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Lying and deception can be justified, says climate change ethics expert

James Garvey, a philosopher and the author of The Ethics of Climate Change has written a defence of Peter Gleick at the Guardian:

What Heartland is doing is harmful, because it gets in the way of public consensus and action. Was Gleick right to lie to expose Heartland and maybe stop it from causing further delay to action on climate change? If his lie has good effects overall – if those who take Heartland's money to push scepticism are dismissed as shills, if donors pull funding after being exposed in the press – then perhaps on balance he did the right thing. It could go the other way too – maybe he's undermined confidence in climate scientists. It depends on how this plays out.

It's good to know that environmentalists feel this way about telling the truth. We have had similar insider views on truth-telling from, for example, the Open University's Joe Smith, who reported the decision to issue tactical lies over the nature of the global warming debate.

Hard also to avoid Stephen Schneider's famous quote:

...we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have. This “double ethical bind” we frequently find ourselves in cannot be solved by any formula. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest. I hope that means being both.

I guess Dr Garvey has cast his vote for effective rather than honest.

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Reader Comments (158)

When I read something like this from some one who will no doubt consider himself intellectually and socially my superior [at the Grundion they all think like that !] I at least know that all the academic qualifications in the world liberally coated in pretty words and the right kind of politics cannot disguise just how dumb you can make yourself look !

Feb 27, 2012 at 1:50 PM | Unregistered Commentermat

This is so muddle-headed it's embarrassing. Not even "the end justifies the means" but "I meant well, honest". You need heart surgery? Pop round and I'll give it a go. I mean well, honest.

Feb 27, 2012 at 1:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterRich

Compare and contrast with the key statement in "The Power of Ethical Management" by Blanchard & Peale,published about 20 years ago.


Feb 27, 2012 at 1:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterDave

These beasts pretending to improve us.

Feb 27, 2012 at 1:57 PM | Unregistered Commenterkim

Garvey should take note that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

What a hypocrite.

Feb 27, 2012 at 1:59 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Keiller

Kim sum's it up perfectly !

Feb 27, 2012 at 2:00 PM | Unregistered Commentermat

This is just one of several very important things that convinces me that the sceptic view must be correct.

Feb 27, 2012 at 2:07 PM | Unregistered CommenterHuhneToTheSlammer


"......... global warming debat." - Debate? [Fixed- thanks BH]

Feb 27, 2012 at 2:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterHuhneToTheSlammer

Its an amazing read, but what illegal activity was uncovered by Gleick, anything ?

Feb 27, 2012 at 2:11 PM | Unregistered CommenterChris

The justification for lying for a good purpose or a noble cause is actually seen by many philosphers as a fundamental aspect of belief systems.

So what James Garvey is admitting that climate change is more akin to a form of religion than science.

I am glad he has cleared that up.

Feb 27, 2012 at 2:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterMac

"It's worth noticing that he wasn't lying for personal gain. What resonates for me, though, are the consequences of his action."

I am not so sur: all the evidence suggests that Gleick would have derived immense personal satisfaction had he uncovered any tangible evidence of skullduggery.

Feb 27, 2012 at 2:18 PM | Unregistered Commentermatthu

"After you have convinced people that you fervently believe your cause to be more important than telling the truth, you've lost the power to convince them of anything else."
-Megan McArdle,

That is all that needs to be said about Peter Gleick.


Feb 27, 2012 at 2:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterFrederick Davies

"I find that you're saying this with a straight face, and yet you're compromising the most fundamental belief I have in democracy;
you're saying 'if we can fool people, that's a good way to get them to do what you think is right because you couldn't convince them for the right reason."

Feb 27, 2012 at 2:23 PM | Unregistered Commenterorkneylad

Pretty sweet stuff. "You should give us absolute, unquestioning trust (or you are a cretin), but we reserve the right to lie to you at will, should we deem it necessary!". Gotcha.

"It's worth noticing that he wasn't lying for personal gain."

Yeah, that´s why Dr. Gleick (most likely) inserted himself in the role as an Incorruptible GoodGuy (TM) into the document dump. No gain to be had from that, nosiree.

