Blogging as an Allergic Reaction to Climate Bullshit

Some people either agree or disagree with these statements. Most do not really know. Others do not even care. And then there is Bart Verheggen. When he reads this, he gets angry. Mad. Furious.

Graduation ceremony speech 2016 - II - cropped
Bart Verheggen at the Amsterdam University College graduation

When Verheggen hears about what he calls “climate bullshit”, he immediately wants to do something about it. And so he does, on his widely followed blog Klimaatverandering. With hundreds of blogposts, thousands of comments, and almost 20,000 page views per month, it takes up more of his time and energy than he would like. But he just has to do it. “I am allergic to bullshit,” says the 45-year-old Dutch climate scientist. “When someone spreads lies, it hurts my sense of honesty.”

Verheggen started blogging about climate a few years ago. It was an idea of his brother Joost, who had bone cancer for seven months and blogged about his disease. He told Bart that he always explained his ‘climate truths’ very well and that he should start his own blog. Bart attributed his blog to his brother, but only shortly after he died. “I should have started earlier, but it was not meant to be.”

Despite being a city boy from Utrecht, Verheggen has always enjoyed nature. When he went on a family holiday to Scotland, he refused to drive around in his parents’ car. On a rainy day, they would only make city stops and go out for cups of coffee in rusty pubs. “You can let me out here,” 21-year-old Bart said in the middle of nowhere. “I will find my way back to the camping.” And off he went, exploring the Scottish hills on his own.

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Bart Verheggen in nature with his daugher Anna.

Verheggen, who was sometimes bullied for being a nerd, studied Environmental Sciences in Wageningen. He went to study there because of the broad curriculum; in addition to the science courses, he wanted to learn more about sociology, psychology and philosophy. “I wear my nerdiness as a batch of honour,” he says now.

During his studies, Verheggen got concerned more and more with the dangers of climate change. The publication of Het broeikaseffect bestaat niet (‘the greenhouse effect is not real’) by journalist Karel Beckman in 1992 was the moment he got truly shocked by what he labels as “pseudo-scepticism” for the first time. However, Beckman was not followed by that many people.

The biggest Dutch climate sceptic of this time is Marcel Crok. He published De staat van het klimaat, in which he condemns the climate consensus, in 2010. Verheggen was not a big fan, to put it mildly. Together with other climate scientists, he wrote a detailed critique of the book. Verheggen and Crok started e-mailing on these issues in 2011, and soon after they ran into each other at a climate convention for the first time. Despite their friction in the climate debate, Verheggen and Crok never run away for each other. Whenever they meet one another, they just approach each other and start talking. “But we never agree,” says Crok. “If I say A, he says B.”

Having asked Verheggen and Crok (separately) if they could give the other a compliment, their answers can not be seen as anything other than strikingly characteristic. They initial reaction was laughter. It reminded Verheggen of one of the election debates between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

“Well, what should I say,” Verheggen started about Crok. “He is very persistent, he really claws his teeth in certain subjects. In the same time, that is annoying when it comes to climate change. He pretends that he is reasonable. But in fact, he deceives the public with misleading arguments.”

Conversely, Crok can only give a compliment in disguise to Verheggen: “I respect him as a human being. He is a nice pal, but he has been radicalising over the last couple of years. He tends more and more towards a smattering of climate critics. It has become the witch hunt of Bart Verheggen and his obsessed co-bloggers. Every time they tweet that I am misleading, I just think: come on, get a life.”

Verheggen has recently shifted his focus from his blog to Twitter. He has already sent more than 10,000 tweets from his two Twitter accounts @BVerheggen and @klimaatVeranda, that respectively have almost 2,700 and 2,300 followers. Being active in the climate debate and followed by that many people, Verheggen regularly gets involved in a Twitter beef…

One time, the famous Dutch meteorologist Gerrit Hiemstra referred to Verheggen’s blog in a tweet. He does so quite often, but this time it was noticed by the Volkskrant journalist Maarten Keulemans, who tweeted to Hiemstra: “Why do you refer to such a climate-activist blog?” Verheggen was furious, especially because Keulemans referred to Marcel Crok as a “100% man of science” in an earlier tweet. The beef got so ugly (if you understand Dutch, you can read the original ‘conversation’ below), that they even had to sort things out in a real-life phone call.

Having the same advocation (to inform the public of their point of view about climate change), Verheggen and Crok also had to work together for an entire year. In 2014, they lead a project named ‘Climate Dialogue’ in which they had to moderate online debates. That collaboration did not go too smoothly: they could not even agree on preparing single sentences of their introduction.

Despite these professional clashes, Verheggen and Crok have always shown respect for each other. They even have a beer together sometimes, on the train back home from a meeting. “We do not personally hate each other,” Verheggen concludes. “We agreed to disagree.”

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