You may have never heard of the Heartland Institute, but if you are a teacher, politician, or even a scientist -especially in the Midwest- you might have received some of their “informational” material through the mail. However, don’t be fooled by their “science.” -Take note of all the quotes- The Heartland Institute is a conservative and libertarian think tank whose past donors have included Exxon Mobil, Philip Morris, and even the infamous Koch Brothers. So as we gear up this week to March for Science, let’s take a look at one of the reasons why the upcoming marches are necessary.
Climate Change Reconsidered(?)
In 2011, the Heartland Institute released their Climate Change Reconsidered: 2011 Interim Report. In this report Heartland, and the authors: S. Fred Singer, Craig Idso, and Robert M. Carter contend the scientific consensus that climate change is due to man made activity. Among its major claims it states:
- “Models over-estimate the amount of warming that occurred during the twentieth century.” (wrong)
- Research finds less melting of ice in the Arctic, Antarctic, and on mountaintops than previously feared, no sign of acceleration of sea-level rise in recent decades.” (absurd)
- “Research suggests corals and other forms of aquatic life have effective adaptive responses to climate change enabling them to flourish despite or even because of climate change.” (ridiculous)
- “The net effect of continued warming and rising carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere is most likely to be beneficial to humans, plants, and wildlife.” (dangerous)
At best these claims are pseudo-science and at worst they are outright propaganda meant to push a political agenda. For the record, climate change is very real, and very man-made. It is causing all sorts of ecological disasters including Arctic ice melting, extreme weather conditions, coral bleaching, ocean acidification, and the World Health Organization is anticipating 250,000 additional deaths over the next 20 years in developing areas affected most by climate change.The Heartland Institute uses a combination of specious reasoning, cherry picked results, and they willfully exploit the reasonable uncertainty found in any scientific understanding.
Think of the Heartland Institute like an anti-science/anti-climate lobbying firm. According to their own website: elected officials are their “key audience.” Though they claim their lobbying expenses have been “trivial,” organizations like SourceWatch, have noted that they spent $415,935 on lobbying in 2011, and $350,348 on lobbying in 2012. They also contributed $612,000 to Scott Walker and four GOP senators in their 2012 recall elections. Additionally, their Climate Change Reconsidered: 2011 Interim Report is sent not only to senators and congressional representatives, but also to schools, colleges, and any place they feel they can affect public opinion against climate change and the majority scientific consensus. The Heartland Institute is a “think tank” in the same way Barney was a “real dinosaur,” and both do their best to influence impressionable minds.
Motives and Motivators
Now, some people may still look at organizations like the Heartland Institute and ask, “why do you question their scientific findings?” Putting aside the fact that real science has already shown us the dangers and origins of climate change, there are other factors -and people- that lead us to this assertion. According to SourceWatch, one of the Heartland Institute’s leading and often cited “experts” on the environment is James M. Taylor, a lawyer from Florida who is the head of the Environment and Climate News organization, which consistently takes environmental positions that are contrary to the majority scientific opinion. However, he is not alone.
The Climate Change Reconsidered: 2011 Interim Report, created by the NIPCC -which is an organization Heartland created- was authored by three men. The most prominent, Fred Singer, has worked in everything from aerospace to weather. However, he is also a staunch believer in the free market, conservative values, and over the years has made a career arguing against everything from the health-risks of second hand smoke to why UV-B sunlight does not cause skin cancer. He also has possible ties to the Koch Brothers and other conservative policy centers. Craig D. Isdo, the second author of the report, is the founder of the Center for Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change. Don’t let the name fool you, this geologist and his group are at least partially funded by ExxonMobil. He has worked closely with the American Legislative Executive Council, where corporate lobbyists and special interest groups craft bills that are then handed to federal and state legislators for implementation. The last author of the report, Robert M. Carter, who -before his death in 2016- was a marine geologist, and a well-known Australian climate change denier. He was on the Heartland Institute’s payroll as well as the the payroll of the Institute of Public Affairs, an Australian conservative institution funded by the mining, tobacco, oil, and pesticide industries -among others. All of this makes the judgement and findings of these men suspect, and worth remembering when one is reading their “report” on climate change.
As for the Heartland Institute itself, its CEO is Joseph Bast, an economics dropout from the University of Chicago. He has written several articles and other writings for Heartland on everything from healthcare to school reform. Most recently, in 2014, Bast wrote a viral editorial for the Wall Street Journal, which was aimed at denying basic climate science. It is also worth mentioning that under his watch the Heartland Institute thought it was a good idea to create THIS billboard, but we’ll just leave that there and let you form your own opinions.
A Track Record of Wrongness
Many may argue that some of the few people we selected to highlight were actual scientists and “who are we to say that their views are not as valid as the scientists who argue that climate change is man made and dangerous.” We are not making Ad hominem attacks. We are only highlighting the -dubiously- credible people that support the Heartland Institute, and are trying to remind you that these people are in the scientific minority. It is also worth mentioning that most of them have been wrong on every major health crisis from climate change to smoking to skin cancer. Yet, the conservative side still often treats this small minority of scientists as infallible sources of knowledge.
The Heartland Institute itself has taken several positions it now denies. Its most prominent role has been in denying and obscuring the health-risks of tobacco. This was, of course, helped by the fact that they received thousands of dollars annually from the tobacco industry. They are also advocates of privatizing federal services, increasing federal funding for charter schools, opposing federal healthcare regulation, and have also advocated for hydraulic fracking. Yet, those wrong-headed assertions aren’t the most terrifying thing about the Heartland Institute. That would be its constant campaigns of misinformation, which they create to obscure actual/important scientific fact and findings.
In 2012, leaked documents showed that the Heartland Institute not only funded the works of well known climate-deniers, such as Fred Singer and Craig Idso, but actively worked to dissuade teachers and K-12 curriculum advisors from promoting climate change consensus, and instead pushed for teachers to claim that there was no clear scientific consensus on the subject. -For the record: That is factually wrong, but also not the point– To further their political goals, Heartland sponsored the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change to put out a report that undermined the findings of the UN’s International Panel on Climate Change. Also, the fact that the two names are so similiar is not a coincidence, NIPCC vs IPCC.
The problem is, when people talk science -real science- they rarely talk in absolutes, because science does not always lend itself to 100% certainty. Most scientifically literate people can understand that, but other politically motivated groups can use that gap of 3% or 4% of reasonable uncertainty to push their own agendas and obfuscate real issues and real scientific findings. That is exactly what the Heartland Institute and other political scientific organizations are doing with the issue of climate change, using tactics of misdirection, inflated doubt, and flat-out denial.
This is why we march…