The Magazine

Why the Climate Skeptics Are Winning

Too many of their opponents are intellectual thugs.

Mar 5, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 24 • By STEVEN F. HAYWARD
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The forlorn and increasingly desperate climate campaign achieved a new level of ineptitude last week when what had looked like a minor embarrassment for one of its critics​—​the Chicago-based Heartland Institute​—​turned out to be a full-fledged catastrophe for itself. A moment’s reflection on the root of this episode points to why the climate campaign is out of (greenhouse) gas.

Photo of Peter Gleick

Peter Gleick: ‘a serious lapse of my own and professional judgment and ethics’

In an obvious attempt to inflict a symmetrical Climategate-style scandal on the skeptic community, someone representing himself as a Heartland Institute insider “leaked” internal documents for Heartland’s most recent board of directors meeting to a fringe environmental blog, along with a photocopy of a supposed Heartland “strategy memo” outlining a plan to disseminate a public school curriculum aimed at “dissuading teachers from teaching science.”

This ham-handed phrase (one of many) should have been a tipoff to treat the document dump with some .  .  . skepticism (a trait that has gone missing from much of the climate science community). But more than a few environmental blogs and mainstream news outlets ran with the story of how this “leak” exposed the nefarious “antiscience” Neanderthals of Heartland and their fossil fuel paymasters. But the strategy memo is a fake, probably created because the genuine internal documents are fairly ho-hum. It seems the climate campaign is now taking its tactics from Dan “fake but accurate” Rather.

Why Heartland? And how did the “leaker” get his hands on authentic Heartland board materials that are obviously the source for the faked strategy memo? The Heartland Institute sponsors the most significant annual gathering of climate skeptics, usually in New York, Chicago, or Washington, D.C.—a conference that attracts hundreds of scientists and activists from around the globe, including most of the top skeptical scientists, such as MIT’s Richard Lindzen, Yale’s Robert Mendelsohn, and career EPA official Alan Carlin. By assembling a critical mass of serious dissenting opinion, the Heartland conference dispels the favorite climate campaign talking point that there’s virtually no one of repute, and no arguments of merit, outside the -so-called consensus of imminent climate catastrophe. 

The Heartland conferences have been too big for the media to ignore completely, though coverage has been spare and grudging. The conferences are also a morale booster for skeptics, who tend to be isolated and relentlessly assailed in their scattered outposts. It is worth adding that Heartland has always extended invitations to the leading “mainstream” figures to speak or debate at the conference, including Al Gore, NASA’s James Hansen, and senior officials from the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. (Heartland typically receives no response from such figures.)

The most likely instigator of an anti-Heartland provocation would be someone from among the political activists of the environmental movement, such as the merry pranksters of Greenpeace, who have been known to paw through the garbage cans of climate skeptics looking for evidence of payoffs from the fossil fuel industry (which, contrary to left-wing paranoia, has tended rather to be a generous funder of the climate catastrophe campaign). But shortly after the document dump, Ross Kaminsky, an unpaid senior fellow and former Heartland board member now with the American Spectator, noticed something odd in the digital fingerprint of the “strategy memo.” It had been scanned on an Epson printer/scanner on Monday, February 13, on the West Coast (not in the Midwest, where Heartland is located), just one day before the entire document dump appeared online for the first time. Like the famous little detail of when and how Alger Hiss disposed of his old Ford, this date and location will turn out to be a key piece of evidence unraveling the full story, some of which still remains shrouded.

So how did the official Heartland documents get out? Someone claiming to be a board member emailed an unsuspecting Heartland staffer, asking that a set of board documents be sent to a new email address. This act may have violated California and Illinois criminal statutes prohibiting false representation, and perhaps some federal statutes pertaining to wire fraud as well.

Kaminsky and a second blogger, Steven Mosher, piled up the anomalies: The leaked board documents were not scanned but were original software-produced documents, which moreover have a time stamp from Heartland’s Central time zone. Hence the “strategy memo,” if authentic, would have had to be obtained by some other channel. These and other clues led both Kaminsky and Mosher to go public with the accusation that the most likely perpetrator was Peter Gleick, a semi-prominent environmental scientist in Oakland, California. 

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