Lying Is the Wrong Way to Raise Awareness About Climate ChangeS

Climate change scientist Peter Gleick has admitted on The Huffington Post that he lied about his identity to acquire information about a movement to deny climate change. Way to do more harm than good for your cause, jerk.

After a story appeared in The New York Times describing the Heartland Institute's organized campaign against climate science, questions and accusations regarding how the documents were attained immediately followed. The answer came from Gleick. He admitted on HuffPo that he posed as someone else to acquire the documents, helping to secure a reputation as an irrational fanatic that will cast a pall on the entire movement and provide ammo to detractors for years to come. Way to use that big brain for strategy, Peter.

Now, publications everywhere are writing about his deception. And that means they're not writing about how the global average temperature during the last few decades was warmer than any comparable period during the last 400 years. And that temperatures in many locations around the world have been higher during the past 25 years than any other since 900 A.D. And that data indicate massive glacier melting and reductions in snow cover over the coming decades will drastically reduce water availability, limit hydropower potential, and seriously mess with the water supply of one-sixth of the worlds population.

Peter Gleick might be a brilliant scientist with good intentions for the planet and his fellow man. But assuming a false identity to get information to that end very obviously undercuts those efforts. The "rational debate" he says he was hoping for is further from reality than ever because of what he did.

We already know that scientists aren't saints; they lie sometimes. James Watson comes to mind. He stole X-ray diffraction images from Rosalind Franklin so that he and Frances Crick could publish their seminal paper on the double-helix structure of DNA. Then I think about the reasons why Watson did that. All I can come up with is personal glory, and because he didn't want a woman who he didn't think dressed properly to share authorship on his paper.

Gleick, I'm imagining, though I've never met him and can't assume to know what he was thinking, seems to have had more than his own grandeur in mind when he lied. Maybe he was thinking about the future of today's kids on our increasingly damaged planet. He admits to being "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."

I get that. When you're a scientist collecting evidence for 20 years that supports a phenomenon that threatens the entire planet, and then some well-funded idiots come along and work hard to discredit you, it has to make you a little nuts and drive you to go to extremes to prove yourself correct. But when you cross lines, you make the conversation about you and your ethics, and not about science.

Suzanne Goldenberg writes in The Guardian that Gleick "does not appear to have experienced immediate remorse" since he didn't fess up until he was accused in "feverish online speculation." He deserves some credit, though, for admitting his mistake and apologizing, even if it was tardy. Like Andrew Revkin writes today on The New York Times Dot Earth blog: "The only people I see out there in the climate fight who—as far as I can tell—never admit to an error are people with agendas from which they can never stray. They're perfect."

So while there are shades of gray when it comes to bending the truth, it almost never (maybe even never ever, unless we're talking 'do I look fat'?) does any good. Because now what's everyone talking about? We're all discussing lying liars, not how climate change is caused by humans who need to change their habits before we're all screwed.

Image: Pacific Institute