Peter Gleick steps forward as spark to Heartland climate Denial Gate

Scientist Peter Gleick has admitted to soliciting and receiving materials from the Heartland Institute under someone else’s name.

UPDATE FEBRUARY 21, 2012. Scientist Peter Gleick has confessed to using “someone else’s name” to obtain internal documents relating to climate from the Heartland Institute. You can read Peter Gleick’s statement from last night on the Huffington Post. There is a good early response from Andrew Revkin of the New York Times, basically saying that, whatever Gleick’s motives were, he blundered in this instance. However, Greg Laden’s blog has perhaps the most thoughtful statement of any we’ve read so far. Laden said many interesting things, including this:

The up side of all this is that we know more than we did before about important things.

Those important things include the fact that certain donors (listed in our original post, below) are apparently paying the Heartland Institute to keep alive the notion that global warming is uncertain or a “debate.” In fact, among climate scientists, it has not been a debate for some time, if ever. Working together over decades to reach a scientific conclusion is not a “debate.” In surveys, climate scientists now almost unanimously agree that Earth is warming due to human activities. But the media has gotten the idea that there is a debate taking place among climate scientists. This mistaken idea of a debate in the scientific community apparently – according to documents obtained from Heartland by Gleick – stems in part from the Heartland Institute being paid, and paying others, to perpetuate it. Laden also said:

Apparently, [Gleick] sent Heartland a request for the documents and they sent them to him. We don’t know the exact details of how that went, but there is a good chance that this will place Peter in a negative light since he seems to have tricked the austere institution into doing something they probably didn’t want to do. Was this excellent investigative reporting? Nefarious trickery? I’m sure one’s opinion on that will be determined mainly by which side one is on in this absurd debate over whether we should accept the preponderance of evidence showing the reality of anthropogenic climate change or whether we should deny the scientific realities and stick with the corporate line that business as usual … is the best thing for our planet and/or our pocketbooks.

Peter Gleick must have been utterly frustrated, first to use a false name to obtain documents from Heartland and then to release them to the media. We have felt that same frustration, as we’ve watched the climate issue evolve over decades to pure chaos. This is not to say that what Gleick did was right. Giving a false name is, well … false. But we join Greg Laden and other scientists and science commentators around the globe in hoping that, in the end, Gleick accomplishes what he originally intended to do: that is, cast light on how money has flowed from the Heartland Institute and their donors to dissuade people of the reality of climate change.

FEBRUARY 19, 2012. In a strange echo of 2009’s Climategate incident, documents stolen from the Heartland Institute last week were reported to reveal a climate-denialist strategy.

On February 14, 2012, the story broke that the Heartland Institute – which says on its About page that its mission is “to discover, develop, and promote free-market solutions to social and economic problems” – was the victim of an apparent theft. The “surreptitiously obtained” documents exposed to the public eye – first on Desmogblog, and later on many sites around the Internet – suggested that the Heartland Institute was raising money from various donors in order to cast doubt on human-caused climate change, in one case by trying to sway teachers in K-12 schools.

Original post on Desmogblog: Heartland Institute Exposed: Internal Documents Unmask Heart of Climate Denial Machine

According to Wikipedia today:

Documents surreptitiously obtained from the Heartland Institute and then leaked to public websites in February 2012 disclosed the names of a number of donors to the institute – including the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, tobacco companies Altria and Reynolds American, drug firms GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer and Eli Lilly, Microsoft, liquor companies, and an anonymous donor who has given $13 million over the past five years – as well as the recipients of the institute’s largesse – climate skeptics including Craig Idso, physicist Fred Singer, Robert Carter, and Anthony Watts. The Heartland Institute maintains that the documents, which were first published on Desmogblog, were fraudulently acquired, and that the particular document detailing the alleged plans to influence school curricula is a forgery.

The Heartland Institute has a history of denying global warming, instead presenting information showing that humans likely have little contribution to the warming of the Earth. On their website, the Heartland Institute states that:

Probably two-thirds of the warming in the 1990s was due to natural causes; the warming trend already has stopped and forecasts of future warming are unreliable; and the benefits of a moderate warming are likely to outweigh the costs.

The Heartland Institute also claims that it will simply include all facts for support against and for climate change. However, its ultimate claim appears to be that:

Global warming … is not a crisis.

