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In Defense of Peter Gleick


The legendary climate change scientist and brawler against denialists Peter Gleick is in some serious hot water because he has admitted to passing along the internal Heartland Institute documents that detail, among other things, the coordinated attempt by right-wingers to fight against anything that would stop climate change.

Imaging yourself in Gleick’s position. You are a committed activist with a long history taking on horrible people doing horrible things. You can be a feminist, gay rights activist, environmentalist, unionist, whatever. You are on these people’s e-mail lists. And suddenly they include you on an e-mail where they spill the goodies.

What are you going to do? “Oh, dear sir, I think you have made a mistake! These documents detailing exactly how you intend on destroying the world are not intended for me. Please remove me from your e-mail list!!!” Of course you aren’t. You are going to string this out to get the dirt. What do these people really do behind the scenes? And then you are going to give the information to your friends in the media and embarrass the hell out of these jerks.

But that kind of behavior is highly unacceptable to the New York Times, or at least to Dot Earth writer Andrew Revkin, who writes:

One way or the other, Gleick’s use of deception in pursuit of his cause after years of calling out climate deception has destroyed his credibility and harmed others. (Some of the released documents contain information about Heartland employees that has no bearing on the climate fight.) That is his personal tragedy and shame (and I’m sure devastating for his colleagues, friends and family).

Really? Because I don’t see it that way. See, I’d call using a false identity to get inside a diabolical organization “journalism.” It might not be respectable and won’t get you invited to fun corporate-sponsored events. But Gleick has thrown the curtain back. And of course, he’s at fault here. Even if he broke the law, is that the real issue here? What is worse, using a false identity or advocating for policies that will destroy the entire nation of Tonga? Using a false identity or lobbying the U.S. government to halt changes in mileage standards for cars so that we don’t become a bunch of hippie Europeans or something and continue to change the climate with ever-greater rapidity? I think I know which side contains the moral monsters here. And it ain’t Peter Gleick.

Of course, Andrew Revkin has no credibility on these issues. As Joe Romm notes in his policy ripping Revkin a new one, Revkin has made dozens of ridiculous and false statements on these issues over the years and has never once issued an apology on the Times website, including smearing Al Gore. Romm is a must-read on the matter.

The Heartland Institute is also throwing out claims that Gleick forged the climate part of the report. I am skeptical. Obviously it would be different if he was making things up. But I don’t see any reason why he would do this, if for no other reason than he obviously couldn’t get away with it. McArdle has of course bought this whole hog. She is outraged. It’s hard to imagine how she wouldn’t be, a woman with such high journalistic standards who never ever associate with people who might twist science for their own purposes. Nope, ethical high ground all the way here.

I was actually e-mailed the Heartland document about 36 hours before the Times first covered it. Now I’m really mad at myself for not jumping all over it.

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