Leaked documents hit home

Climate-change scandal has a local connection

Anthony Watts has made headlines from here to Great Britain after leaked documents link him to controversial funding.

Anthony Watts has made headlines from here to Great Britain after leaked documents link him to controversial funding.

CN&R File photo

Anthony Watts says he has questioned the notion of human-caused climate change since 1996. For more on him, check his website at wattsupwiththat.com. For more on the leaked documents, go to www.desmogblog.com.

Leaked documents lifted from a Chicago-based think tank that were posted online last week have created a ripple effect that’s been felt from Great Britain to Chico.

The documents, leaked to websites DeSmogBlog and Climate Progress, show that the Heartland Institute, a conservative think tank whose efforts include the denial of man-made climate change, has received millions of dollars over the years from well-heeled donors and corporations, including the Koch Brothers, Microsoft and General Motors. And it has received more than $8 million from a single anonymous source over the past four years.

The documents, leaked by Oakland-based climate researcher and water expert Peter Gleick, also reveal who is on the receiving end of Heartland Institute funding—and that’s where Chico enters the picture. Local radio weather forecaster Anthony Watts, who for years has also hosted a blog on climate change called “Watts Up With That?” will receive $88,000 to create a website that will post and decipher data gathered from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as it pertains to climate change.

This week Gleick posted a statement at the Huffington Post that said he received a document at the beginning of the year “describing what appeared to be details of the Heartland Institute’s climate program strategy. I solicited and received additional materials directly from the Heartland Institute under someone else’s name.”

Gleick, director of the Berkeley-based Pacific Institute and a recipient of a MacArthur “genius” award, said his actions in obtaining the documents were wrong.

“My judgment was blinded by my frustration with the ongoing efforts—often anonymous, well-funded, and coordinated—to attack climate science and scientists and prevent this debate, and by the lack of transparency of the organizations involved. Nevertheless I deeply regret my own actions in this case. I offer my personal apologies to all those affected.”

The document naming Watts said he “has deep expertise in Web site design generally and is well-known and highly regarded by weathermen and meteorologists everywhere. The new site will be promoted heavily at WattsUpwithThat.com. Heartland has agreed to help Anthony raise $88,000 for the project in 2011 [actually, 2012]. The Anonymous Donor has already pledged $44,000. We’ll seek to raise the balance.”

Another document that generally describes the upcoming projects says Watts will receive $90,000.

Last week Watts posted a reaction on his website that said the leaked information “gets the operational details wrong—especially the points about my project, rounding up to $90,000 from a very specific budget number of $88,000. This suggests trying to inflate the number for a purpose.”

In 2008 Heartland, whose stated mission is “to discover, develop, and promote free-market solutions to social and economic problems,” began hosting what has become an annual climate-change conference that features prominent climate-change skeptics. Watts confirmed he has been paid to speak at each of the conferences.

A document titled “Weather Stations Project” says Watts’ blog is “one of the more popular and influential science blogs in the world …” It goes on to commend his “past work exposing flaws in the current network of temperature stations—work that The Heartland Institute supported and promoted .…”

Last week Watts posted this on his website in response to the stories published on the issue: “I’m surprised at the number of articles out there on this where journalists have not bothered to ask me for a statement, but rather rely on their own opinion. To date, only Suzanne Goldenberg of the Guardian has asked for a statement, and she used very little of it in her article. Her colleague, Leo Hickman (writing in the Guardian), asked me no questions at all for his article, but instead relied on a comment I sent to Bishop Hill. So much for journalism.”

Hickman wrote: “This revelation is potentially damaging to Watts as he has previously laughed off the notion that he is being funded by any corporate- and/or vested-interest group. ‘AGW [anthropomorphic global-warming] proponents seem hell bent on trying to repeat this “linked to” nonsense at any cost,’ he wrote last May. ‘Heh, I’ve yet to see that check or any from Exxon-Mobil or any other energy or development company. Somebody must be stealing checks out of my mailbox. /sarc – Anthony.’ ”

When contacted last Friday (Feb. 17) by the CN&R, Watts refused a phone interview, citing his hearing impairment, and said he would answer emailed questions. This week he responded via email, strongly defending his actions, suggesting he is the victim of Gleick’s illegal activities.

“What happened here is that I’m being libeled by the act of a criminal, a man by the name of Dr. Peter Gleick of the Pacific Institute in Berkeley,” Watts wrote. “He has admitted that he used lies and deception to obtain internal documents, including one document that was externally fabricated to give the story legs. Without that faked document, it is a non-story.”

The document he suggests was fabricated outlined the organization’s 2012 climate strategy.

Watts also pointed out that the Koch Foundation’s funding, as reported this week in the New York Times, went toward a health-care research program, not the climate-change debate.

“This is a non story,” he repeated. “I’ve done nothing wrong, yet I have been libeled as a ‘Koch-whore’ and worse, even though it has been proven that Koch contributed nothing towards climate.”

Soon after the leaked documents were posted, Heartland President Joseph L. Bast sent out this statement:

“For 28 years, The Heartland Institute has engaged in fierce debates over a wide range of public policies—school reform, health care, telecommunications policy, corporate subsidies, and government waste and fraud, as well as environmental policy. We frequently and happily engage in vigorous, robust debate with those who disagree with our views.

“We have resorted in the past to legal means only in a very few cases involving outright fraud and defamation. The current situation clearly fits that description, and our legal counsel has advised that the first step in defending ourselves should be to ask the blogs to take down the stolen and forged documents.”

Ironically, Heartland was one of the groups that attacked scientists on the basis of stolen emails that were purloined from the University of East Anglia’s climate-research unit in 2009. The resulting “Climate-gate” scandal ended only when investigators determined the scientists had done nothing wrong.

As to the “school reform” policy Bast mentions, the documents show an effort to introduce an anti-climate-change curriculum to the nation’s public schools. The documents have not, as of press time, been removed from the Internet.