Feb 27, 2012 at 2:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterOkkes

... only sensational exaggeration makes the kind of story that will get politicians’—and readers’—attention. So, yes, climate scientists might exaggerate, but in today’s world, this is the only way to assure any political action....

—Monika Kopacz, Applied Mathematics and Atmospheric Sciences, Harvard University
[Letters to the Editor, New York Times Magazine, 12 April 2009, p.6]

Feb 27, 2012 at 2:25 PM | Unregistered CommenterDouglas J. Keenan

Clearly, they have been doing this for 30 years. It is simply the "Big Lie" propaganda technique.

Feb 27, 2012 at 2:27 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Pablo de la Sierra

Verily it is true that amongst the faithful, each must find his own way to serve the cause. To some it will come to pass that they must lie and deceive, to others their role is one of obfuscator, to still more their main contribution is merely to hold their peace when true believers get carried away with the frenzy of their insights, while others yet will be called to add their push to the rolling snowballs of fear that have proven so lucrative for our new church, and finally there are the more reflective souls who look for the best they can in no matter what ill-winds have blown in - they are the apologists, and I say unto you that they too have a place.

Feb 27, 2012 at 2:28 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Shade

Frankly this sums up the whole thing in my view. Garvey, a Philosopher? To paraphrase Margaret Thatcher (don't draw a political view from that) - "what a luxury!" when meeting a student studying history. It's this old chestnut of lying for a noble cause but these misguided fools just cannot see it, lying is lying is lying. How would this stand up in a court of law, when a barrister finds out that the witness has lied because he meant well, he would then rip the witness to pieces on the grounds of being unable to ascertain when the witness is lying, & when he is telling the truth when he/she only has the witness's word for it! Once they atart down that slippery slope of lying to prove their point, they're finished.

Feb 27, 2012 at 2:28 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlan the Brit

Not lying for personal gain? Come now. if the effect of Heartland's advocacy was to diminish funding in Gleicks line of work, mightn't he have been fighting for his livelihood?

One of the collateral benefits of the discovery of his action has been the opportunity it offered for other unclear thinkers to expose themselves.

Feb 27, 2012 at 2:29 PM | Unregistered Commenterj ferguson

This reflects well on the credibility of The Guardian.

Feb 27, 2012 at 2:33 PM | Unregistered CommenterSpeed

Richard Betts tweets that he doesn't share Dr Garvey's opinion.

Feb 27, 2012 at 2:36 PM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

‘Never interfere with the oppostion while they are in the process of destroying themselves.’

With aplogies to Napoleon Bonaparte.

Feb 27, 2012 at 2:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterGreen Sand

I don't understand why he is not coming out openly defending noble cause corruption. And since when has there been "good guys" / "bad guys" distinction in philosophy anyway?

In moral philosophy one is supposed to live by principles that are meant to apply anyone, anywhere and anytime; eg, Categorical Imperative.

What James Garvey is doing however is so typical of a religious believer. His catastrophic global warming religion and its high priests have already determined for him what is good and what is evil and all Garvey is saying is it is OK to fight evil with evil.

Evidently he hasn't put much thought to what he's saying. He is less than a philosopher.

Feb 27, 2012 at 2:37 PM | Unregistered CommentersHx

Was it Lenin who defined morality as whatever furthered the revolution?

Global warming wackos want the benefit of intellectual and moral "sovereign" immunity.

Feb 27, 2012 at 2:38 PM | Unregistered Commenterstan

That's right. Those climate scientists are just too honest for their own good.

Seriously, it is disappointing that a philosopher can be so confident of the facts and the political actions they entail, that he should consider the ethical question as settled once it has been determined whether the lie conduced to those ends.

Feb 27, 2012 at 2:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterNicholas Hallam

Defective rationalization by James Garvey:

Suppose you stop a friend from driving after he's had too many drinks by slipping his keys in your pocket and lying about it until you manage to drive him home yourself. [...] Maybe lying about the keys is morally right because the consequences of lying are better than the consequences of telling the truth. Or maybe the lie was right because of your intentions – you were trying to prevent harm coming to your friend, not trying to steal his car.

Taking the keys achieved the objective. Lying about it shows that "you" will resort to untruths to avoid an uncomfortable conversation with a drunk.

Feb 27, 2012 at 2:40 PM | Unregistered CommenterSpeed

I'm going to throw up!

