“My judgment was blinded by my frustration with the ongoing efforts — often anonymous, well-funded and coordinated — to attack climate science and scientists and prevent this debate, and by the lack of transparency of the organizations involved,” Gleick wrote in a post on his Huffington Post blog.
Gleick’s admission “is the latest in an escalating spiral of polarizing warfare between self-described ‘Climate Hawks’ and so-called Climate Deniers,” which leaves the majority of scientists and the public “caught in the crossfire,” American University professor Matthew C. Nisbet, who studies the issues, wrote in a blog entry.
“Climate change is trapped in this larger polarization process that’s happening in U.S. politics, and scientists are part of that,” Nisbet said in an interview. “What you’re seeing happening is some scientist activists and some climate leaders are actively mobilizing the scientific community, not just in the context of climate change, but in the context of the election.”
Challenging the link between the burning of fossil fuels and global warming — a connection the vast majority of scientists accept — has become a staple on the Republican presidential campaign trail. Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, who has surged in recent polls, has attacked not only President Obama but also Republican rivals Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich for being too liberal regarding global warming.
On Sunday, Santorum told CBS’s “Face the Nation” he had attacked Obama for subscribing to “a phony ideal” placing the environment above the needs of man.
“This idea that man is here to serve the Earth as opposed to husband its resources and be good stewards of the Earth . . . I think that is a phony ideal,” Santorum said. “I think a lot of radical environmentalists have it upside down.”
Climate concerns also are helping fuel the ongoing dispute over whether to build the Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport energy-intensive heavy crude oil from Canada to the U.S. Gulf coast.
Even some scientists who are organizing to counter the claims of climate skeptics in public, such as University of Illinois atmospheric sciences professor Don Wuebbles, said he and his colleagues need to be careful in how they wage their fight.
“Scientists need to get out the truth, but we should not be playing games,” Wuebbles wrote in an e-mail. “So it is inappropriate to try to get information in an illegal manner, no matter how strongly we feel these groups out there are misrepresenting the science and how they are being manipulative of the public.”
Gleick, who studies the hydrological cycle, serves as president of the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment and Security in Oakland, Calif. He said he used someone else’s name to obtain internal documents from Heartland after receiving an anonymous memo containing information about its funders and about its “apparent efforts to muddy public understanding about climate science and policy.” Gleick said he then passed the documents on to journalists and climate experts. The DeSmog Blog posted the documents last week.