Why Peter Gleick Is a Climate Hero

Posted on February 21, 2012


And why the “ClimateGate” hackers are mere criminals and the Heartland Institute is beneath contempt

It is instructive to compare the recent actions of Dr. Peter Gleick in exposing the actions of the ultra-right-wing Heartland Institute to public scrutiny to the actions of the “ClimateGate” hackers whose work has done so much to slow the world’s response to potentially catastrophic climate change.  The Heartland Institute has long supported and used the work of these hackers in its work lobbying for the interests of the corporations that fund its existence.  But their attitude towards Dr. Gleick has a distinctly different tone.

So does mine, and here’s why.

The case of Peter Gleick. 

One day he receives a document from an insider in the Heartland Institute.  The document has Dr. Gleick’s name on it.  Among other things, it outlines a $100,000 plan to push an anti-climate change curriculum in the US K-12 education system.  Deeply disturbed, Gleick decides to investigate the document to see whether it is in fact authentic.  He represents himself as a Heartland board member who has changed his email address and Heartland freely sends him copies of documents, all of which confirm the original document and its contents.  Dr. Gleick then hands the documents, unaltered and in-full, to DeSmogBlog and other outlets to treat with as they wished.  Several days later, Dr. Gleick makes a full confession of his actions and the reasons for them.

The case of the so-called “ClimateGate” emails.

One day climate denial interests criminally hacked the computers of the University of East Anglia and stole a large trove of private email correspondence between climate scientists.  They then selectively edited the emails for maximum impact and used them to undermine a climate change conference where the world was deciding what to do about the most important crisis to ever face human civilization.  Largely as a result of this act the Copenhagen conference was derailed, probably in the long run resulting in the deaths and suffering of thousands, perhaps of millions of people from the long term fall out of climate change inaction.


1)  In the first case, Dr. Gleick had reasonable and probable grounds to act.  He was in possession of the original document, which had his name on it and information about plans, which, if true, it was clearly in the public interest to know.

In the second case, no reason to act has ever been identified except to protect the interests of the petrochemical industry.  The actors did not possess—or have not so far released after more than two years—any reasonable or probable grounds for their actions of breaking in and stealing the documents they did.

2) Theft is always a criminal act.  Misrepresenting yourself in order to obtain self-incriminating information is not necessarily illegal.  Police do it all the time.  And where it is unlawful, it is often a civil rather than a criminal matter.  Theft is always a criminal matter.  Thus climategate is a criminal matter, Peter Gleick’s case may or may not be.

3) ClimateGate clearly acted against the public interest, in fact protecting private interests at the expense of the public interest.

DenierGate, exposing unethical and perhaps unlawful activity at a tax-payer funded private institution, clearly acted for the public interest.

4) ClimateGate, uncovering nothing in its illegal act, proceeded to compound their theft with fraud, proceeded, that is, to create something out of nothing by carefully editing and distorting what it found.  The Heartland Institute was a major player in this process and continues to play a part in this fraudulent process.

Peter Gleick, on the other hand, possessed strong prior evidence of unconscionable and perhaps unlawful behaviour on the part of the Heartland Institute and then went on to verify that evidence.  He then released all that he had and allowed the evidence to speak for itself.

Conclusion, ClimateGate was a criminal act cynically supported and facilitated by the Heartland Institute to protect the interests of funders of that institute.

“ClimateGate” was theft compounded by fraud done entirely to protect the continued profits of private corporations.  It resulted in no new information entering the public discourse and may have slowed humanity’s response to climate change, resulting in disasters and deaths that did not have to happen.

DenierGate was the act of a good citizen acting on evidence he could not ignore, and resulted in documents seeing the light which the public had a right to see.

It was misrepresentation entered into in order to protect the public interest.  It exposed the actions of corporations acting against the public interest for private gain, perhaps in contravention of tax laws, and may, if people are alerted by this information, help in saving the future for our children.