Feb 27, 2012 at 2:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterEcotretas

"what illegal activity was uncovered by Gleick, anything ?"

No, no illegal activity. Just donor information, and some planning which wasn't particularly surprising and would soon enough be public anyway.

I think one of the nicest summaries of the reactions came from commenter Copner at the Blackboard, speaking of those who defend Gleick's actions [slightly edited]: "If it [Heartland's Anonymous Donor] was a person tied to fossil fuels & oil, they’d argue it was terrible. Now they think it is a person not tied to fossil fuels. They argue that is terrible.

Desmogblog did the same thing with Koch. When they thought that Koch was funding Heartland’s climate work, they pointed as that being terrible. When it turns out Koch isn’t, they have written that is terrible too, and Heartland is “too toxic” even for Koch."

It is a great time-saver, I suppose, to have conclusions which needn't be re-examined in light of new facts. What's most funny to me is that although Heartland is referred to as a central power behind "climate change denial", I was barely aware of their existence prior to Gleick's activities. But it seems important for some persons to have specific demons to exorcise and rail against, rather than to discuss facts and policies.

Feb 27, 2012 at 2:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterHaroldW

So based on that statement that its OK to lie to promote climate change then nothing a climate scientist says is likely to be truthful.

Shot in foot me thinks.

Feb 27, 2012 at 2:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterBreath of Fresh Air

For the Green/Left it is all about "winning" -- the result, not the process; the ends justifying the means.

Feb 27, 2012 at 2:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterRick Bradford

Do they really not understand that,

"After you have convinced people that you fervently believe your cause to be more important than telling the truth, you’ve lost the power to convince them of anything else."


"If you have to lie to justfy your actions, your actions are not just!"

There is now an honest side to the climate debate and a dishonest, criminally deceptive side. The man-made global warming alarmists are nailing themselves FIRMLY to the dishonest, criminally deceptive side of this debate. Why then should we trust ANYTHING they tell us, when they are making billions of dollars from vested interests and additionally are engaging in criminal deception and fraud? And the Heartland are making a tiny, almost insignificant fraction of that and have not engaged in lies at all?

Feb 27, 2012 at 2:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterKenny

Since the magnificent David Hume, the term 'British philosopher' has been an oxymoron.

Feb 27, 2012 at 2:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterLewis Deane

@ Bishop Hill Feb 27, 2012 at 2:36 PM

"Richard Betts tweets that he doesn't share Dr Garvey's opinion."

I am damn sure he doesn't!

Bet he is wondering who is going to be next to step forward and aid the “cause”

Feb 27, 2012 at 3:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterGreen Sand

If you think it's okay to lie for the good of your cause, it's probably better to lie about that also.

Feb 27, 2012 at 3:07 PM | Unregistered CommenterBrian Micklethwait

I think we have known all along that the alarmist clique will lie to support their cause. Seriously though, how else can they support their cause? The truth has never mattered since the very beginning; worse than that, self-consistency doesn't matter either, see the thread on biofuels!

Gleick's dishonesty is nothing compared to the data-massaging that goes on in climate science.

Feb 27, 2012 at 3:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterHeide De Klein

Better as in "smarter", I mean.

Feb 27, 2012 at 3:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterBrian Micklethwait

The bigger lie is that the alarmists think they have to descend to our level - arguing moral equivalence - when they know that they are deceiving only themselves.

Their demonisation of sceptics has meant the alarmists are now stuck in a moral morass of their own making. They have only lies to sustain their lost cause.

Feb 27, 2012 at 3:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterMac

Who gets to draw the line in the sand? Lies, forgery and deception now.........justified with ease, what next?
Post normal ethics!

Feb 27, 2012 at 3:11 PM | Unregistered CommenterCurfew

"What's most funny to me is that although Heartland is referred to as a central power behind "climate change denial", I was barely aware of their existence prior to Gleick's activities."

Well how weak must the Alarmist's science actually be if a tiny, almost unheard of institute, running on decimal point percentages the income of the alarmist's side, can hold up "the entire world's information and action on tackling climate change, in spite of 97% of the world's scientists and almost every government signing up to the Durban, Cancun and Copenhagen conference agreements"?

