UPDATE: Founder asks for leave of absence in the wake of impersonation scandal
The old blue-and-gray Victorian in Oakland’s preservation district is familiar turf for me and other journalists on the resources beat. It’s long been a place we could rely on for solid information and interviews.
The analysts who inhabit the rabbit warren of offices at the Pacific Institute are doing honest work on issues that are critical to the future of California and the West, notably where our water will come from. There are few issues more deserving of study than that one.
So I was troubled when, in the haboob of outrage surrounding the tragic missteps of its founder, Peter Gleick, this particularly intemperate remark appeared in the comments thread of the Climate Watch blog:
“Gleick is a liar-self admitted, and ALL the “research” which comes from his solely owned “Pacific Institute” is suspect, ad cannot and should not be trusted. This is what happens when you lie, you cannot be trusted.”
I responded partly to correct the ownership point: The Pacific Institute is a registered 501(c)3 non-profit with a legitimate board of directors. It is not “solely owned” by anybody. It is true that Gleick is a founder and has been the public face of the organization for years, partly because he’s a dynamic presenter and a pithy sound bite. Now he’s taken a wrong turn and few are defending what he did to obtain sensitive documents from a nemesis of his.
UPDATE: In a brief letter to his board on Friday, Gleick asked for “a temporary, short-term leave of absence from the Institute,” in order for the “staff to continue to refocus on its work, while permitting the Board to conduct a full and fair review and determine an appropriate course of action.”
But the notion that his actions invalidate any — let alone “ALL” — of the Institute’s research is way off the mark. Over the years, the Pacific Institute has done much to advance public knowledge of natural resources in the West and apparently dozens of clients and funders, from the Bureau of Reclamation to the United Nations, agree.
Among many other works, Institute analysts wrote the recently released seventh volume of The World’s Water, a compendium of freshwater issues and insights worldwide. Matthew Heberger’s chapter on Australia’s Millennium Drought will figure prominently in an upcoming Climate Watch report on what lessons California and other states in the western U.S. can draw from the “Big Dry.” We’re going to need them. Take a look at the staff’s recent reports on best practices in agricultural water management, or the crucial role of water in producing electricity for the West, or nitrate contamination of groundwater in the San Joaquin Valley. These are things we need to know about.
Over the years, Pacific Institute analysts have been important sources for us on topics ranging from the future of hydro-electric power to rising sea levels. And In all of my interactions with the staff there, I have found them to be a smart, conscientious group of people, doing important work. That work should continue, with or without Peter Gleick at the helm.