Oakland Scientist at Center of Latest Climate Change Scandal



Last Tuesday, a series of leaked documents outlining the rather brazen strategies of Chicago-based libertarian think-tank The Heartland Institute to discount evidence of global warming first appeared on the Internet. By yesterday the leak was an international story. Speculation on the documents' source and veracity ran rampant, until yesterday evening when research scientist Peter Gleick, co-founder and president of the Oakland-based Pacific Institute, admitted in an article in the Huffington Post to having obtained the documents through the use of a false identity.

In the article, Gleick explains that he used someone else's name to obtain the documents in order to verify the accuracy of a memo leaked to him by an anonymous source. And he expresses regret at having done so: "My judgment was blinded by my frustration with the ongoing efforts — often anonymous, well-funded, and coordinated — to attack climate science and scientists and prevent this debate, and by the lack of transparency of the organizations involved," he wrote. "Nevertheless I deeply regret my own actions in this case. I offer my personal apologies to all those affected."

The documents, which have been largely confirmed as real, outline the Institute's funding efforts and ongoing strategies. A significant portion of funding for the organization's anti-climate-change efforts — $1.67 million in 2010 and $979,000 in 2010 — come from an anonymous donor. These funds go toward a slate of programs including one designed to modify K-12 classroom curricula to introduce doubt into climate-change science, and another intended to discredit the nation's network of weather stations on the basis that meteorologists use them to report record highs and lows that scientists then use to support the notion of accelerating climate change.

Other strategies referenced include strengthening relationships with media outlets such as Forbes to eliminate opposing voices, and cultivating relationships with high-profile journalists likely to be sympathetic to the organization's cause. A fundraising document also alludes to a plan to defend hydraulic fracturing, alleging that environmentalists “invented charges that fracking poses environmental and safety risks."

The Heartland Institute responded to the leak by threatening legal action against publishers of the stolen documents. While such actions may be unlikely to succeed in court due to protections of freedom of the press, they could pose significant financial burdens to small and independent online publishers. Some onlookers have called the organization's response hypocritical, considering that during the Climategate scandal of November 2009, The Heartland Institute itself published portions of stolen emails with the intent of discrediting scientists with opposing views.

Gleick, a widely recognized water expert and climate change defender who was named in some of those leaked Climategate emails, preceded his recent apology with a defense of his basic position: "I only note that the understanding of the reality and risks of climate change is strong, compelling, and increasingly disturbing, and a rational public debate is desperately needed."