That does not sound even remotely possible. It is like an ant holding up a very large military convoy.

The truth is a very few actual climate scientists are pushing a very weak hypothesis, based on a strong assumption, loaded with lots of very weak assumptions which are only supported by computer models and hyperbole, and the rest of the world is slowly waking up to that fact. The more this reality is being unveiled, the more desperate the alarmists are to protect their funding and privilege. Thus their panicking into criminality to smear the truth!

Feb 27, 2012 at 3:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterKenny

Kudos to Richard Betts. I have admired your interaction with the sceptical community for some time, but this is the kind of behaviour that is needed if we are to use reason to find a solution to this situation.

Well done.

Feb 27, 2012 at 3:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterStuck-record

Geoffrey Boulton is an ethics expert like Gleick. I wonder if Geoffrey will run the independent inquiry this time?

Feb 27, 2012 at 3:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterZT

Worth clicking on Recommend to RB's comment - maybe thats one that the Graun won't be able to delete, but then again...

Feb 27, 2012 at 3:33 PM | Unregistered CommenterChris

"What Heartland is doing is harmful, because it gets in the way of public consensus and action". Surely there is a word omission here? Maybe ... gets in the way of ORCHESTRATED public consensus and action.

Of late, I have thought much over the "ozone hole" and the very costly and retrogressive effect this has had on the technical side of the refrigeration industry. While I reflect on the fact that there has been no reported widespread blindness among Falklands cattle due to the ozone hole (one of the published 'possibility' scares that has lodged in my memory) the refrigeration industry tills continue to ring and all has gone very silent concerning this issue. But I wonder--was this the trial run that established the path for the vastly greater and more generally lucrative Global Warming engine?

Geoff Alder

Feb 27, 2012 at 3:33 PM | Unregistered CommenterGeoff Alder

Very pleased to see that RB is making his point firmly and forcefully in the home of the warmists. And getting a stcak of 'recommends' too.

I hope that his conversations here have helped to allow him to take what must be a difficult action. Disagreeing with the Grauinid on a climate change issue must be as near to apostasy as can be imagined. And to do that publicly, while still an IPCC author must be tough.

I hope that other honest climatologists will feel able to follow his courageous example.

Feb 27, 2012 at 3:44 PM | Unregistered CommenterLatimer Alder

Looking at the cyclic sea temperature graphs (due for a fall) and the quietening sun, we may be in for two further decades of cooling.

Presumably Garvey could justify fiddling the figures to persuade the shivering masses that it's warm and toasty out there: "It's for a good cause."

Feb 27, 2012 at 3:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterBrent Hargreaves

In the same way that Judith Curry discovered a connection between climate gate and the PG affair, I think I have discovered the connection between the big tobacco and this episode. Tobacco and CAGW are both drugs.
I always thought that tobacco was the most addictive drug. (I am a smoker).
I now think that CAGW is more powerful because I can still tell right from wrong wheras people like Peter Gleick James Garvey and many others can't.

Feb 27, 2012 at 3:56 PM | Unregistered Commenterpesadia

27 February 2012 3:51PM

Richard Betts of the Met Office, eh? This Richard Betts?

So on the one side we have a Dr Richard Betts of the Met Office and on the other we have a Richard Betts (prof) claiming to be at the Hadley Centre and who just happens to be a first-time poster. Who do we believe/
Certainly did a good job on a couple of the denier-world posters here.

Perhaps we'll hear them calling for wire-fraud prosecution for the RB (Prof) poster. Need his extradition to California but that should be no problem these days. ;-)


Feb 27, 2012 at 3:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterChris

We used to call little, tinsy, tiny lies "White" lies, as opposed to the BIG BLACK MORTAL SIN LIES when you're under oath or some such, now it seems there's hot and cold lies too. Hummmmm... gotta' remember that.. Hot's good, Cold's bad, left? Right? Up? Down? I feel dizzie.

Feb 27, 2012 at 4:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterPascvaks

Did you confirm that was actually Betts Bish? It could have been a fake, although fakes aren't usually quite so articulate of course.

Feb 27, 2012 at 4:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterRobinson

Curfew - "Post normal ethics!"

That is a very good summary of lying for the climate cause.

Feb 27, 2012 at 4:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterMac

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