links about us archives search home
SustainabiliTankSustainabilitank menu graphic

Follow us on Twitter


Posted on on May 25th, 2012
by Pincas Jawetz (

US-based Climate Skepticism

Toxic shock

A climate-change sceptic is melting.

The Economist got this into its Print Edition of May 26, 2012. Great and very timely article considering the G.O.P. leadership.

For true believers only

THE Heartland Institute, based in Chicago, the world’s most prominent think-tank promoting scepticism about man-made climate change, is getting a lot of heat. In recent weeks it has lost an estimated $825,000 in expected donations, a couple of directors and almost its entire branch in Washington, DC.    At its annual shindig in Chicago this week, this instead of the previous escapades to New York City, the institute’s president, Joseph Bast, said Heartland had “discovered who our real friends are.”       The 100-odd guests who failed to show up for the “7th Climate Conference” were not among them.

The institute’s problems began in February when an American water scientist, Peter Gleick, published internal Heartland documents that he had obtained under a false name.    They provided details of its accounts—including references to an anonymous donor who gave $8.6m between 2007 and 2011—and of a plan to send teaching materials denouncing global warming to American primary schools.      (Mr Bast says that far from exposing his institute, the documents exonerated it from charges that it was a front for the fossil-fuel industry.)

Worse ensued early this month after the institute put up a digital billboard in Chicago that linked belief in global warming to madness and terrorism.   It depicted the “Unabomber,” a mass-murderer – Ted Kaczynski – with the slogan, “I still believe in Global Warming. Do you?” The offending sign lasted only for a day.   But PepsiCo, BB&T bank and Eli Lilly, a pharma company, are among donors that announced the end of their support.

Mr Bast decries double standards: those who accept global warming routinely call their opponents Nazis, he argues. He admits that the billboard was in “poor taste” but says it was designed to get attention, and was good value at $200. The real price is proving rather higher.


Will this cause further thoughts to people like the President of a cEntral European State, whom I interviewed at a Heartland Institute New York anti-Climate rally? It could not be that all those that came to their meetings were mad-men or political opportunists – see Pepsi Cola – they will take their drinks elsewhere from now on.


and –…

The self-inflicted downfall of the Heartland Institute.

By Stephen Lacey

A version of this post originally appeared on    Climate Progress.

“I don’t appreciate being called a terrorist,” the woman said firmly.

I was standing outside the Hilton Chicago hotel talking to Jim Lakely, the director of communications for the Heartland Institute, when an elderly woman approached us on the street. Dressed in a business suit, she was loading her luggage into a taxi when she noticed Lakely’s Heartland name badge and interrupted our conversation.

“We can have a civil discussion. But I really don’t like being labeled a terrorist,” she said, referencing a billboard posted by Heartland equating people who believe in global warming to the Unabomber. “That’s all I wanted to say.”

“Well, I appreciate you telling me that,” said Lakely, who was taking a break from managing Heartland’s conference to watch the 60 or so people protesting the event outside the hotel.

The woman, who was wearing a badge for a different conference, got into her taxi and drove away. There was a brief moment of awkward silence between Lakely and me.

The exchange perfectly encapsulated the public-relations disaster the Heartland Institute has created for itself over the last few weeks. The downfall started with an offensive billboard campaign on May 3, and ended with 11 companies pulling support for the organization —stripping 35 percent its of corporate funds overnight and leaving its financial future uncertain.

The dramatic drop in support was facilitated by the advocacy organization Forecast the Facts, which collected more than 150,000 signatures from people calling on corporate donors to end their relationship with Heartland. Bayer, GlaxoSmithKline, Verizon, Wisconsin Insurance Alliance, and the Credit Union National Association are the latest to announce that they will not fund the Heartland Institute, bringing the total number of defecting companies to 15.

This series of events built on an earlier incident in which Peter Gleick, a scientist with the Pacific Institute, faked his identity to acquire internal documents from the Heartland Institute. Those documents showed that the organization planned to secretly develop school curriculum to spread doubt about the causes of climate change. It also opened up a window to the organization’s donors, which were forced to make a decision about whether or not they wanted to be associated with Heartland’s tactics.

And then yesterday, the other shoe dropped. In his closing speech, Heartland President Joseph Bast announced that the organization does not have the money to continue putting on its hallmark climate conference — an event that had become a rallying point for an insulated group of climate disinformers.

“I hope to see you at a future conference, but at this point we have no plans to do another [International Conference on Climate Change],” said Bast, explaining that Heartland was struggling to meet expenses.

The cancellation marks the end of an era — albeit a short era — for the oddball world of organized climate change denial.

The event was started in 2008 as a way to organize libertarians — many of whom believe that taking action on climate change would create a one-world government dominated by the United Nations.

Heartland tried hard to label the event a “science” conference. But the presentations were almost always political, peppered with anti-government rhetoric and conspiracy theories.

“We’re in a war. We’re in a war against our standard of living,” said Walt Cunningham, a former NASA astronaut, speaking in a morning session on Tuesday.

“There’s not a lot of science here,” said Scott Denning, an atmospheric scientist from Colorado State University who attended the event last year to present the so-called “warmist” case. Neither Denning nor any of the other 97 percent of climate scientists who say human activity is warming the planet presented at this year’s conference.

In fact, none of this year’s top speakers had any background in climate science. Instead, they spoke about the issues in highly conspiratorial terms.

Czech President Vaclav Klaus, a former economist who gave the keynote address on Monday, called environmentalism “identical to communism — identical, not similar.”

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), the featured keynote speaker for Tuesday, asked if we “need to put catalytic converters on our noses” by addressing heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere.

And following Sensenbrenner’s nonsensical remarks, Heartland brought up “special mystery guest” Lord Christopher Monckton, who admitted at the beginning of his speech that he has “no scientific qualification” to challenge climate science. He then performed a comedy routine in which he questioned the legitimacy of President Obama’s citizenship — a joke that brought the room to full applause.

These fringe views made even Heartland senior staffers very nervous. After the billboard debacle, the leader of Heartland’s Washington, D.C., office, Eli Lehrer, left the organization and brought six staff members with him, saying the campaign “didn’t reflect the seriousness which I want to bring to public policy.”

But Heartland’s leadership twisted the knife into their self-inflicted wound with a decision to keep repeating their extreme rhetoric in the lead-up to the conference — later calling Bill McKibben and Michael Mann “Madmen.”

The rapid unraveling of Heartland forced it to scale down the conference, and seemingly kept attendees away. This year, only around 300 people showed up — a decrease from the 500 people at its first conference in 2008.

Despite the subdued mood, Rep. Sensenbrenner tried to rally the remaining troops during his Tuesday speech.

“Things are a lot better now than they were three years ago,” he said, referencing the failure to pass a carbon cap-and-trade bill and potential expiration of the Kyoto Protocol.

Things certainly weren’t better for Heartland. The following afternoon, the organization announced its decision to abandon the entire conference due to lack of funds and a backlash from corporate donors.

But Sensenbrenner was right about one thing: The public dialogue has moved dramatically backward in the last three years, driven largely by the aggressive disinformation tactics of the climate denial community — and enabled by the Obama administration’s decision to stop talking about the issue and the media’s decision to sharply curtail coverage.

While the dissolution of Heartland’s conference may be considered a “win” for those concerned about the spread of junk science and disinformation, there are still plenty of allies in industry and the halls of Congress willing to take up the denial cause.


Stephen Lacey is a reporter with Climate Progress covering clean energy issues. He formerly worked as a producer/editor at

Be Sociable, Share!

Leave a comment for this article