Why Peter Gleick is the “Milken Moment” for climate change

Updated: In February, Peter H. Gleick, a renowned water and climate analyst who has been studying and making the scientific case for global warming, came clean. Unfortunately, his transgression involved deceptive maneuvers to thwart and expose the Heartland Institute’s global climate strategy. Heartland’s strategy allegedly included trying to “muddy the waters” regarding the accuracy of climate science.

But before I address “the Gleick issue,” it’s worth noting that the scientific evidence in support of global warming is unequivocal. The New York Times, among others, reported that there is scientific consensus since 2007 that global warming is “‘unequivocal’ and that human activity is the main driver.”

And based on that proof, in my work at the Carbon War Room, we’ve found at least $5 trillion in cost effective climate change solutions that could be deployed without further government incentives. So, while we are working on solving a science-based issue, we are solving it with market driven solutions, demonstrating that believing in climate change and the free market are not mutually exclusive.

Now back to Gleick. Gleick has admitted to forwarding documents to prominent journalists covering climate change that describe details of the Heartland’s climate program strategy. While Gleick received these documents anonymously in the mail, he subsequently made two major mistakes.

First, he lied about his identity. In an attempt to confirm the accuracy of the anonymous documents, Gleick solicited and received additional materials directly from Heartland using someone else’s name.

Second, he deceived the very journalists who have supported his work on climate change. Gleick forwarded the documents he had received to them and experts on climate issues, but he did not reveal himself as the source.

At issue is whether this one act of deception undermines all of Gleick’s credibility. Further, it raises the question of whether it actually undercuts rather than supports the science behind climate change.

A Milken moment

Now, I am going to go out on a limb and reference Michael Milken, the former financier and now philanthropist (Update: he’s been a philanthropist since the 1970’s) noted for his role in the development of the market for junk bonds during the 1970s and 1980s. Milken’s position gave him access to insider information that he traded on. He was caught and indicted on 98 counts of racketeering and securities fraud in 1989.

While the severity of Gleick’s lapse of judgment, certainly does not eclipse that of Milken, each were sitting with information at their fingertips, which they misused — and misused badly.

The SEC permanently barred Milken from the securities industry, yet his sentence was reduced to two years for testifying against former colleagues and good behavior.

Despite Milken’s significant character flaws, he has been cited by noted people like author, George Gilder who wrote in his book, Telecosm, “Milken was a key source of the organizational changes that have impelled economic growth over the last twenty years.”

In other words, Milken opened up markets, exposed issues, loopholes and discrepancies in the capital markets through his own indictment.

Milken has since gone on to co-founded the Milken Family Foundation Milken Institute, which has been instrumental in driving significant advances in medical research. So added to his checkered life, he has changed medicine for the better.

How does Milken connect to Gleick?

Gleick has sought a “rational public debate” regarding climate change. While his deception was a discredit to himself and possibly to all climate researchers, it has also put in the open questions about Heartland and its tactics. While Gleick has been less than honest, has Heartland also been less than honest?

My answer is really – who cares? What we do care about is an honest rational debate. Gleick said, “scientific understanding of the reality and risks of climate change is strong, compelling, and increasingly disturbing.” Perhaps Heartland and others have fact-based evidence that conclusively shows otherwise.

Now that dishonesty is out in the open, could this be the beginning of an honest rational discussion about climate change?  I hope so.

So what about that $5 trillion that we discovered could be invested in climate change solutions?  In the last 10 years, we have invested over $1 trillion into climate change solutions – $243 billion of that in 2010 alone. To accelerate that deployment to the scale required we have to make business decisions for our future based on facts – honest facts for an honest debate.

So, while naysayers try to “muddy the waters” on scientific evidence, trillions of investment dollars are forging ahead to solve our climate issue with market driven solutions. It seems that the onus for proof is on those trying to debunk climate change.

Meanwhile, climate change is driving economic growth and creating jobs. And who wants to stop economic growth that?

Jigar Shah is the CEO of the Carbon War Room, a nonprofit that harnesses the power of entrepreneurs to implement market-driven solutions to climate change and create a post-carbon economy. By bringing project finance and growth capital together with infrastructure entrepreneurs, corporations, governments and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), he identifies and eliminates market barriers, driving environmental improvements alongside economic growth.

Shah founded SunEdison in 2003 with a new business model, the solar power services agreement business (SPSA). The SPSA uses mature technologies and required no new legislative action. The SPSA model launched solar services into a multibillion dollar industry. SunEdison now has more solar energy systems and megawatts under management than any other company.

Image courtesy of Tim’s photostream Flickr Creative Commons