Peter Gleick: Hero or moral moron?
Yesterday evening, water researcher and Pacific Institute Director Peter Gleick came forward to say that it was he who had first obtained the documents revealing the inner workings of the climate-denying Heartland Institute. Gleick admitted that he had obtained most of the documents using a false identity. This morning, the climate community has exploded with judgments, positive and negative, of Gleick’s actions. Was he Goofus or Gallant? Here’s a sampling of arguments on either side.
First, Gleick’s own assessment of his decision. In his post, he called it “a serious lapse of my own and professional judgment and ethics.” He also apologized “to all those affected.”
Heartland, of course, isn’t about to praise his actions. The institute’s president wrote to reporters that “Gleick’s crime was a serious one … A mere apology is not enough to undo the damage.” (We know political hypocrisy is getting so commonplace as to be boring, so we’ll just say “cough cough Climategate.”)
Plenty of climate thinkers jumped to Gleick’s defense, though.
Steve Zwick, the managing editor of Ecosystem Marketplace, called Gleick “a good man, frustrated by years of obfuscation and distortion” and said “he puts truth above self-interest.” At DeSmogBlog, which published the Heartland documents, Richard Littlemore called him a whistleblower (a term generally reserved for someone working within an organization who brings wrongdoing to light). Littlemore writes:
Whistleblowers [like Gleick] deserve respect for having the courage to make important truths known to the public at large … 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.
And Scott Mandia, a climate scientist who co-founded the Climate Scientist Rapid Response Team, wrote that Gleick “is the hero and Heartland remains the villain.”
Many of the negative comments on Gleick’s actions sounded a note of disappointment. The argument here is that he’s screwed up by giving climate deniers a inch of moral ground to stand on.
Among these commenters, Andrew Revkin wins for sheer judginess. He wrote that this is
an act that leaves [Gleick’s] reputation in ruins and threatens to undercut the cause he spent so much time pursuing … Gleick’s use of deception in pursuit of his cause after years of calling out climate deception has destroyed his credibility and harmed others. … That is his personal tragedy and shame.
Judith Curry, a professor at Georgia institute of Technology, who’s been critical of the IPCC’s climate work and has engaged with deniers, wrote: “The end result of Gleick’s actions are to cede the high ground to Heartland.”
But there’s an strain of thought out there (mostly on Twitter, so far) arguing that Gleick’s ethical lapse is dwarfed by Heartland’s widespread deceptions.
Naomi Klein compared the Heartland email incident to Heartland’s favorite hobbyhorse, Climategate: “Still waiting 4 whoever stole thousands of emails from climate scientists 2 show an ounce of Peter Gleick’s honesty.” Michael Noble, who directs an energy think tank, wrote that he “will watch ethical debate of 1 moral misstep vs. cottage industry of deception.” And science writer John Rennie pointed out that Gleick’s action will skew the moral clarity of the climate debate only if it’s allowed to. “Rational climate debate derailed by Gleick only if we decide to treat his misdeeds as more important than Heartland’s,” he wrote.
The Origin of the Heartland Documents, The Huffington Post.