“If we lived in a state where virtue was profitable, common sense would make us saintly. But since we see that abhorrence, anger, pride, and stupidity commonly profit far beyond charity, modesty, justice, and thought, perhaps we must stand fast a little, even at the risk of being heroes.” — Sir Thomas More, “A Man For All Seasons”
Rich Piltz, a true climate hero, passed away Saturday. Readers knew him best as the founder and Director of the website Climate Science Watch, which we regularly cited and reposted.
But Rick was sui generis, a man of principle, a genuine whistle blower. After a decade working with the U.S. Global Change Research Program, he resigned in 2005 to protest political interference with climate change communication by the Bush-Cheney Administration. As he explained in his resignation letter, “I believe the overarching problem is that the Administration … does not want and has acted to impede forthright communication of the state of climate science and its implication for society.”
What happened next? Shortly afterward, the New York Times revealed that White House official Philip Cooney “removed or adjusted descriptions of climate research that government scientists and their supervisors, including some senior Bush administration officials, had already approved.”
Cooney resigned, and the former American Petroleum Institute lobbyist landed a plum job with Exxon Mobil after resigning from the Administration — just as Thomas More would have expected. We detailed Piltz’s story back in 2009:
Rick spent the next nine months without income or benefits. He cashed in his retirement money and took out an equity loan on his home to start Climate Science Watch…. His salary today is one-third less than he earned in government.
Rick was a colleague and a friend — and an inspiration as a blogger and man of conscience. I talked to him last at the Ridenhour Prize ceremony earlier this year, and as always he was passionately spreading the truth about climate science to everyone at the table. Rick was a regular attendee of the ceremony since winning the 2006 Ridenhour Prize for Truth-Telling.
As Nick Sundt writes, “I can think of no greater tribute to Rick than to commit ourselves to ‘speak truth to power,’ as Rick used to say.”
In temperament and character and action, Rick always reminded me most of Thomas More in the classic movie (and play), “A Man For All Seasons” — the “ultimate man of conscience” who remained true to his principles “under all circumstances and at all times.”
But Piltz was not just figuratively a man for all seasons. He was a true champion of keeping our livable climate livable and stable — with a winter, spring, summer and fall as close as possible to the ones that for the past 11,000 years made modern civilization possible. Rick Piltz was literally a man for all seasons.