Climate Warming Denial: Big Business


What to do when adults persist in believing that the burning of fossil fuels is causing climate change? You know, on account of that pesky overwhelming scientific evidence and stuff? Simple. Target kids instead, and try to convince them, as early as possible, that it’s all a crock – or at least that it’s highly controversial.

That apparently is the plan of the Heartland Institute, which dubs itself a “free-market think tank” and which has long sought to cast doubt on the reality of anthropogenic climate change. Earlier this week, an unknown source forwarded to DeSmogBlog a series of what appeared to be internal documents from Heartland, including information on funders (including an anonymous donor who gave the institute $979,000 in 2011, funding much of the organization’s climate change denying efforts, and up to 20 percent of its overall budget), a packet prepared for a board meeting, IRS documents, and a 2012 fundraising plan and budget.

Heartland has denounced one of the documents, a so-called “climate strategy”, as a fake, and indeed it does appear to stand out from the others; but that brief summary seems to draw mostly from the rest of the documents in the release, which the organization acknowledges “appear to have been written by Heartland’s president for a board meeting that took place on January 17.”

In a covering e-mail, the documents’ leaker urged recipients to “look especially at the 2012 fundraising and budget documents, the information about donors, and compare to the 2010 990 tax form” – presumably wanting to establish whether the institute has undertaken partisan political activities, a potential violation of federal tax law governing nonprofit groups. However, he or she acknowledges that “other things might also interest or intrigue you.”

What has particularly intrigued and interested a number of bloggers and journalists is an item in the budget that outlines a $100,000-per-year “global warming curriculum” for schoolchildren. This effort would be led by Dr. David Wojick, who DeSmogBlog points out is not a climate scientist:

Dr. Wojick proposes to begin work on “modules” for grades 10-12 on climate change (“whether humans are changing the climate is a major scientific controversy”), climate models (“models are used to explore various hypotheses about how climate works. Their reliability is controversial”), and air pollution (“whether CO2 is a pollutant is controversial. It is the global food supply and natural emissions are 20 times higher than human emissions”). Wojick would produce modules for Grades 7-9 on environmental impact (“environmental impact is often difficult to determine. For example there is a major controversy over whether or not humans are changing the weather”), for Grade 6 on water resources and weather systems, and so on.

Painting climate science as controversial and unsettled is of course a primary strategy of the fossil fuel industry and its apologists. As Justin Gillis and Leslie Kaufman point out in The New York Times, however, climate change “is in fact not a scientific controversy. The vast majority of climate scientists say that emissions generated by humans are changing the climate and putting the planet at long-term risk, although they are uncertain about the exact magnitude of that risk.”

Heartland concluded that the documents “were obtained by an unknown person who fraudulently assumed the identity of a Heartland board member and persuaded a staff member here to “re-send” board materials to a new email address. Identity theft and computer fraud are criminal offenses subject to imprisonment. We intend to find this person and see him or her put in prison for these crimes.” At the same time, the institute asked “all activists, bloggers, and other journalists to immediately remove all of these documents and any quotations taken from them … from their blogs, Web sites, and publications, and to publish retractions.”

That would be eyebrow-raising enough were it not for the fact that the organization is apparently highly selective in its outrage over stolen, leaked internal documents. This is after all one of the organizations that most aggressively pushed the alleged ‘Climategate’ conspiracy, based on selectively-edited and leaked e-mails from climate scientists. “The release of these documents creates an opportunity for reporters, academics, politicians, and others who relied on the IPCC to form their opinions about global warming to stop and reconsider their position,” they wrote at the time. “This is new and real evidence that they should examine and then comment on publicly.”

Whether pushing a false story of scientific malfeasance or promoting a climate-change-isn’t-happening curriculum in public schools, Heartland, says Mark McCaffrey of the National Center for Science Education, continues “to promote confusion, doubt and debate where there really is none.”

IMAGE: The sun sets over the city of Chicago, where Heartland Institute is having an open house at One South Wacker #2740 Drive on March 1. (Photo by Brooks Kraft/Corbis)

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