Sunday November 23rd 2014

Crossing the Line as Civilization Implodes: Heartland Institute, Peter Gleick and Andrew Revkin

Elizabeth Kolbert: It may seem impossible to imagine that a technologically advanced society could choose, in essence, to destroy itself, but that is what we are now in the process of doing.

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Humanity’s Choice (via M.I.T.):  Inaction (“No Policy” — the policy aggressively advanced by most professional disinformers and tacitly accepted by most in the intelligentsia and media — eliminates most of the uncertainty about whether or not future warming will be catastrophic.  Aggressive emissions reductions dramatically improves humanity’s chances.

Humanity is putting its foot on the accelerator even though the world’s top scientists and governments have repeatedly explained we are headed over a cliff. The people who will suffer the most are people who have not contributed to this  impending catastrophe —  future generations and the poorest among us.

This is such a colossally immoral and unethical act —  collectively and in many cases individually — that most people, including the overwhelming majority of the so-called intelligentsia, simply choose to ignore it on a daily basis. That won’t save a livable climate, however, nor it will stop future generations from cursing our names.

And so it is not surprising that many immoral and unethical acts that regularly occur on a far less grand scale are condoned or winked at or simply ignored.

Every day, countless organizations spread misinformation aimed at delaying the action needed to avoid destroying a livable climate, which will cause billions to suffer — and needlessly, since every major independent study makes clear that the cost of action is incredibly low. Many of the disinformers routinely attack and smear climate scientists. Some routinely publish their e-mails, encouraging their readers to cyber-bully scientists who are doing nothing more than trying to inform the world of the consequences of its untenable choices.  But we have become inured to it — heck, there’s a whole TV network devoted to spreading lies — yawn, let’s change the channel to something we like.

The media continues to reduce coverage of the story of the century — “Silence of the Lambs 2: Media Herd’s Coverage of Climate Change Drops Sharply — Again. The three network news stations broadcast 14 climate change stories with a total air time of 32.5 minutes in 2011,  down from 32 stories and 90.5 minutes last year and well below the 2007 peak of 147 segments totaling 386 minutes. This is a stunning collective lapse in judgment by editors and producers. But the media — in a classic act of circular benchmarking — sees everyone else in the media doing it, so the inconceivable becomes an accepted norm.

Many in the media who do cover the story continue to downplay the science or fail to connect the dots, even between extreme heat waves and global warming. Worse, many in the media, including some at New York Times, quote long-debunked disinformers and confusionists who routinely smear climate scientists — people who should have zero credibility.  This is also a collective lapse in judgment that merits multiple apologies and retractions, but it has become the “norm” in journalism. Future generations will marvel at how the once lofty  profession of journalism destroyed its own credibility and misreported the story of the century.

In this sewer of unethical and immoral activity, we all have tough choices, most especially climate scientists, the victims of many of the worst attacks. These modern day Cassandras have become increasingly blunt and outspoken for obvious reasons — they understand best what is likely to happen if we keep listening to the disinformers and their enablers in the media.

Even the formerly reticent Lonnie Thompson explained why he and other climatologists are speaking out: Virtually all of us are now convinced that global warming poses a clear and present danger to civilization.” He continues:

That bold statement may seem like hyperbole, but there is now a very clear pattern in the scientific evidence documenting that the earth is warming, that warming is due largely to human activity, that warming is causing important changes in climate, and that rapid and potentially catastrophic changes in the near future are very possible. This pattern emerges not, as is so often suggested, simply from computer simulations, but from the weight and balance of the empirical evidence as well.

That is simply what the science says, as my review of 50 recent studies makes clear (see “An Illustrated Guide to the Science of Global Warming Impacts: How We Know Inaction Is the Gravest Threat Humanity Faces“).

What is a scientist to do in such a casually self-destructive world? The prestigious journal Nature editorialized 2 years ago, “Scientists must now emphasize the science, while acknowledging that they are in a street fight.”

That is all prologue for the events of the last week or so.

As Climate Progress reported earlier this week, Heartland Institute documents revealed plans to dupe children and ruin their future. The AP worked to independently verify the documents and concluded, “The federal consultant working on the classroom curriculum, the former TV weatherman, a Chicago elected official who campaigns against hidden local debt and two corporate donors all confirmed to the AP that the sections in the document that pertained to them were accurate. No one the AP contacted said the budget or fundraising documents mentioning them were incorrect.

Subsequently, several climate scientists who “had their emails stolen [in 2009], posted online and grossly misrepresented,” slammed Heartland for spreading misinformation” and “personally attacking climate scientists to further its goals.” The scientists specifically noted:

In 2009, the Heartland Institute was among the groups that spread false allegations about what these stolen emails said. Despite multiple independent investigations, which demonstrated that allegations against scientists were false, the Heartland Institute continued to attack scientists based on the stolen emails. When more stolen emails were posted online in 2011, the Heartland Institute again pointed to their release and spread false claims about scientists.

You can read Heartland’s reply to similar charges here.

Last night I and I imagine everyone else was stunned to learned that Dr. Peter Gleick was the one who put these documents into the public domain. In a Huffington Post piece, he acknowledged “a serious lapse of my own and professional judgment and ethics,” an assessment I would not disagree with. He then apologized for his mistakes, a move that distinguishes him from Heartland or his critics in the media, like Andrew Revkin, whose too-rapid response to these events certainly crossed the line.

As an important aside, when considering whether the boundary between ethical violation and criminal act has been crossed, we should in all fairness use the Revkin rule. When someone posted on Climate Progress that the Climategate emails were stolen — the assertion made by the University of East Anglia and others — Revkin himself posted:

Just to be clear, no British law enforcement agency has yet said whether a crime has been committed. I have called the Norfolk Constabulary more than once and mum’s still the word.

