Peter Gleick, Another Green Hero

February 22, 2012

Tim DeChristopher

Remember Tim DeChristopher?

While Tim was taking his final exams at the University of Utah, advocates for Utah’s wilderness like Robert Redford and the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance were attempting to bring attention to a controversial auction of Utah public lands, orchestrated by the outgoing Bush Administration. The auction included parcels adjacent to cherished natural resources like Canyonlands National Park. SUWA and other regional advocates brought a lawsuit against the Bureau of Land Management in efforts to halt the auction pending further review and public comment. Through no fault of SUWA or their allies, the lawsuit could not settle the issue prior to the auction. On December 19th, Tim finished his last final exam and took TRAX to the protest that SUWA and others had organized outside of the auction. On arrival, Tim decided that the protest needed to be moved from outside of the auction to inside, where the action was happening. With no prior plan of action, Tim entered the building where the auction was held and approached the registration desk. When asked if he was there to bid, Tim made a quick decision. He registered as Bidder 70 and entered the auction

Without the legally required environmental reviews the auction itself was mostly illegal, which was obvious from the start and confirmed eventually (‘In the end, of the 116 leases, only 29 are found to be legal‘). For his succesfull effort in saving these lands, close to Arches and Canyonlands national parks, for future generations to enjoy and for succesfully preventing an illegal auction, Tim DeChristopher ended up in jail. At the time of writing, he is still imprisoned and serving a two year sentence for doing the right thing.

I was reminded of DeChristopher as I watched the unfolding of the recent events surrounding the public release of the internal documents of the nihilistic opinion mercenaries at Heartland Institute. As a parent, as a scientist and as a decent human being I stand in awe of Peter Gleick as I stood in awe of DeChristopher’s moral courage.

Peter Gleick

A quick recap: per his own words, Gleick received an anonymous document detailing the Heartland Institute’s climate program strategy and containing information about their funders and the Institute’s apparent efforts to muddy public understanding about climate science and policy. Intrigued (and realizing the obvious that he was never intended to see said document) he subsequently solicited and received additional materials directly from the Heartland Institute under someone else’s name. Gleick called his latter action a lapse of ethics –I don’t. I call it investigative journalism, something that a serious reporter on enviromental issues could have done a long time ago (like NY Times’ Andy Revkin… just kidding, the Heartland documents show that even they view him as a complete tool)

The leaked documents reveal a number of things:

  • Heartland claims the tax statust of a501(c)(3) non-profit organisation on its IRS forms, which forbids its from lobbying and attempting to influence legislation. However, they do just that, for example as part of what they call project angry badger

    Wisconsin was the focus of national attention due to recall campaigns waged in 2011, and campaigns are taking place in 2012 against Gov. Scott Walker, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and three Republican senators who voted for Act 10, the landmark collective bargaining reform legislation adopted in 2011. We have been following the Wisconsin debate closely, reporting on it in Budget & Tax News, commenting in op-eds and LTEs and on blogs, doing television and radio interviews, and sending research and commentary to elected officials in Wisconsin and nationally. [hello! IRS! That’s lobbying right here!] [..] Heartland is the largest and most influential national free-market think tank in the Midwest, so we are in the right place and with the right resources to help defend and secure Wisconsin’s recent gains

  • Climate denialist bottom feeder Anthony Watts, who runs the website Watts up what that? has always claimed his work was a labor of love (see here for example, although Watts has a habit of altering his posts once they become inconvenient for him. He is a very busy man). In the words of Heartland:

    Anthony Watts proposes to create a new Web site devoted to accessing the new temperature data
    from NOAA’s web site and converting them into easy-to-understand graphs that can be easily found and understood by weathermen and the general interested public. Watts has deep expertise in Web site design generally and is well-known and highly regarded by weathermen and meteorologists everywhere [citation needed!]. The new site will be promoted heavily at Heartland has agreed to help Anthony raise $88,000 for the project in 2011. The Anonymous Donor has already pledged $44,000. We’ll seek to raise the balance.

    It is a delicious twist of irony that the one temperature data project Watts has actually contributed to (as n-th author on a peer-reviewed paper) ended up clearly debunking his thesis that temperature stations were unreliable

  • Speaking of Anonymous Donors, there apparently exists some obscenely rich lunatic who is willing to consistently provide the bulk of Heartland’s funding. His identity is still unclear (Voldemort? It is telling that even in internal memo’s and documents he was Not To Be Named), but his donations for the past few years have been as follows: $3,276,937 (2007), $4,600,000 (2008), $2,822,180 (2009), $1,664,150 (2010), $979,000 (2011), $1,250,000 (2012). Each year, the majority of the donation was used for `Global Warming Projects‘.
  • A Global Warming project of note is the preparation of additional material for K12-schools (get ’em while they’re young):

    Many people lament the absence of educational material suitable for K-12 students on global warming that isn’t alarmist or overtly political. Heartland has tried to make material available to teachers, but has had only limited success. Principals and teachers are heavily biased toward the alarmist perspective. Moreover, material for classroom use must be carefully written to meet curriculum guidelines, and the amount of time teachers have for supplemental material is steadily shrinking due to the spread of standardized tests in K-12 education. [..]
    Dr. Wojick proposes to begin work on “modules” for grades 10-12 on climate change (“whether humans are changing the climate is a major scientific controversy”), climate models (“models are used to explore various hypotheses about how climate works. Their reliability is controversial”), and air pollution (“whether CO2 is a pollutant is controversial. It is the global food supply and natural emissions are 20 times higher than human emissions”).

    Note that all statements in quotes are factually wrong and I’ve turned them into to links where you can find clear debunkings with references to the scientific literature (thanks to Skeptical Science!). In the one document that Heartland claims is fake (although there is absolutely no reason to believe so, given its overall consistency with documents like the 2012 fund-raising plan that I have quoted from so far) they even seem to be aware of the fact that they’re selling plain lies to children:

    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.

  • Heartland generously funds the usual professional liars with monthly stipends:

    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 [..]

    I’ve added links to Sourcewatch where you can find additional information on these characters. Earlier in his career, Fred Singer for example has been a mouthpiece for the tobacco industry and has argued that DDT is harmless. Complete bastards, all.

  • Finally, Heartlands take on the current media landscape and who they view as useful idiots for their cause:

    Efforts at places such as Forbes are especially important now that they have begun to allow high-profile climate scientists (such as Gleick) to post warmist science essays that counter our own. This influential audience has usually been reliably anti-climate and it is important to keep opposing voices out. Efforts might also include cultivating more neutral voices with big audiences (such as Revkin at DotEarth/NYTimes, who has a well-known antipathy for some of the more extreme AGW communicators such as Romm, Trenberth, and Hansen) or Curry (who has become popular with our supporters)

The fight about public understanding of global warming is a case of asymmetric warfare where one side can make up lies as they go along but scientists are bound to scientific fact, no matter how subtle, counter-intuitive or unwelcome. Given the above information about Heartland, Gleick made the morally right choice in making these documents public. You didn’t hear Heartland cry foul about climategate, the leak of personal e-mails from UK climate scientists. What made climategate so reprehensible in my view was not the act of hacking into e-mails (for what if there was a great conspiracy? The thought is ludicrous for anyone with at least a passing understanding of climate science and not in possession of a tinfoil hat, but let’s humour the seriously misguided souls for a moment), but the coordinated and wilful effort to data mine the e-mails and then releasing a minuscule fraction of them in terms of specific sentences that could be easily taken to mean something different when taken out of context (all spin has subsequently been debunked countless times). And all of that right before important climate negotiations, first in Cancun, then in Ireland.

Hats off to Peter Gleick, another green hero.