American Geophysical Union: Ethically Challenged, Politically Motivated

Published December 12, 2019

On Wednesday, I attended a keynote lecture at the annual American Geophysical Union convention in San Francisco, held in Moscone Center. The panel, according to the AGU website note, made no inkling of who the moderator would be.

Governor Jerry Brown in Conversation with AGU Scientists: Protecting Earth’s climate for the next 100 years

Wednesday, 11 December, 12:30-1:30 p.m.
Moscone North, Hall E, LL

Former California Governor Jerry Brown (and 2016 AGU keynote speaker) helped California become an international leader in climate change policy, establishing the most comprehensive and integrated climate action program in the Western Hemisphere. Governor Brown will join a panel of scientists led by AGU President and glaciologist Robin Bell, to discuss the science and politics of climate change and what needs to be done to protect Earth’s climate for the future.

To my shock and surprise, the moderator turned out to be Dr. Peter Gleick, disgraced former president and founder of the Pacific Institute. Gleick, who was forcibly removed from the AGU as chair of their Scientific ethics task force in 2012 for admittedly stealing internal documents from The Heartland Institute, was back.

The debacle became known as Fakegate. It was the day in February 2012 that Pacific Institute President Peter Gleick sent to liberal activists and reporters documents he stole from The Heartland Institute and claimed to have obtained from a “Heartland insider” and later from an “anonymous source.” The documents included Heartland’s annual budget, fundraising plan, and other confidential documents. Media outlets in the U.S. and around the world reported on the “leak” of supposed “secret plans” by an anonymous “insider” at the world’s most prominent think tank promoting skepticism about man-made global warming.

Gleick eventually confessed to being the “insider” and explained that he had stolen the identity of another person – a member of Heartland’s board of directors, it soon became known – in order to steal the confidential documents. There was no “leak.” Gleick also admitted to lying about the nature of one document he originally claimed had come from Heartland, a “strategy memo” that purported to describe Heartland’s plans to address climate change in the coming year. That document was quickly shown to be a fake, written to misrepresent and defame The Heartland Institute. Gleick denied he was the author of the fake memo.

It was clear then why AGU had to remove him from the Ethics Task Force position – he did a very unethical thing and the entire world knew about it. But they did the deed behind closed doors, and made no announcements nor admonitions at the time. In retrospect, I think they privately applauded what he did, but had no choice in the firestorm over the issue.

It became clear to me at AGU 2019, seven years later, that AGU simply doesn’t care. In the keynote session that included Dr. Michael Mann, former California Gov. Jerry Brown, and others, the words “climate denier” were used in abundance, along with phrases like “We have to be more imaginative and more aggressive [on the climate issue].”

And, this year, for the first time ever, AGU changed its position statement to reflect that the leadership there believes the world is in a “climate crisis.” From their press release:

“In a revised climate position statement released today, based on the overwhelming research and scientific evidence, AGU is declaring the world to be in a climate crisis.”

Yet, as many observe, the crisis level climate predictions of the past 30 years have not happened. Even so, predictions continue to worsen and voices calling for action have gotten even more shrill than ever before.

During the same meeting, the AGU also invited politics into the fray, by inviting presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg to speak. This is unprecedented, and I believe due only to the fact that Bloomberg has said he’ll make climate change action a big part of his platform.

It is a sad state of affairs. AGU has clearly relinquished their scientific organization and membership to political winds of change that is connected to the funding cash cow out of Washington.

At the end of the keynote address, no questions were taken from the audience or the press (which I represented there along with others). Immediately, a security guard was posted at the stage to prevent people from approaching the speakers to ask questions.

Apparently, they don’t like inconvenient questions.

In my opinion, this entire event represented the most shameful and shocking lapse of ethics I’ve ever seen in a scientific organization. With this one meeting, AGU has crossed the threshold from being a science organization, to one of “anything goes” advocacy.

Anthony Watts ([email protected]) is a senior fellow for environment and climate at The Heartland Institute.