Those who follow events in the climate change arena are by now quite familiar with the leak of internal Heartland Institute documents this week, and the ensuing firestorm.
This post will not revisit the contents of the leaked documents. Links to them can be found in many, many places on the Internet, including here.
This post, instead, focuses on the urgent need for Conservatives to end the tactics of distortion, diversion, and defamation, and to begin to work with the science community and policy-makers to solve the biggest challenge we face - human-caused climate change.
I start with an open letter to the Heartland Institute, written and sent today by some of the world's most respected climate scientists.
An Open Letter to the Heartland Institute
"As scientists who have had their emails stolen, posted online and grossly misrepresented, we can appreciate the difficulties the Heartland Institute is currently experiencing following the online posting of the organization’s internal documents earlier this week.
However, we are greatly disappointed by their content, which indicates the organization is continuing its campaign to discredit mainstream climate science and to undermine the teaching of well-established climate science in the classroom.
We know what it feels like to have private information stolen and posted online via illegal hacking. It happened to climate researchers in 2009 and again in 2011. Personal emails were culled through and taken out of context before they were posted online. In 2009, the Heartland Institute was among the groups that spread false allegations about what these stolen emails said.
Despite multiple independent investigations, which demonstrated that allegations against scientists were false, the Heartland Institute continued to attack scientists based on the stolen emails. When more stolen emails were posted online in 2011, the Heartland Institute again pointed to their release and spread false claims about scientists.
So although we can agree that stealing documents and posting them online is not an acceptable practice, we would be remiss if we did not point out that the Heartland Institute has had no qualms about utilizing and distorting emails stolen from scientists.
We hope the Heartland Institute will heed its own advice to “think about what has happened” and recognize how its attacks on science and scientists have helped poison the debate over climate change policy. The Heartland Institute has chosen to undermine public understanding of basic scientific facts and personally attack climate researchers rather than engage in a civil debate about climate change policy options.
These are the facts: Climate change is occurring. Human activity is the primary cause of recent climate change. Climate change is already disrupting many human and natural systems. The more heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions that go into the atmosphere, the more severe those disruptions will become. Major scientific assessments from the Royal Society, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, United States Global Change Research Program and other authoritative sources agree on these points.
What businesses, policymakers, advocacy groups and citizens choose to do in response to those facts should be informed by the science. But those decisions are also necessarily informed by economic, ethical, ideological, and other considerations. While the Heartland Institute is entitled to its views on policy, we object to its practice of spreading misinformation about climate research and personally attacking climate scientists to further its goals.
We hope the Heartland Institute will begin to play a more constructive role in the policy debate. Refraining from misleading attacks on climate science and climate researchers would be a welcome first step toward having an honest, fact-based debate about the policy responses to climate change."
The letter is signed by the following:
- Ray Bradley, PhD, Director of the Climate System Research Center, University of Massachusetts
- David Karoly, PhD, ARC Federation Fellow and Professor, University of Melbourne, Australia
- Michael Mann, PhD, Director, Earth System Science Center, Pennsylvania State University
- Jonathan Overpeck, PhD, Professor of Geosciences and Atmospheric Sciences, University of Arizona
- Ben Santer, PhD, Research Scientist, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
- Gavin Schmidt, PhD, Climate Scientist, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies
- Kevin Trenberth, ScD, Distinguished Senior Scientist, Climate Analysis Section, National Center for Atmospheric Research
Less than two months ago, Conservative columnist Peter Wehner wrote about the need for Conservatives to step up to the plate, admit that human-caused climate change was real, and add their voices to the development of real solutions - before it's too late.
Mr. Wehner has impeccable Conservative credentials, having served under Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and most recently as deputy assistant to President George W. Bush.
And Mr. Wehner wrote this:
“The world is getting warmer. The warming is almost certainly caused, at least in large part, by human activity. And rising temperatures could pose a future risk, though how significant of a risk is open to interpretation. . . This is not a liberal invention; it’s physics.
Conservatives should be part of that conversation. There’s an intellectually credible case to be made that it’s unwise to embrace massive, harmful changes to our economy in the face of significant uncertainties . . . [yet] to acknowledge global warming does not necessarily lead one to embrace Al Gore’s environmental agenda.
But rather than offer constructive ideas on how to deal with global warming, some conservatives simply deny global warming has occurred. Their concern is that admitting global warming is real opens the door to government restriction on liberty, so it’s simply better to keep the door bolted shut. . .
[Yet] the problem for those who deny global warming is empirical: Earth’s temperatures have increased and human activity has contributed to it. To deny this is to deny reality, to subordinate truth to ideology. And in the long run that can only damage conservatism.”
Mr. Wehner is not alone. As I posted last July, a number of presentations at the Heartland Institutes's own annual convention last year faced the reality of human-caused climate change.
With calls from both the scientific community and a (growing) number of Conservatives, to put aside tactics meant to divert attention or undermine science, and to begin working to actually solve this problem, perhaps there's hope.
The ball is in Heartland's court. Many of us will be watching.