Seriously! So we’ll just have to wait until some law enforcement agency makes its judgment — and I’m going to make a wild guess that we’ll have a long wait on that.

Here is Gleick’s statement:

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 and 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.

I will not comment on the substance or implications of the materials; others have and are doing so. I only note that the scientific understanding of the reality and risks of climate change is strong, compelling, and increasingly disturbing, and a rational public debate is desperately needed. 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. Nevertheless I deeply regret my own actions in this case. I offer my personal apologies to all those affected.

Yes, we live in an age where a large fraction of people pretend to be someone they aren’t online, where reporters routinely practice deception, where bloggers and other even pretend to be famous people to get a scoop or embarrass someone.

But Gleick is right that he committed a serious lapse of my professional judgment and ethics. He is right to regret his actions and make a personal apology.

When exactly will the Heartland Institute apologize for “spreading misinformation” and “personally attacking climate scientists to further its goals”?

And when exactly will Revkin apologize for his various lapses, including his absurd and I think hypocritical response to Gleick’s post?

Here are the key parts of what Revkin wrote:

Now, Gleick has admitted to an act that leaves his reputation in ruins and threatens to undercut the cause he spent so much time pursuing….

The Heartland Institute had already signaled that it plans to seek charges and civil action against the person who extracted its documents under a false identity….

I won’t speculate on how the legal aspects of this story might play out.

Another question, of course, is who wrote the climate strategy document that Gleick now says was mailed to him. His admitted acts of deception in acquiring the cache of authentic Heartland documents surely will sustain suspicion that he created the summary, which Heartland’s leadership insists is fake.

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).

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.

I haven’t seen so much nonsense since, well, since I read something from Heartland.

Revkin has ZERO credibility in making these attacks.  Zero.

First off, if one act of this nature could ruin a reputation or destroy his credibility, then what precisely is Revkin doing routinely quoting and citing people who have been repeatedly debunked, the disinformers and confusionists.

Seriously, Revkin — and the NY Times itself — quote all manner of people who simply should have no credibility whatsoever on a regular basis (see “Revkin’s DotEarth hypes disinformation posted on an anti-science website” and “In yet another front-page journalistic lapse, the NY Times once again equates non-scientists — Bastardi, Coleman, and Watts (!) — with climate scientists“).

Revkin smeared Al Gore — equating his science-based talks with George Will’s long-debunked falsehoods — based on the false claims of one of the most debunked people in the blogosphere (see “Yes, the false accusation that Gore was exaggerating came from none other than Roger Pielke, Jr.: And yes, I just re-confirmed with Gore’s office that Pielke is as wrong today in his false claims as he was 2 years ago”).

But Revkin has never retracted his attack or apologized.  And he keeps quoting Pielke (as does the NY Times), even though Pielke’s statements on climate scientists inspire objections from scientists like Ken Caldeira (see here).  Heck, now Pielke brags about the ability to team up with the hard-core anti-science websites and drive traffic to his site. Revkin’s defense is that Pielke  has published articles in the peer-reviewed literature. Gosh, Gleick has published many more articles. So I guess his reputation remains intact for the New York Times.

Revkin himself has made countless mistakes that he has never formally retracted or apologized for [see, for instance, “NYT’s Revkin pushes global cooling myth (again!) and repeats outright misinformation“].

The closest he ever came was his 2009 stunner on NPR: “I’ve made missteps. I’ve made probably more mistakes this year in my print stories than I had before. That’s kind of frustrating.”  Yes, the top reporter in the country made missteps and mistakes on the story of the century, but all he can offer up is “That’s kind of frustrating.”

Why haven’t that series of missteps and mistakes destroyed his credibility and ruined his reputation?

Again, Revkin has zero credibility in his statements about Gleick and he should retract them.

Revkin writes, “I won’t speculate on how the legal aspects of this story might play out.” Gosh, he’s happy to say there’s no crime in Climategate until the police weigh in.

He writes, Gleick’s “admitted acts of deception in acquiring the cache of authentic Heartland documents surely will sustain suspicion that he created the summary, which Heartland’s leadership insists is fake.”  Why? Does Revkin have any evidence to back up this “suspicion.” Is he no longer a journalist but just a guy who passes on suspicions from the blogosphere and from an organization known for “spreading misinformation” and “personally attacking climate scientists to further its goals”?

To repeat, that sentence is dreadful and should be retracted. Revkin doesn’t even say where the “suspicion” came from or what its basis is. He just repeats it. We used to call that gossip. Now I guess it’s in the New York Times manual.

I’ll have to do a separate blog on the subject but its quite clear that Revkin does not think very much of climate scientists. In a dreadful February 1 column that once again quoted the long-debunked Pielke, he dismisses a letter to the Wall Street Journal from 39 of the leading climate scientists in the world this way:

The reality for most of the signatories of the rebuttal letter is that they are more akin to medical technicians — making sure the thermometers gauging a fever are reliable — and radiologists — interpreting a CT scan — than diagnosticians prescribing the appropriate treatment.

Seriously.  Trenberth, Somerville, Caldeira, Overpeck, Mann, Rignot, Watson — they are just technicians who test whether your hospital thermometer works! No wonder Revkin is so quick to jump on these guys.

What Gleick did was wrong and Gleick not only knows it, he admitted it and apologized, thereby preserving his reputation in a world where everyone makes mistakes, but few admit it.

All of us wait for the same from Heartland and Revkin.

This article was originally posted on Climate Progress