Environment

Climate Wars Reach New Lows

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorFeb 21, 2012 12:38 PM

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Last week, the Los Angeles Times wrote that the Heartland Institute "found itself duped out of several confidential fundraising documents that were then distributed widely over the Internet, offering a glimpse of its priorities." This was true. The LA Times, noting that the Heartland Institute "pilloried climate scientists whose stolen emails were released in 2009 as part of the so-called Climategate flap," also said:

Once in a while, there comes along a reason to believe in karma.

Well, as news of Peter Gleick's confession suggests, karma is going around fast and furious these days. Gleick, a prominent climate and water scientist, and member of the National Academy of Sciences, has admitted to being the person who duped Heartland. It's the latest and most astonishing twist to the climate wars. As Andy Revkin observes at Dot Earth, the fallout is likely to be extensive:

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). The broader tragedy is that his decision to go to such extremes in his fight with Heartland has greatly set back any prospects of the country having the "rational public debate" that he wrote "” correctly "” is so desperately needed.

In a similar vein, American University's Matthew Nisbet writes:

The incident is the latest in an escalating spiral of polarizing warfare between self-described "Climate Hawks" and so-called Climate Deniers. Caught in the cross-fire are the great majority of scientists and members of the public who yearn to work together in their communities, regions, and nationally to find common ground.

Such common ground will now be even harder to achieve. Gleick's action will only reinforce the negative spiral of the public's climate discourse. The reaction from climate scientists and the climate activist community will be closely watched and either further cement the partisanship or help repair it. Early indications are not positive. Desmogblog, which has played a primary role in disseminating the Heartland documents, is hailing Gleick as a hero.

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.

This rationalization (not to mention the incorrect use of whistleblower) boggles the mind. If climate activists follow Desmogblog's lead, the climate debate will sink to even lower depths, which I had previously thought was impossible. One last thought, for the moment. Peter Gleick's statement in the Huffington Post raises as many questions as it answers. I suspect that this story will have a few more twists and turns in the coming days and weeks.

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