The Ethics of Climate Change (Conversation Starter)

Image by: World Economic Forum

I’m still struggling to compartmentalize the Peter Gleick/Heartland Institute dust-up and thought it might be interesting to start a conversation here so that we might help each other see this issue from differing perspectives.  With that, I’ve seen numerous condemnations (Notably Marc Gunther, Megan Mcardle and Andrew Revkin) of Peter Gleick’s actions, and a handful of strong rebuttals (Michael Tobis and Richard Littlemore).   What I’ve yet to see is someone who hasn’t flung themselves to either pole on this issue.  I see this as a complicated matter which pulls the knee-jerk strings of right or wrong depending on the perceiver’s biases, but I’m not sure either is right.  This feels like a case of System 1 thinking getting the better of System 2 — an idea put forth by behavioral psychologist, Daniel Kahnemann.  Here’s a quick synopsis: Continue reading

Genetically Modified Foods are completely harmless!

Probably not a GM strawberry...

Image by: Bushman.K

Okay, so I can’t claim to know if Genetically Modified (GM/GMO) foods are completely harmless as we just don’t know yet.  Some variants may be absolutely safe, positive contributions to our food systems, but I fear they’re getting broad brush approval due to financial concerns.  Given time, we’ll learn whether or not they are loaded with hidden dangers.  Connecticut is considering legislation which would require all GM foods be labeled as such.  This seems a fair approach as it would then give consumers the opportunity to make informed choices.  It would also help raise our collective level of awareness, as I believe few know how pervasive these products are.  It’s probably no surprise that I advocate for the precautionary principle* as this wouldn’t be the first time technological progress preceded scientific knowledge of a technology’s drawbacks. Continue reading

Climategate vs. the Heartless Institute?

Image by: ~Britt Anderson~

How about a little light weekend reading for climate hawks? (courtesy of @drgrist)  You’ve probably heard about the much ballyhooed publication of climate denial schemes from the Heartland Institute (A national nonprofit research organization dedicated to finding and promoting ideas that empower people. {Incredulous emphasis mine.}) which were released earlier this week.  A group of climate scientists caught me off guard with their pointed response.  Their thoughts seem highly relevant as they know a thing or two about having their private information stolen.  Some, including the folks at the Heartland Institute, are questioning the veracity of one of the documents, but more about that at the end.  First, here is the climate scientists’ response letter.

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.

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


Mark Gunther posted an article on Sustainable Business Forum which suggests that bloggers have gone to far with suggestions of Heartland’s Big Oil connections, but also suggests they should be forthright with undisclosed sources of funding.

As for me I’ll side with the line from that old song by Coolio. You know the one…

If you can’t take the heat, get your ass out the kitchen.

If you think it’s okay to make hay with stolen information, you shouldn’t expect preferential treatment when you’re on the other end of the looking-glass.

The DP Interview with Silvio Marcacci

I recently had the opportunity to ask a few questions of Silvio Marcacci, a PR professional with years of beltway experience and fellow climate hawk.  I reached out to Silvio to learn more about his new firm, Marcacci Communications.  Check out the interview and click on the logo at the end if you’re interested in learning more.

Thanks for stopping by!


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