Science & Technology

Extremism in the Defense of Climate "Alarmism" Is No Vice?

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At least he could blame his wooden head for his lies.

Last week, climate change "alarmists" were deliriously claiming to have uncovered the dastardly plans of the climiate change "deniers"* at the free-market Heartland Institute to "undermine" true climate science. At the center of this new "scandal" were supposedly internal documents from the Institute outlining its nefarious plans and exposing its evil paymasters. Now comes prominent "alarmist"* Peter Gleick, founder of the Pacific Institute, who admits that he deceitfully posed as someone else in order to obtain documents from the Heartland Institute. As the New York Times reports:

Dr. Gleick distributed the documents to several well-known bloggers and activists who support the work of mainstream climate scientists and who have denounced the Heartland Institute as a center of climate change denial. The document release, which lit up the Internet last week, was cast by some bloggers as the work of a whistle-blowing Heartland employee or ex-employee who had access to internal papers, when it was in fact orchestrated by Dr. Gleick, a Yale- and Berkeley-trained scientist and environmental activist who says that he was frustrated with Heartland's anti-climate-change programs.

Dr. Gleick denied authorship of the most explosive of the documents, a supposed strategy paper that laid out the institute's efforts to raise money to question climate change and get schools to adjust their science curricula to include alternative theories of global warming. 

The "strategy paper" was the most explosive since it explicitly outlined what would appear to be a self-consciously dishonest effort to "undermine" climate science. The Heartland Insitute has strongly denounced the "strategy paper" as a fake. At the Huffington Post, Gleick admits

At the beginning of 2012, I received an anonymous document in the mail describing what appeared to be details of the Heartland Institute's climate program strategy. It contained information about their funders and the Institute's apparent efforts to muddy public understanding about climate science and policy. I do not know the source of that original document but assumed it was sent to me because of my past exchanges with Heartland and because I was named in it.

Given the potential impact however, I attempted to confirm the accuracy of the information in this document. In an effort to do so, and in a serious lapse of my own and professional judgment and ethics, I solicited and received additional materials directly from the Heartland Institute under someone else's name. The materials the Heartland Institute sent to me confirmed many of the facts in the original document, including especially their 2012 fundraising strategy and budget. I forwarded, anonymously, the documents I had received to a set of journalists and experts working on climate issues. I can explicitly confirm, as can the Heartland Institute, that the documents they emailed to me are identical to the documents that have been made public. I made no changes or alterations of any kind to any of the Heartland Institute documents or to the original anonymous communication.

The upshot is that it would appear that Gleick was so excited by the anonymously sent "strategy paper" that he decided that he must resort to "a serious lapse of [his] own and professional judgment and ethics" to further expose the wicked plans of the Heartland Institute. Basically, it looks like Gleick's confirmation bias ("I just know that the Heartland folks are wittingly evil") overcame whatever sense of morality and fair play that he may harbor. To paraphrase, Gleick apparently concluded that extremism in the defense of climate "alarmism" is no vice. 

Atlantic Senior Editor Megan McArdle has done two really insightful and careful analyses, here and here, of the "strategy document" in which she pretty much proves (to my satisfaction at least) that it is a fake. 

It does bear mentioning that the "alarmists" often claim that the shadowy campaign attacking true climate science (it is "settled") is being paid for by Big Oil. The Heartland documents reveal no donations from Big Oil, and the Koch Foundation (see Koch derangement syndrome) donation appears to be targeted toward health policy, not energy or climate policy. 

This is just the latest episode in the sorry and increasingly poisonous politics of global warming. 

Update: Heartland Institute press release on Gleick's confession:

"Earlier this evening, Peter Gleick, a prominent figure in the global warming movement, confessed to stealing electronic documents from The Heartland Institute in an attempt to discredit and embarrass a group that disagrees with his views.

"Gleick's crime was a serious one. The documents he admits stealing contained personal information about Heartland staff members, donors, and allies, the release of which has violated their privacy and endangered their personal safety.

"An additional document Gleick represented as coming from The Heartland Institute, a forged memo purporting to set out our strategies on global warming, has been extensively cited by newspapers and in news releases and articles posted on Web sites and blogs around the world. It has caused major and permanent damage to the reputations of The Heartland Institute and many of the scientists, policy experts, and organizations we work with.

"A mere apology is not enough to undo the damage.

"In his statement, Gleick claims he committed this crime because he believed The Heartland Institute was preventing a "rational debate" from taking place over global warming. This is unbelievable. Heartland has repeatedly asked for real debate on this important topic. Gleick himself was specifically invited to attend a Heartland event to debate global warming just days before he stole the documents. He turned down the invitation.

"Gleick also claims he did not write the forged memo, but only stole the documents to confirm the content of the memo he received from an anonymous source. This too is unbelievable. Many independent commentators already have concluded the memo was most likely written by Gleick.

"We hope Gleick will make a more complete confession in the next few days.

"We are consulting with legal counsel to determine our next steps and plan to release a more complete statement about the situation tomorrow. In the meantime, we ask again that publishers, bloggers, and Web site hosts take the stolen and fraudulent documents off their sites, remove defamatory commentary based on them, and issue retractions."

*What each side calls the other.