Climate hero or #metoo heel?


George Luber, a prominent climate scientist who works for the federal government, claims the Trump administration is out to get him. 

He’s a leading figure in efforts to show how climate change is linked to human health. 

But former co-workers have a different explanation: Luber is, they claim, a horrible, sexist boss. 

According to a recent Buzzfeed exposé, his bad behavior, not his views on climate change, is why he was forced out of the Centers for Disease Control’s Climate and Health Program in 2018.

A #metoo moment

After Luber filed a whistleblower complaint, his story became front-page news. 

He claimed his bosses at the CDC curtailed the agency’s important research on climate change in response to the 2016 election of Donald Trump. 

Luber said they told him he had better not even say “climate change.” 

But how much of what he alleges is true?

Several female CDC employees went on the record to detail a litany of complaints against their boss. 

In addition to his chronic absenteeism and tendency to divert government funds to his own uses, he engaged in sexist and racist behavior, including against people of color who worked under him.

The women alleged that he shared naked photos of himself, talked about having sex with twins and triplets, and made inappropriate comments on apartheid. 

He once admonished a subordinate as a “naughty girl.”

Luber and his lawyers disagree with the allegations. 

Denial and defense

He says that statements that “paint me as dishonest, sexist, [an] absentee boss, are absolutely false, and driven by personal agendas.” 

He has accused the women who worked for him of undermining his own efforts — called “heroic” in many media outlets — and making up stories of harassment.

In an interview with CBS, Luber said of his celebrity scientist stature (he rubs shoulders with Matt Damon, and has been on Showtime) that in his field “I am one of the world’s experts.”

Though it is certainly true that Luber has made many key contributions to climate science, it is not clear that his own allegations against the CDC, and by extension the Trump administration, are factual. 

An anonymous employee told Buzzfeed that “[t]here’s a great deal of evidence of unprofessional conduct and inappropriate treatment of women, as well as leadership and management failings.”

“He cannot come back … If nothing else, for the damn sake of climate change,” says Chelsea Austin, a former co-worker of Luber.

Holes in the story

Buzzfeed’s own investigation casts doubt on whether Luber was ever prohibited from saying “climate change.” 

Interviewees also suggested that the claim the CDC cancelled a climate conference in 2017 under orders from above isn’t quite true. 

In reality, they said, the election of Donald J. Trump caused CDC leadership to grow fearful of how the new administration might perceive their work, and were looking for ways to diminish its visibility. 

Critics say that Luber re-cast the Trump presidency’s effects on the CDC as a personal vendetta by higher-ups against him, to hide the fact that he was a highly problematic boss.

The CDC’s internal investigation are still ongoing. 

Meanwhile, Luber has continued to win accolades, most recently a Hugh M Hefner First Amendment Award from the HMH Foundation for Luber’s “outspoken defense of science education and climate change.”

Sources: Buzzfeed News, CBS News, New York Times, HMH Foundation

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