Climate sceptic documents leaked – experts respond

UPDATED 21/02/12: The SMC put questions to the Heartland Institute about the veracity of the documents revealed in last week’s leak. Read the answers here.

Water and climate researcher and Huffington Post writer Dr Peter Gleick has revealed today his role in impersonating another party to gain the documents from the Heartland Institute.

“In a serious lapse of my own and professional judgment and ethics, I solicited and received additional materials directly from the Heartland Institute under someone else’s name,” he wrote on his blog.

However he claims not to have altered the contents of the documents.

“I can explicitly confirm, as can the Heartland Institute, that the documents they emailed to me are identical to the documents that have been made public.”

Meanwhile, Several New Zealand public health researchers have signed a letter sent to the Heartland Institute by the London-based Climate and Health Council. The letter calls for greater transparency in funding of organisations like the Heartland Institute.

“We view the systematic sowing of unjustified doubt about mainstream international climate science as confusing at best, and inhumane at worst,” the scientists wrote.

16/02/12: Leaked documents relating to a US liberal think tank that dismisses climate change, the Heartland Institute, have revealed the inner workings of the sceptical side of the climate debate. However, the well organised lobbying detailed in the files comes as no surprise to experts working in the climate change field.

The documents, leaked on Valentine’s day (14 Feb), include details of funding sources and policy initiatives – including a controversial plan to promote climate skepticism in the US school curriculum.

You can read more on the Guardian and BBC news websites. The documents were first leaked on the DeSmogBlog site, available here.

The Heartland institute has issues a statement regarding the leaked documents, claiming that some of the files are stolen, at least one is fake, and requesting that they be removed from internet sites.

Our colleagues at the UK Science Media Centre collected the following reaction from experts:

Dave Reay, Senior lecturer in Carbon Management, University of Edinburgh, said:

‘If true, this confirms that the climate change denialist agenda is being pushed in a coordinated and very well-funded manner. The suggested involvement of Microsoft as a funder is especially shocking given the excellent work the Gates Foundation currently does in addressing the impacts of climate change in the developing world.

Bob Ward, Policy and Communications Director, Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, LSE, said:

“If they are shown to be genuine, the ‘scepticgate’ memos may reveal for the first time the sources and scale of funding for one of the most active US lobby groups that promotes climate change denial. The memos appear to reveal that one ‘anonymous donor’ gave the Institute more than US$8.6 million between 2007 and 2011 specifically to promote climate change denial. Perhaps even more surprising is the evidence that Heartland is receiving funding from companies whose success depends fundamentally on rigorous science. These companies would likely go bankrupt very quickly if they adopted Heartland’s ideological approach to their own businesses.”

“It is well known that the Heartland Institute promotes free market fundamentalism, opposing regulation of businesses, but until now its true tactics and motivations have been hidden. If the ‘scepticgate’ memos are found to be genuine, perhaps the most damning revelation is the methods that it uses to promote its ideological agenda. For instance, these memos suggest that Heartland pays ‘sceptical’ scientists to produce reports which are primarily intended to undermine the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, rather than summarising accurately the current state of knowledge. The most explosive revelation would be that the underlying aim of its campaign to target US schools, which ‘will focus on providing curriculum that shows that the topic of climate change is controversial and uncertain – two key points that are effective at dissuading teachers from teaching science’. If the memos are genuine, I think most parents would be horrified to learn of an organisation that is attempting to influence their children’s education to promote its own agenda.

“But the leak of the memos, if they are shown to be genuine, also raises big questions about the links with UK-based climate change ‘sceptics’, such as Christopher Monckton, Benny Peiser, James Delingpole and Christopher Booker, who have spoken in the past at the Heartland Institute’s conferences on climate change.”

Chris Rapley, Professor of Climate Science, University College London said:

“Assuming that the leaked documents are genuine, the most chilling revelation is the campaign to brainwash American children by commissioning an alternative curriculum aiming to undermine climate science. This strikes at the very roots of truth and freedom in a democratic society, something I would have felt the American people would find abhorrent. The fact that some scientists are “hired hands” in using the strength of science, i.e its honesty and respect for uncertainty, as a weapon against it, is nothing new, although it’s good to have specific names and facts and figures.”

Professor Trevor Davies, University of East Anglia, said

“It has been obvious to objective analysts for some years now that there are organised and well-supported campaigns to undermine the findings of rational science, especially in the climate change area.  If this is a leak of genuine documents from the Heartland Institute, it would provide interesting detail about some of the methods of one organisation, and confirmation of some of the personalities involved.

“There would also be some surprises, but the first thing which needs to be established beyond doubt is if the leaked documents are genuine. The funding and methods of climate scientists have come under intense scrutiny in the last two years, some of it fair and objective, some of it distorted and malicious. The outcome of the rational scrutiny has not changed the conclusions of the scientific investigations of climate change. It would help a balanced debate if the funding and methods of those organisations which attack peer-reviewed climate science are also open to scrutiny. Perhaps this leak is the first step.”