Wednesday 26th October 2016                 Change text size:

Gleick’s Heartland exposé highlights divisions over climate change


The Heartland Institute, a US climate sceptic think-tank, inadvertently revealed its backers last week when scientist Peter Gleick leaked confidential documents to the press. Cue ‘Denialgate’ – a debate about whether Gleick’s actions were ethical.

Gleick’s employer, the Pacific Institute, is “deeply concerned” about its founder’s misconduct, and Gleick’s job is now apparently in doubt.

However, James Garvey, author of The Ethics of Climate Change, says he is “mystified” by the flack that Gleick is receiving.

What’s been uncovered about the Heartland Institute, if true, is a moral outrage”, Garvey said.

Delaying action on climate change will result in more human suffering in the future.

If it’s true that Heartland takes money from entities like the Koch Foundation to say there’s a scientific debate where there’s widespread agreement, and this delays action, then they’re effectively harming people for money.

That, to me, is much worse than lying to obtain documents.”

Garvey, who is also secretary of the Royal Institute of Philosophy, questioned the furore surrounding Gleick’s exploits.

Whether or not [he] did wrong depends on the consequences of his action.

If his subterfuge stalls Heartland’s misinformation campaign, then he might well be morally justified in obtaining those documents.”

Regardless of this particular dispute, the Berkeley-based hydroclimatologist’s investigation unearthed some worrying truths about the perception of climate change in the US.

In contrast to the UK, there seems to be no American global warming consensus, with senators and congressmen and women changing their views on the matter as often as the weather (not climate).

A Climate Desk video illustrates the unpredictable stance of a handful of Republican candidates from New Hampshire.

Thankfully, we don’t have such erratic governmental opinions in the UK. Whilst we do have sceptics, the general consensus is that climate change does exist, and that humans are a major contributing factor. The only real debate lies in how we tackle it.

Dustin Benton, senior policy adviser at the environmental think-tank, the Green Alliance, said, “It is a testament to British politicians and the leadership that all the main political parties have shown on climate that we have a much less polarised, largely fact-based debate over the ways in which to tackle climate change, rather than a shouting match about whether or not climate change exists.”

The people and organisations that do reject the idea of man-made global warming in the UK don’t wield enough power to make a difference, as one think-tank found out on February 21, 2012.

The Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), a UK-based climate sceptic think-tank chaired by former energy secretary, Lord Lawson, was recently thrown under the microscope after a journalist submitted a freedom of information request for it to reveal its seed donor.

The GWPF naturally rejected the request, and was thrust straight into an information rights tribunal. The outcome was disappointing for climate change campaigners across the UK in one way; the tribunal judge was “not satisfied that the charity is so influential as to make the disclosure of its financial affairs a matter of legitimate public interest”.

Whilst the GWPF will clearly be relieved that it wasn’t forced to name its seed donor, being dubbed as lacking influence is likely to be very frustrating for Lawson and co.

Did the tribunal make the right decision? For the sake of concentrating on the real threat, we believe so, yes. Instead of being drawn into disputes with deniers, the government must act wisely by installing renewable energy policies, and individuals must consider investing responsibly in green technologies.

Blue & Green Tomorrow can help connect you to a specialist ethical adviser who can support you through the investment process.

Good Energy, the UK’s only 100% clean electricity supplier, is also a great place to go if you’re interested in making your home more sustainable.

Further reading:

Climate scientist Peter Gleick confesses to Heartland leak

The annoying perils of climate change scepticism

Controversy over climate sceptic think-tank

Picture source: Mikael Miettinen

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