Perhaps the most controversial of the newly released documents is the January 2012 “Confidential Memo: 2012 Heartland Climate Strategy.” Heartland responded on February 15, 2012, that this document, published by Desmogblog and others, was “fake.” You might or might not believe its authenticity; however, this purported Heartland Institute document does appear to be in line with Heartland’s view on climate change when it states that “Principals and teachers are heavily biased toward the alarmist perspective.” The document goes on to say:

To counter this we are considering launching an effort to develop alternative materials for K-12 classrooms. We are pursuing a proposal from Dr. David Wojick to produce a global warming curriculum for K-12 schools. Dr. Wojick is a consultant with the Office of Scientific and Technical Information at the U.S. Department of Energy in the area of information and communication science. His effort will focus on providing curriculum that shows that the topic of climate change is controversial and uncertain – two key points that are effective at dissuading teachers from teaching science. We tentatively plan to pay Dr. Wojick $100,000 for 20 modules in 2012, with funding pledged by the Anonymous Donor.”

As the Guardian pointed out on February 15, 2012, the bolded words above (“two key points that are effective at dissuading teachers from teaching science”) are disturbing, if they are from a real Heartland strategy document. If real, it means an anonymous millionaire donor is funding an effort that will discourage the teaching of climate science in the classrooms.

Can that possibly be a good thing?

Also according to the Guardian, Heartland paid a team of writers $388,000 in 2011 to write a series of reports “to undermine the official United Nation’s IPCC reports”. Considering this one activity by itself, Heartland does not appear to be trying to create a fair or unbiased message about the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports. They use the term “undermine.” My dictionary says that undermine means “to dig or excavate beneath (a building or fortification) so as to make it collapse.”

The leaked Heartland documents also state:

Our current budget includes funding for high-profile individuals who regularly and publicly counter the alarmist AGW message. At the moment, this funding goes primarily to Craig Idso ($11,600 per month), Fred Singer ($5,000 per month, plus expenses), Robert Carter ($1,667 per month), and a number of other individuals, but we will consider expanding it, if funding can be found.

In case you do not know who these individuals are, they each apparently have an agenda to spread the “facts” that carbon gases have little to no effect on the Earth in regards to climate change or global warming.

I understand why climate change is controversial in the media today. I understand why people, especially in the United States, are uncertain about it. After decades of scientific studies in the late 20th century showing that global warming was a real possibility, and after years of data showing a warming trend, the first decades of the 21st century saw politics take over this scientific issue. It is very difficult, even for us in science media, to sort through the facts today. It seems that many people “pick sides” without looking at evidence.

I strongly believe that people who believe in human-caused global warming should look at perspectives from those who disagree with their views and vice versa. The Earth does have cycles and periods where the weather does change. It will get cold and hot in various places every year. But when might we be able to say that global warming is truly occurring, if indeed it is?

Hindsight will likely provide the only perspective that most people will agree is true. If we continue to see a warmer Earth and more extreme weather on a more frequent basis for the next 20 to 30 years, then we might all agree Earth is warming. If the climate models continue to confirm that human emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases play a role in this warming, then we might begin to agree that climate change is being influenced by human output. But it’s going to be tough to come to an agreement. We’ll have to sort through factors such as the varying output of our sun, the frequency and intensity of volcanoes, and so much more.

If Heartland Institute wants to be fair, though, why they should spend their funds to promote against the idea of human-caused climate change? The Institute appears not to be happy that, as it states:

The federal government of the U.S. is spending billions of dollars every year on research. State and federal governments are massively subsidizing ethanol producers and wind and solar power generators in the name of “reducing carbon emissions.” Billions of dollars more are being spent by businesses and consumers complying with regulations that are said to be justified by concern over global warming.

In other words, they appear to be saying that climate change is not an issue and that we should not try to fix it or stop it because it will cost too much and cause economic problems in the near future. From what we at EarthSky can gather, this fear for near-term economics is at the crux of the climate-deniers’ argument.

In my opinion, we need to stop thinking about what will affect us now and think instead about our kids, grandchildren and the generations that will live on this beautiful planet Earth after we pass away. As human population continues to grow, cities will continue to sprawl. More people need more products, which means finding and using more natural resources. If Heartland doesn’t think seven billion people can affect Earth’s climate, how about the nine billion expected by 2050? It’s only logical that, at some point, we will have to consider the world around us.

Bottom line: On February 14, 2012, documents reportedly stolen from the Heartland Institute appeared to expose the inside approach of the Institute against the idea of human-caused climate change. It appears that funds donated to the Institute have been used to spread a climate denialist agenda, for example by attempting to undermine the IPCC reports. If you are interested in climate change, I urge everyone to be careful where you decide to get your information. Are you getting your info from the opinion pages of your favorite websites? That’s not the most reliable source. Make sure the articles you read are peer reviewed by actual climate scientists who are trained in science and who spend years using the tools of physics and supercomputers to understand how the world works.

Matt Daniel