On January 27, the biggest global warming scandal since Climategate began. Fakegate, as it has come to be known, was even worse than Climategate, the previous scandal showing global warming alarmists behaving badly in order to stifle scientific debate. The Heartland Institute, for better or for worse, was right in the middle of it.
Peter Gleick’s Big Mistake
On January 27, Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment, and Security in Oakland, California, began using a phony email address to acquire through fraud several confidential corporate documents from a Heartland staff member. Over the course of 15 days he repeatedly lied to Heartland staff to obtain more documents.
On February 14, Gleick sent the documents he stole, along with a fake memo he claimed was also from Heartland, to liberal activists and sympathetic journalists. The result, as described below, was an international sensation. On February 20, Gleick confessed to stealing the documents but claimed he received the fake memo “in the mail” from an anonymous source.
James Delingpole, a columnist for the London Telegraph, dubbed the episode “Fakegate.” The title has stuck, and now Heartland has a Web site at www.fakegate.org that reports the latest developments in the Peter Gleick global warming scandal.
A Media Feeding Frenzy
The media and environmental groups rushed to report the “leak” of documents from the notorious “climate denier” Heartland Institute, without giving us a chance to confirm their authenticity and almost invariably quoting from the fake document.
Print coverage included multiple stories in the New York Times, USA Today, Washington Post, National Post (Canada), Chicago Tribune, Guardian (London), The Age (Australia), Le Monde (France), Los Angeles Times, Houston Chronicle, and hundreds more. The Wall Street Journal, Orange County Register, Washington Times, and a few other papers, much to their credit, ran news stories or editorials defending us.
Much of the “mainstream” media coverage of Fakegate was negative toward Heartland, as liberal editors and reporters allowed their bias and ignorance of science to dictate how they framed the story. Still, intelligent readers could read between the lines to see Fakegate was a disaster for the global warming cause. Reporters who denied this reality lost even more credibility.
Online coverage of the scandal was more balanced—while liberal advocacy groups and bloggers relied on the fake memo and tried to defend Gleick’s actions, everyone else properly denounced Gleick and came to Heartland’s defense.
Attacking Heartland’s Donors
Radical environmentalists used the stolen and fake documents to target Heartland’s donors, especially public companies that could be blackmailed into saying they would stop funding us.
“Forecast the Facts”—a front group launched just three months earlier to intimidate meteorologists who question global warming dogma—launched an online petition calling on companies to stop funding Heartland. Since the petition repeats false claims drawn from the fake memo, it is itself a fake.
So the fake memo led to a fake petition circulated by a fake organization!
The “Forecast the Facts” phony petition compelled General Motors to announce it would no longer fund us. GM previously had given about $15,000 a year to Heartland, out of an annual budget of approximately $6 million, so the loss is small. But the rest of our donors are also being targeted by liberal activists.
Attacking Heartland’s Scientists
The documents stolen by Gleick listed some of the climate scientists and organizations paid to write and review Climate Change Reconsidered, our multi-volume report on the current state of climate research. The fake memo misrepresented Heartland’s relationships with these scientists and organizations, painting a picture of dishonesty and immorality.
Greenpeace has been citing press coverage of the fake memo in letters to our scientists’ employers—including the presidents of Arizona State University, Harvard University, and the University of Missouri—demanding that they be fired or disciplined. Greenpeace then tries to get sympathetic reporters and environmental activists on college campuses to harass the scientists who work with us and keep pressure on college deans.
It is difficult to imagine a more despicable and dishonest campaign than the one Greenpeace is waging against these climate scientists.
Heartland’s Position on Climate Change
What is it about The Heartland Institute’s position on climate change that drove Peter Gleick to break the law and ruin his career as a scientist?
Heartland does not “deny the existence of climate change,” as the left claims repeatedly. It supports research and scholarly debate on the causes and effects of climate change. While the organization itself doesn’t have an “official” position on climate, its spokespersons have repeatedly said they believe some warming occurred in the second half of the twentieth century, there is evidence of a small human impact on climate, and carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas.
Heartland’s views are controversial only in liberal circles. Saying that more debate is necessary before policies restricting greenhouse gas emissions are justified is well within the mainstream of the scientific and policy communities. For example, nearly 100 other independent think tanks and civic organizations have cosponsored Heartland’s conferences on climate change, and tens of thousands of scientists have signed petitions saying they do not believe manmade global warming merits policies aimed at reducing carbon dioxide emissions.
The peer-reviewed literature on climate change also contradicts the theory that climate change is mostly manmade and will be a crisis. This is amply documented in the two volumes of Climate Change Reconsidered (totaling some 1,200 pages) that Heartland has produced since 2009. See for yourself by visiting www.nipccreport.org.
Heartland Fights Back
Within 24 hours of the stolen documents appearing on Web sites, we had determined they were stolen, not leaked, and that the “climate strategy” memo was a fake. We issued the first of many news releases aimed at setting the record straight.
When Gleick confessed to stealing the documents, we turned our focus to proving that he wrote the fake memo and exposing the campaigns by “Forecast the Facts” and Greenpeace to stifle scientific debate and free speech. We “lawyered up,” retaining legal counsel from three respected law firms in Chicago. We asked the FBI and Justice Department to investigate Gleick and filed a civil suit against Gleick in federal court.
We are trying our hardest to turn this episode into a positive development for Heartland and the global warming realism movement that we’ve done so much to create and support. If we succeed, Fakegate will be an even bigger defeat for the global warming movement than Climategate because there is an excellent chance of a criminal conviction of Gleick and his co-conspirators.
We do need your help, though. We have launched a Legal Defense Fund to cover the mounting cost of preparing civil and criminal litigation against Peter Gleick and his organization. We need your most generous financial support. Or if you are a writer or scholar, we hope you will write about Fakegate and defend us online when the issue is debated.
The latest news about the Fakegate scandal can be found at www.fakegate.org. I hope you’ll visit that site often, and help us restore our reputation and ensure that justice is done.
Joseph L. Bast (firstname.lastname@example.org) is president of The Heartland Institute.