"This columnist for a Sydney newspaper thinks we ought to tattoo the forearm of global warming deniers so everyone will know who they are.
It's intended to be provocative and a "joke", I guess."
Yes, well spotted: hyperbole as a comic tool. Pity that others on the intermesh aren't as sophisticated:
"After 25 years writing this column, I've had my first experience of an internet hate campaign. So far, more than 2400 people, nearly all American, have emailed me. More emails come every time I hit the send/receive button. About 5 per cent contain threats of violence. Even stranger, quite a few threaten me with sexual violence. They say, in various forms, that they want to rape me.
The only good news: quite a few don't seem to know the precise location of Sydney. Or Sidney, as some call it. ''You are so out of touch with America, I cannot believe you are published by an American paper,'' writes one emailer, having read the story on The Sydney Morning Herald website. Quite a few tell me I should be nervous if I ever try to leave Britain.
Here's how it started. Last week, in this spot, I wrote a piece about climate change. It was critical of both the left and the right and contained some comic hyperbole about both: that environmental zealots wanted us all to live in caves and that climate-change deniers should tattoo their beliefs on their bodies so they couldn't later deny their role in preventing action on climate change.
So far, so hum-hum. On Saturday and Sunday, the piece never made it to the Herald's list of ''most read'' opinion pieces. I had nine emails - four of them saying they agreed, five against, but all expressed pleasantly. No one thought the piece was offensive or even that remarkable. The comic hyperbole was seen as, well, comic hyperbole.
Then - sometime Sunday night - a link to the piece was put on a right-wing website in the US, offering me up as another communist trying to ruin the world through the ''hoax'' of climate change. The piece started multiplying in cyberspace, mainly on websites dedicated to exposing the leftist conspiracy about climate change.
Suddenly I was the toast of town: about 300,000 people read the piece on smh.com.au between Sunday night and Tuesday morning. I had more readers than anyone else in the Herald. Only problem was: many of them wanted to kill me.
I'm not going to argue that Americans don't understand irony; American comic writing can be as sophisticated and sarcastic and subtle as that of any country.
On the other hand, one of the dangers of the web is that writing with an English or Australian sensibility can be placed in front of an audience with a different tradition. When I write about tying a climate denier to a post off Manly so he can be consumed by the ever-rising waves, it was clear to an Australian readership that the image was meant to be comic and absurd. Indeed, in the original piece I explicitly call the notion ''not ideal''.
Clear? I thought so - but not clear enough.
The Americans believed I was seriously proposing they be tattooed against their will. Given what they thought I was saying, I guess their upset was understandable.
And, boy, were they upset. TTB, from Nevada, said he had ''a couple of 9mm hollowpoints with your name on them''. Jonathan, of Sag Harbor, NY, wanted to remove my test icles, while DB wanted to remove my pe nis. And M. Glasgow, in an email sunnily titled ''can't wait to meet you'', observed that: ''I will kill you so dead that your rotting body will do nothing but energise the worms and maggots that will do their part in saving the planet from morons like you.''
Actually helping nature through my own death is a theme that energises much of the correspondence. JH, for example, suggests that since I like nature so much, I should donate my ''otherwise worthless body to the study of marine life by serving as shark bait''.
Actually, that did make me laugh.
Many use that phrase ''you f---ing commie ba stard'', which seems charmingly retro. In others I'm a ''hardcore-Left ideologue and operative''. Stan, in Seattle, on the other hand, has me working for the British royal family: ''A wh ore working for the Queen's yellow green paper money''.
And a huge proportion mention Al Gore, who they believe is paying me. So, boss, I need to tell you: they hate you even more than they hate me.
Apparently Gore has bought a beach property (in some emails he's bought two, in others four), thus proving Gore doesn't believe his own lies. Quite a few accuse me (and him) of working for what they call ''the Jews'', and mention several big companies as having financed the hoax.
By quoting these strange theories, I'm not arguing that there are not debates to be had about global warming - particularly in terms of the best way to tackle it. From Monday onwards, another handful of emails came from Australians taking me to task - all expressed reasonably.
What wisdom have I drawn from the experience? Don't put an email address at the end of articles. Avoid travel in the near future to the American states of Arizona, Texas and Nevada.
And maybe, in a world of international publishing, learn to be clearer. The thing about tattoos was not meant to be taken as a serious suggestion. For those who took it as such, my apologies."
Interestingly, by way of rationalising the death threats that some climate researchers in Canberra have been receiving - as well as the independent MPs who currently have the balance of power in Australia's federal parliament - a denialist website in Australia cited this article as evidence of hatred against denialists - completely missing that it was intended to be comic, not serious. Whereas the idiots leaving death threats on the MPs' personal phones are being taken quite seriously by the Federal police.