Remarks delivered by Louis Clark, President of the Government Accountability Project on November 16, 2014 at the Piltz Memorial Service held at the World Wildlife Fund headquarters, Washington, D.C.
Guess what? Rick Steven Piltz is a hard act to follow. And guess further what? We must. That is now our obligation, duty, responsibility, and role.
He has parted from his physical life. But he is now a part of us:
His laughter, intellect, compassion, musical taste, enthusiasm, joy, anger, determination, commitments.
And his mission.
They live on: forever. All that he has given us — now resides with us: All of us — his loved ones, family, friends, colleagues, followers, admirers, and those whom he mentored so effectively.
I don’t know about you, but I wish I were better prepared for what happened to Rick so suddenly in October.
He was not ready to leave us. In shock, he said, “This is worse than the worst case scenario.” And it was.
Rick as Hero:
On the American Whistleblower Tour to college campuses across the nation, I used to introduce Rick as a hero. He hated that so much that he used to lobby the director of the program at GAP to get me to knock it off
He did not see himself as a hero, or particularly courageous. I can hear him now saying: “What good are convictions if you do not have the necessary courage to exercise them.” And he had convictions.
As most of you know, Rick was a senior adviser with the U.S. Global Change Research Program. It was his job to coordinate with the 13 or so federal agencies that conducted or oversaw climate change research. Specifically, he was responsible for editing the public and Congressional reports on those scientific research findings.
He became increasingly outraged about the systematic failure of his agency to acknowledge or use the findings of the first National Climate Assessment, completed in the year 2000. It was the most definitive and exhaustive U.S. study on climate change ever conducted. His agency steadfastly ignored the report as if it did not exist.
To Rick this refusal to make use of the National Assessment was an ongoing intellectual cop-out and civil society travesty of major proportions.
When the agency then began sending the finished draft science research compilation reports over to the Bush White House for political editing, Rick started to prepare for a confrontation. He began saving the crudely marked-up drafts that came back from the White House.
The edits were the work of an oil lobbyist attorney who had moved to the White House from the Petroleum Institute. He had no credentials as a scientist, yet his copious edits were largely substantive. Most of them tended to qualify or downplay the research in such a way as to question the reality of climate change and whether humans are largely responsible for it.
The troublesome Arctic results were once deleted altogether.
Rick then came to the Government Accountability Project or GAP. I was his GAP attorney, and we plotted to release the documents to coincide with a major press conference about climate change that President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair had conducted. At the event, President Bush had bragged about how much his administration was doing through the conducting of nearly $2 billion worth of research. Obviously the next day’s revelation on the front page of the New York Times that the research results were being manipulated by oil interests at the White House became a sensational story.
As mentioned, Rick did not see his whistleblowing as heroic. As he reasoned, he was merely separating himself from those whose actions he distained. He could not go along with their climate change denial program and to stick around drawing a paycheck in those circumstances was unacceptable. He had resigned before releasing the shocking documents.
As Rick said frequently, “I am no hero for doing what I had no choice about doing. I did not want to be associated in any way with that charade. Furthermore, I was deeply offended that they actually thought I would be willing to participate in the manipulation of scientific results.”
Rick as Truth-teller:
In 2006 Rick received the Ridenhour Prize for Truth-telling. That honor is essentially the Nobel Prize for whistleblowing. Ridenhour was the whistleblower and journalist who exposed the My Lai massacre in Vietnam and then devoted the rest of his life to investigative journalism and muckraking. Randy Fertel, the founder of the Prizes, is with us today from New Orleans to honor and celebrate Rick.
Rick was proud to accept the Ridenhour Prize, not as a courageous hero, but as a truth-teller.
He devoted the rest of his life to truth-telling through his website, blog and the GAP program entitled Climate Science Watch.
Now through Climate Science Watch scientists and many others regularly began reporting about the condition of climate science research, the failure of the Bush and Obama administrations to address the growing environmental crisis that is engulfing the planet as well as the cultural phenomenon of what he called the “climate science denial machine.” Each month 30,000 academics, scientists, policy makers, and interested people throughout the world visited Climate Science Watch.
Furthermore, an unexpected outcome of Rick’s truth-telling was captured in an Oxford study about the momentous change in the reporting on climate change that occurred after his revelations. Before 2005 the news stories about climate change followed a familiar “he said/she said” framework. Typically Journalists would report about new scientific findings, but then would find some countervailing opinion from a skeptic to provide “balance.” According to Oxford University scholar Maxwell T. Boykoff, Rick’s White House revelations, the Katrina hurricane and three other key developments led to an “evolutionary” shift in U.S. newspaper coverage of the climate change issue. All the climate deniers – including wishful thinking novelists, oil lobbyists, smear artist columnists, and zealous Senators convinced that God will save us – would no longer share equal credibility with the consensus of scientific thinking. This important study is available at http://www.climatesciencewatch.org/index.php/csw/details/us_newspaper_shift/.
Rick as Advocate:
Rick devoted his post-whistleblowing energies advocating for a new national climate assessment and for a new way of viewing the need for action through the lens of national preparedness — much like the military prepares for worse case scenarios in all its contingency planning for national security.
Recently, both goals have been fulfilled in significant part. The most recent – the third National Assessment is not suffering the same shameful official neglect as its first predecessor report. Preparedness language is embedded in President Obama’s climate change policy efforts. But climate science policy and actual change still plays second fiddle to the expansion of fossil fuel development.
The Tribute to Rick:
My tribute to Rick has heavily focused on the public Rick, the whistleblowing and post whistleblowing one. But soon you will be hearing about so many other facets of Rick’s seven decades of living life to the fullest.
All of these parts of Rick are integral to who he was and who he remains.
We are the ones who now have the privilege, responsibility and power to keep Rick present in this world.
As for his public advocacy and mission, the mantel of leadership and the foot soldiering of his climate change policy efforts rests with us. His impatience is now ours. His determination and commitment for critically necessary social change rests with his former colleagues, fellow travelers, and a new generation toward which he was such a good mentor.
In the Christian faith tradition we refer to such an important idealist goal as “the Kingdom of God” which means that ideal state where the authority under which we live is just, ethical, and truthful.
That is the personal and public Rick that we embrace,
That we honor,
That we celebrate.
He truly lives in our hearts and minds forever. Amen.