What started as a spirited debate over global warming has turned into another scandal that has further discredited the motives and actions of the people who maintain that humans are having a devastating effect on the world’s climate. Dr. Peter Gleick, president and co-founder of the Pacific Institute, an environmental research and advocacy organization based in Oakland, California, has admitted to fraudulently obtaining confidential documents from the Heartland Institute.
Heartland, based in Chicago, is a free-market think tank that tackles a variety of important public policy issues, such as health care, education and climate change. (Readers will note that the author serves as an advisor to Heartland on environmental affairs, which is an unpaid, voluntary position.) Early this year, Heartland Senior Fellow James M. Taylor got into an entertaining public debate with Dr. Gleick over the “reality” of anthropogenic global warming at Forbes.com. Both Taylor and Gleick argued their positions passionately. Unable to counter Taylor’s positions effectively, an increasingly frustrated Gleick turned to the tactic that so many alarmists eventually use: impugning the motives of the people who disagree with him. He wrote: I wonder, however, if Taylor would publish the list of who really DOES fund the Heartland Institute. It seems to be a secret — no information is listed on their website about actual contributors of that $7 million budget that they use to deny the reality of climate change (and previously, the health effects of tobacco — their other focus).
In the past, Heartland used to release its donor list, but stopped doing so after radical opponents used that information to try to harass funders. In Taylor’s words:
The Heartland Institute used to [release the names of donors], while similarly appealing to other groups to do the same. However, environmental activists and other extremist groups used the information to launch a campaign of personal harassment against Heartland Institute donors while simultaneously refusing to release the names of their own donors. It is funny how Gleick rants against the alleged harassment of Katharine Hayhoe yet remains silent about the harassment of people who disagree with him.
Taylor had thus inadvertently signaled Gleick how to hurt Heartland: release the names of the people who support the organization. Accordingly (by his own admission) Gleick called the Heartland Institute, identifying himself as a Heartland board member whose e-mail address had changed. A Heartland staffer then sent Gleick confidential documents based on the doctor’s false identification. Those documents were subsequently posted on the Internet at DeSmogBlog, a popular alarmist website. Other alarmist sympathizers on the web and in the mainstream media then picked up the story.
None of the authentic stolen documents was especially damning to Heartland. For example, a list of donors failed to identify any oil companies among Heartland supporters, despite the left’s insistence that the Heartland Institute is in the pocket of “big oil.” And yes, the Koch Foundation did kick in twenty five grand, but that money was earmarked for research and advocacy regarding free-market solutions for health care, not for environmental issues. There was no smoking gun to be found, which – as someone who knows and admires the ethics and principles of the leadership of the Heartland Institute – came as absolutely no surprise to the author.
Nonetheless, a parody of a smoking gun appeared among the documents that DeSmogBlog published, in the form of a memo that purported to outline Heartland’s climate change strategy. It was a crude forgery, full of ridiculous, inflammatory phrasing that no public policy organization would actually use, along with statements that were obviously clumsily cut and pasted from legitimate documents. (Read Meagan McArdle’s devastating deconstruction of the fake strategy memo here.) Heartland says that it is developing the forensic evidence to prove that the memo is a fake. While no one has yet proven that Gleick is the author of the phony document, that seems a likely answer to the mystery. In addition to the suspicious time-line, the forged strategy memo specifically calls out Gleick (and no one else) as an opponent to be countered. Outside of Peter Gleick, there really isn’t anybody who thinks that Peter Gleick – a water guy, not a climatologist – is an especially important figure in the climate science debate. It is simply ludicrous to believe that an organization like Heartland would focus on a bit player like Peter Gleick when big dogs like Phil Jones, Gavin Schmidt and James Hansen do so very much more to undermine the scientific method in the guise of saving the planet.
However, this episode reinforces a few basic truths. First, it’s clear that organizations like Heartland are the Davids, not the Goliaths, when it comes to discussing so-called climate change. Heartland’s funding is tiny compared to the big dogs among leftist environmental groups like the Sierra Club, World Wildlife Fund and American Lung Association. Second, it’s equally clear that “big oil” isn’t behind opposition to global-warming goodthink. Organizations like Heartland are trying to defend sound science, not pay homage to non-existent corporate masters. Finally, and most disturbingly, Gleick’s actions are yet another example of how the alarmist crowd continues to abandon any pretense of objectivity or morality in order to get their way. As the Climategate scandals have revealed, the high-priests and priestesses of the global warming religion will stop at nothing to stamp out heritics.
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