Lying and deception can be justified, says climate change ethics expert
Feb 27, 2012
Bishop Hill in Climate: other, Ethics

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.

Update on Feb 27, 2012 by Registered CommenterBishop Hill

Here's Richard Betts' comment from the Guardian thread:

Mr Garvey

I am a climate scientist at the Met Office Hadley Centre and also a lead author with the IPCC (NB. the opinions I express here are my own though - I am just telling you that for context).

I would ask you to refrain from bringing my profession into disrepute by advocating that we act unethically. We already have enough people accusing us, completely incorrectly, of being frauds, green / left-wing activists or government puppets. A rabble-rousing journalist such as yourself telling us that we should "fight dirty" does not help our reputation at all. "Fighting dirty" will never be justified no matter what tactics have been used to discredit us in the past.

Inflammatory remarks such as yours will only serve to further aggravate the so-called "climate wars". People's reputations are already being damaged, and we know that some climate scientists get highly distasteful and upsetting mail through no fault of their own. If people like you continue to stir things up further, it is only a matter of time before somebody actually gets hurt, or worse.

Please keep your advice to yourself, we can do without it thank you very much.

Richard Betts (Prof)

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