Friday, February 24, 2012

Regarding the Peter Gleick/Heartland Incident

The similarities to this situation and the hacking incident at University of East Anglia in 2009 (an incident foolishly coined by the media as ‘Climategate’) are troubling. Clearly the psudo-debate of ‘are human beings the driving force causing global warming’ is divided into two very polarized camps. In both scenarios the offending parties committed crimes to obtain various pieces of information that were then distributed to the public in effort to draw more support to their position. Based on what has been reported so far Dr. Gleick has committed fraud in obtaining the Heartland documents driven by his frustrations with the limited action being taken to stem the threat of global warming. It must be noted that Dr. Gleick is not a recognized reporter so he does not receive any protections that come with that occupation for his role in this incident.

Not surprisingly a large number of individuals who support Dr. Gleick are ignoring the commission of this crime largely through the invocation of ‘the ends justify the means’ because of the severe threat that global warming provides to the future. Unfortunately these supports are allowing themselves to become hypocrites for they reviled the anonymous hackers that initiated ‘Climategate’ two years ago. While an ‘ends justify the means’ acknowledgement could be understood if the gain was meaningful, the saddest element in this incident is that Dr. Gleick committed this action/crime for no real purpose. The ‘revelation’ that the Heartland Institute conducts nefarious activities in an attempt to undermine the public discussion about the legitimacy of human involvement in global warming is irrelevant.

Some supporters of Dr. Gleick like to believe that the release of this information is a huge public relations coup and will generate significant momentum for those who want to combat global warming. Unfortunately this prospect of newfound momentum is misplaced. The polarization of the issue behind global warming has guaranteed that those who support Heartland will still support Heartland regardless of this reality because these individuals want results and care not for the applied methodology in generating these results. Those who oppose Heartland will still oppose Heartland as this conformation only reaffirms what they already ‘knew’ about the activities of Heartland. Heck this incident has simply further amplified the polarity in that Dr. Gleick’s supporters have deified him and his detractors have demonized him.

What about those ‘neutral’ individuals? They will certainly be convinced by this incident, right? One of the great myths in the environmentalist circle is the wide availability of ‘confused’ voters. The theory apparently goes that if only the deniers and non-scientific skeptics can be defeated then public opinion will overwhelmingly shift towards believing that humans are driving global warming. Then all of these individuals will join the environmentalists to vote out the ‘global warming’ deniers in Congress and the United States will join with the European Union in leading the rest of the globe in the fight against global warming, thus saving the future.

The problem with this theory is that it applies a much greater level of importance to environmental issues than the public actually applies. Sadly the public consistently views environmental issues of little importance, yet most people, including environmentalists, continue to believe the rationality ‘I think it is important so a vast number of people must also think it is important.’ Unfortunately for environmentalists this characterization is not exclusively predicated by confusion, but also by length of action and lack of scientific understanding.

Most individuals do not understand biology and how pollution is negatively influencing their lifespans and livelihoods; also most are unwilling to make the sacrifices necessary to advance a winnable strategy against global warming, especially because most of the consequences will not be fully borne until after they are dead. The simple fact is that there is not a treasure trove of individuals who will become single-issue environmental voters once they are lifted from the faux controversy of global warming. Even if the above scenario could actually occur this incident with Dr. Gleick had almost no chance of catalyzing its occurrence. Thus Dr. Gleick has damaged his credibility and personal ethics for no real benefit.

One side issue regarding this incident that most supporters of Dr. Gleick have failed to realize is that while his action will develop no real benefit there could be a real detriment. Unfortunately climate scientists have been unfairly and inappropriately vilified in the polarized culture of global warming as dishonest ‘in it for the money’ hacks among other lies; this action by Dr. Gleick could give those individuals who vilify climate scientists concrete empirical evidence to laud among their previously and still mostly erroneous conjecture. Also in one of the least surprising reactionary measures this incident will strengthen the hard-liners in their fight against global warming.

Those who liken the ‘debate’ of global warming to a street fight, thereby justifying the behavior of Dr. Gleick seem to lack the understanding that these tactics are not going to lead to success in the long run. Deniers will always be better at ‘fighting dirty’ and will probably always have more money in which to fund their fight. So instead of taking a sword to a gunfight, environmentalists believe they are now brandishing guns, but fail to realize that their opponents have far more experience using guns.

What the environmental movement has to do, which they continue to fail at, is develop an extremely detailed, thorough and specific analysis of how energy and transmission deployment needs to proceed in order to maximize money spent and lessen time required to combat global warming, thus expelling uncertainty and confusion. ‘Build a bunch of solar with storage in the desert and a bunch of wind offshore which magically creates millions of jobs…’ obviously is not appropriate. Also environmentalists need continue to talk about global warming and the realistic detrimental consequences while tying those consequences to other sectors of society in realistic timeframes (what changes will occur in 2020 not 2050) in order to eliminate the ‘single-issue’ resistance to the application of the necessary strategy to combat global warming. It is time for environmentalists to realize that having the science and truth on your side does little good when playing with guns in the mud.

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