Deception Aside, Scientist Who Leaked Heartland Docs Called 'Hero'

While acts of deception cannot be condoned, the leaked documents provide an insight into the climate attack machine. (Photograph: Ann Pickford/Rex Features)

Deception Aside, Scientist Who Leaked Heartland Docs Called 'Hero'

The Pacific Institute's Peter Gleick admits leaking docs, but receives support from scientists and climate activists

Peter Gleick, president and co-founder of The Pacific Institute and a longtime champion of environmental causes and sustainable development, came forward on Monday to admit he was the source of leaked internal documents (pdf) from the rightwing Heartland Institute which detailed their ongoing campaign to discredit and create doubt about the scientific community's consensus on the impact of fossil fuel consumption on global warming and climate change.

In a letter posted on the Huffington Post on Monday, Gleick writes:

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 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.

Richard Littlemore, writing at DeSmog Blog, the outlet that first carried the leaked documents and has studiously followed the Heartland Institute's long record of scientific subterfuge, said this following Gleick's announcement:

So, while admitting that he impersonated a third party in order to induce Heartland to confirm its own ongoing questionable conduct, Gleick has effectively caught Heartland squarely in the headlights, proving that the Institute has dissembled and lied.

Whistleblowers - and that's the role Gleick has played in this instance - deserve respect for having the courage to make important truths known to the public at large. Without condoning or promoting an act of dishonesty, it's fair to say that Gleick took a significant personal risk - and by standing and taking responsibility for his actions, he has shown himself willing to pay the price. For his courage, his honor, and for performing a selfless act of public service, he deserves our gratitude and applause.

Heartland, in the meantime, deserves to be stripped of its charitable status and laughed out of the professional "think tank" fraternity for its amateurishness and the far-less-than-credible position that it has taken in the last week, denying its own responsibility in this "leak," dissembling about the origin of the material and going out of its way to "fail" to authenticate documents that it knew all along were legitimate.

Gleick expresses personal regret in his admission, but many in the world of climate science and environmental advocacy have little pity for the Heartland Institute. As a group of climate scientists wrote in an open letter (pdf) to Heartland recently: "Although we can agree that stealing documents and posting them online is not an acceptable practice, we would be remiss if we did not point out that the Heartland Institute has had no qualms about utilizing and distorting emails stolen from scientists." They continue:

These are the facts: Climate change is occurring. Human activity is the primary cause of recent climate change. Climate change is already disrupting many human and natural systems. The more heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions that go into the atmosphere, the more severe those disruptions will become.

We hope the Heartland Institute will heed its own advice to "think about what has happened" and recognize how its attacks on science and scientists have helped poison the debate over climate change policy. The Heartland Institute has chosen to undermine public understanding of basic scientific facts and personally attack climate researchers rather than engage in a civil debate about climate change policy options.

These are the facts: Climate change is occurring. Human activity is the primary cause of recent climate change. Climate change is already disrupting many human and natural systems. The more heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions that go into the atmosphere, the more severe those disruptions will become. Major scientific assessments from the Royal Society, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, United States Global Change Research Program and other authoritative sources agree on these points.

What businesses, policymakers, advocacy groups and citizens choose to do in response to those facts should be informed by the science. But those decisions are also necessarily informed by economic, ethical, ideological, and other considerations.While the Heartland Institute is entitled to its views on policy, we object to its practice of spreading misinformation about climate research and personally attacking climate scientists to further its goals.

And Scott Mandia, co-founder of the Climate Science Rapid Response Team, was quoted in The Guardian:

"Heartland has been subverting well-understood science for years. They also subvert the education of our school children by trying to 'teach the controversy' where none exists.

"Peter Gleick, a scientist who is also a journalist just used the same tricks that any investigative reporter uses to uncover the truth. He is the hero and Heartland remains the villain. He will have many people lining up to support him." [...]

And Kert Davies, the research director of Greenpeace USA, said it would be unfortunate if the row over Gleick and his methods to obtain the documents distracted from Heartland's work to block climate action.

"There are a lot of people involved with Heartland's multimillion dollar climate denial machine who want to change the subject to anything else."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.