02/24/2012 02:46 pm ET Updated Apr 25, 2012

Email and Earth

it won't be long now it won't be long
man is making deserts of the earth
it won't be long now
before man will have it used up
so that nothing but ants
and centipedes and scorpions
can find a living on it.
Donald Robert Perry Marquis,
archie and mehitabel (1927)

It's a sad time for the climate. It's enough to make an iceberg melt. That's because everyone is stealing emails from everyone else.

In 2009, just before the December Copenhagen climate change summit was to take place, hundreds of private email messages that had been stolen from a University of East Anglia computer were released by those who question global warming (climate change deniers). In those candid emails many statements were made among friends and colleagues that, climate change deniers said, proved that those supporting the theory of global warming were skeptical about the results of their own research. Patrick Michaels, a climatologist climate change denier, was quoted in the New York Times as saying of the purloined emails, "This is not a smoking gun; this is a mushroom cloud." Some of the scientists whose emails were released said that the emails did not undercut the extensive body of scientific research that demonstrated the existence of global warming. Gavin Schmidt, a climatologist at NASA whose emails were released, said that all the releases prove is that, "Science doesn't work because we're all nice. Newton may have been an ass, but the theory of gravity still works." The 2009 release was not the end of the story.

In 2011, just before the climate talks in Durban, South Africa, were to
begin, purloined emails from East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit were once again released by climate change deniers. One of those who was pleased at the release of the emails and what he thought they proved, was quoted in The Economist as saying: "All your favorite Climategate characters are here, once again caught red-handed in a series of emails exaggerating the extent of Anthopogenic Global Warming, while privately admitting to one another that the evidence is nowhere near as strong as they'd like it to be." Andrew Watson, a scientist at the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit, said the quotes relied upon by opponents were taken out of context and showed nothing more than that scientists are "a diverse, sometimes contradictory" group with assorted motives. One of those is Peter Gleick.

Peter Gleick, who co-founded and works at the Pacific Institute as a climate researcher, has admitted that he lied to get some documents from the Heartland Institute, an organization described in the journal Nature as "a major force among climate skeptics." Peter Gleick admitted in a posting on the Huffington Post that he pretended to be someone else in order to get copies of fundraising and strategy documents not intended for release to the general public. He said he decided to try to get the documents when an anonymous source sent him a document "that contained information. . . about the Institute's apparent efforts to muddy public understanding about climate science and policy." In an attempt to verify the validity of that document he assumed a false identity on the Internet in order to get someone at the Heartland Institute to email a trove of confidential information to him. Included in the information he received was information about salaries, personnel actions, funds raised and names of donors. The material also disclosed that the Institute was working on developing a climate-skeptic science curriculum for high schools that would cast doubt on the idea that emissions have an adverse affect on the climate. This probably comes as no surprise to the cognoscenti in the arena since the Institute has an annual climate-skeptic conference that is called "Denialpalooza" by critics of the Institute.

The Institute is not only upset because of the purloined emails. It is upset because of the memorandum, "2012 Climate Strategy," which prompted Dr. Gleick to assume a false identity. It says that memorandum is a forgery. The Institute says it has retained a forensic investigation firm to identify the source of the memorandum and the results of that investigation are not yet available. The Institute says independent experts have concluded the "climate strategy" memo is "almost certainly fake." Those at the Institute have used Dr. Gleick's actions as proof that scientists in the global warming movement are "desperate, delusional and collapsing as global warming fails to live up to alarmist predictions."

What Dr. Gleick did is patently unethical. He has done his colleagues and the climate no good. The Heartland Institute released a statement saying that Peter Gleick "confessed to stealing electronic documents from The Heartland Institute in an attempt to discredit and embarrass a group that disagrees with his views" and says Gleick's crime was a serious one." The Institute is right. The Institute could have said the same thing of the 2009 and 2011 thefts. It didn't. There is no winner in this email war. Mother Earth and her inhabitants are the losers.

Christopher Brauchli can be emailed at For political commentary see his web page at