The climate scandal that wasn’t
Last week, what was purported to be the Heartland Institute’s strategy documents were leaked to prominent climate-change websites, such as Vancouver’s DeSmogBlog, which posted them online, where they were picked up by media outlets around the world.
Heartland is a Chicago-based libertarian think tank that has helped publicize research that questions the alleged consensus on man-made global warming and hosts a successful annual conference of warming sceptics.
DeSmog and others were leaked a cache of electronic documents appearing to show Heartland’s yearly budget and donors’ list. Also included was a “confidential memo” entitled, “2012 Heartland Climate Strategy.” The budget and directory of contributors were largely unremarkable; it surprised no one that Heartland spends a couple of million dollars a year on climate science, most of which comes from an anonymous donor presumed to be an energy company investor.
It was the confidential memo that really sold the story — that gave the steak its sizzle, if you will. The memo purports to show Heartland staff and directors participating in what DeSmog calls the Climate Cover-Up, a plot to create a phony belief among teachers and the public that climate science is still unsettled. By “intentionally sowing the seeds of confusion,” DeSmog claims, Heartland and other sceptics hope to slow the teaching of global warming theory in schools and stall public-policy efforts to switch Western economies from carbon fuels to alternate energy sources.
The biggest trouble for DeSmog and the other outlets that instantly ran with this stunning revelation is that the confidential memo is almost certainly a forgery. Another problem is that the remaining Heartland documents (which are likely real, but largely unremarkable) were obtained fraudulently and did not come from a Heartland “insider,” as DeSmog claimed, but rather from a prominent global-warming alarmist and activist, Peter Gleick, co-founder of the Pacific Institute, an environmental think tank, and a long-time foe of Heartland.
Dr. Gleick, in what he now admits was “a serious lapse of my own and professional judgment and ethics,” pretended to be a Heartland supporter and duped an institute staffer into sending him the budget and fundraising files. He has also confessed to being the leaker (he is not, for now, accused of being the forger, though).
Frankly, I don’t see the leak of the real Heartland documents as all that devious. In 2009, and again last year, someone released emails and computer files from the Climate Research Unit at Britain’s East Anglia University — documents that seem to show prominent pro-warming scientists conspiring to hide the fact that their research does not show the disastrous warming they have predicted for more than two decades. These documents are real, too, and obtained either by a hacker or a disgruntled insider. Up to that point, the two leaks are on par, ethically.
But what makes the Gleick leaks worse is the fake “confidential memo.” Climategate — the name given to the 2009 and 2011 anti-warming leaks — involves only real documents. The interpretation of their meaning is the subject of debate, but their authenticity is not. The potentially scandalous discussions actually occurred.
In the case of the Heartland leak, the one document that is even remotely scandalous was forged. Without the faked strategy memo, there is little or nothing newsworthy in last week’s story. How can anyone be sure it was faked? For one, it uses different formatting and different fonts, and was produced using different technology than all the real documents.