Heartland Institute president Joseph L. Bast, who described one of the documents the DeSmog Blog had posted as a “forged memo,” issued a statement Monday saying his group is considering legal action.
“Gleick’s crime was a serious one,” Bast wrote. “It has caused major and permanent damage to the reputations of the Heartland Institute and many of the scientists, policy experts and organizations we work with. A mere apology is not enough to undo the damage.”
Gleick’s actions were not the first time pirated e-mails have been widely distributed as part of the climate debate. In November 2009 hackers posted a slew of e-mails stolen from the University of East Anglia, which portrayed several prominent climate scientists as seeking to marginalize their critics. The incident, dubbed “Climate-gate,” increased public skepticism of the connection between burning fossil fuels and global warming, even though the scientists were cleared of any academic wrongdoing.
Penn State University professor Michael E. Mann, one of the scientists whose e-mails were exposed in 2009, said in an interview “there isn’t a moral equivalence” between Gleick’s behavior and the climate-gate hackers because the people who took the East Anglia e-mails used them to “distract policymakers” from curbing the nation’s carbon output.
“These actions may very well have mortgaged the future of our children and grandchildren,” Mann said. “They never came forward to apologize.”
Mann is currently the subject of a lawsuit brought by Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli II (R) seeking to obtain e-mails Mann wrote while teaching at the University of Virginia between 1999 and 2005. The Virginia Supreme Court has heard arguments in the case, and is expected to issue a ruling soon.
Gleick’s lawyer, John Keker, suggested that any legal action by Heartland would become another front in the long-running climate battle.
“Dr. Gleick looks forward to using discovery to understand more about the veracity of the documents, lay bare the implications of Heartland’s propaganda plans and, in particular, determine once and for all who is truly behind Heartland and why,” he wrote in an e-mail.
Richard Lindzen, an atmospheric scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who has questioned whether climate change will cause effects as severe as some predict, said he has been struck by “the viciousness” of his opponents. But Lindzen feels obligated to keep questioning what Gleick and others say about climate change impact “because they’re lies, it’s that simple. What would you do if people were truly misrepresenting things, and it has consequences for society?”