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The documents were obtained by Peter Gleick, an environmental scientist concentrating on freshwater habitats and climate change and also co-founder of the Pacific Institute, who has been one of the leading voices in modern climatology. The documents revealed Heartland's plans for their work to "debunk" climate change, including payments made to prominent "independent" climate contrarians like Fred Singer.
The documents include a list of personnel and board members, a proposed fundraising plan for 2012, a proposed budget for 2012, an agenda and minutes for the meeting, and a few other minor papers.
In addition to the funding provided to some "independent" climate contrarians such as Anthony Watts, the papers reveal that Heartland actively solicits funding from industrial interests allied with Heartland's own stances in favor of fracking, charter schools, and deregulation of the financial industry, and in opposition to climate change mitigation and universal healthcare. The proposed budget and fundraising plan include proof that the Heartland Institute actively fabricates local "grass-roots" opposition to issues, as with their plan for "Operation Angry Badger," which would create and fund a series of small websites in Wisconsin to support the restrictions on collective bargaining by unions that were recently passed in that state. The documents also describe Heartland's work on paying David Wojick to produce a global warming curriculum for K-12 schools "that casts the science as a controversy and that global warming may not be ascribed to human activity, consistent with Heartland's position on global warming.
The smoking gun memo
One of the documents, a memo on "Climate Strategy", contains particularly damaging statements. The Heartland Institute claims this document is a fabrication. Third-party opinion is divided. The Pacific Institute held an external investigation that is anticipated to clear Gleick of the fabrication accusations.
Gleick describes the process of obtaining the documents:
- At the beginning of 2012, I received an anonymous document in the mail describing what appeared to be details of the Heartland Institute's climate program strategy. It contained information about their funders and the Institute's apparent efforts to muddy public understanding about climate science and policy. I do not know the source of that original document but assumed it was sent to me because of my past exchanges with Heartland and because I was named in it.
- Given the potential impact however, I attempted to confirm the accuracy of the information in this document. In an effort to do so, and in a serious lapse of my own and professional judgment and ethics, I solicited and received additional materials directly from the Heartland Institute under someone else's name. The materials the Heartland Institute sent to me confirmed many of the facts in the original document, including especially their 2012 fundraising strategy and budget. I forwarded, anonymously, the documents I had received to a set of journalists and experts working on climate issues.
The Heartland Institute has responded that "[a] mere apology is not enough to undo the damage" and that while "Gleick also claims he did not write the forged memo... [t]his too is unbelievable. Many independent commentators already have concluded the memo was most likely written by Gleick." Joe Bast, president of the Heartland Institute, has also publicly accused Gleick of being the source of the climate strategy document.
While the reactions to Gleick's misdeed(s) from climate denialists have ranged uniformly from anger to outrage, the reception from his fellow climate activists has been much more mixed. Richard Littlemore (author of Climate Cover-up) continues to refer to him as a "whistleblower" and says that "[f]or his courage, his honor, and for performing a selfless act of public service, he deserves our gratitude and applause," whereas other commentators such as Andrew Revkin opined that Gleick's continued dishonesty "leaves his reputation in ruins and threatens to undercut the cause he spent so much time pursuing":
- One way or the other, Gleick’s use of deception in pursuit of his cause after years of calling out climate deception has destroyed his credibility and harmed others. (Some of the released documents contain information about Heartland employees that has no bearing on the climate fight.) That is his personal tragedy and shame (and I’m sure devastating for his colleagues, friends and family).
- The broader tragedy is that his decision to go to such extremes in his fight with Heartland has greatly set back any prospects of the country having the "rational public debate" that he wrote — correctly — is so desperately needed.
Gleick was temporarily removed as president of the Pacific Institute, but was reinstated after an external investigation.
As a result of the leaked documents, Democratic Representative Raul Grijalva called for an investigation of Department of the Interior administrator Indur Goklany, who may have received money from the Heartland Institute, constituting a conflict of interest. Goklany is mentioned in the budget document as receiving estimated payments of $1,000 a month. Representative Ed Markey requested the original documents from the Heartland Institute to assess the effect of Heartland on science education.
Meanwhile, the Heartland Institute set up a website (fakegate.org), and started selling coffee mugs and t-shirts with fakegate on it. No legal action has been pursued.
In late March 2012, General Motors pulled its support for the Heartland Institute, discontinuing funding, in part because of petition drive after the leaked memos. AT&T also pulled their support in April.
Heartland's president Joe Bast pleaded, "We once again respectfully ask liberal advocacy groups such as Huffington Post, the Center for American Progress, 350.org, and Greenpeace to stop attacking scientists who question the theory of man-made global warming and corporations and foundations that are willing to fund open debate on this important public policy issue." In keeping with this principled stance, later that year Heartland posted billboards comparing those who accept the scientific basis of global warming to mass murderers.