason. I invite everyone to read the American Geophysical Union’s position statement on climate change: https://www.agu.org/Share-and-Advocate/Share/Policymakers/Position-Statements/Position_Climate.
I believe that those here supporting Dr. Abramoff’s firing do not appreciate the scale of the threat which climate change poses. Over the next several decades as drought and heatwaves and flooding intensify we will see increasingly severe impacts on agricultural regions driving massive famines and economic decline. Then weakened by that we’ll be faced with retreat from the coastal areas where most of our large cities are located as the West Antarctic ice sheet breaks and the rate of sea level rise accelerates dramatically along with maximum storm strength. It is easy to imagine the planet becoming ungovernable under those conditions. These climate scientists are fighting for the survival of human civilization and we’re about out of time on that score, hence the desperation among those who study this subject.