Photo: Documents strike at heart of denial machine

Heartland is just one of many organizations dedicated to spreading doubt and confusion about legitimate science. (Credit: Ben Harding via Flickr)

By David Suzuki with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Editorial and Communications Specialist Ian Hanington.

When hackers broke into an Internet server at East Anglia University in the U.K. and selectively released massive amounts of correspondence from the world's leading climate scientists, folks at the Chicago-based Heartland Institute were quick to exploit it.

Heartland president Joseph Bast wrote: "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."

He may have been correct, although "reconfirm" would have been a better word than "reconsider" as seven independent investigations cleared the scientists of any wrongdoing and confirmed the credibility of their research.

Now the tables have been turned on the libertarian "charitable" organization, which devotes its resources to questioning the reality of climate change and the dangers of secondhand tobacco smoke, among other issues.

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Heartland is just one of many organizations dedicated to spreading doubt and confusion about legitimate science. These groups share a lack of transparency and an agenda to promote corporate interests at the expense of human health, the environment, and even the economy (if we believe the economy should function primarily in the interests of citizens rather than corporations).

Recently, someone — since identified as climate scientist Peter Gleick — sent documents from the Heartland Institute's board of directors' January 17 meeting to a number of people and organizations, including Desmog Blog, a website devoted to exposing the spin around climate change denial. The documents confirm much of what we already knew about Heartland, although they provide interesting details about its connections and motives.

Not surprisingly, the Heartland people don't see this as "an opportunity for reporters, academics, politicians, and others" to learn more about the secretive group's agenda. Instead, Heartland posted a statement on its website saying, "honest disagreement should never be used to justify the criminal acts and fraud that occurred in the past 24 hours."

Unlike most environmental and social justice organizations, including the David Suzuki Foundation, the Heartland Institute doesn't publicly reveal information about where it gets its money and what it does with it.

These documents indicate that Heartland has offered U.S. weatherman blogger and climate change denier Anthony Watts close to $90,000 for a new project. They also reveal that Heartland funds other prominent deniers, including "Craig Idso($11,600 per month), Fred Singer ($5,000 per month, plus expenses), Robert Carter ($1,667 per month), and a number of other individuals..."
The papers also confirm that the institute's primary mission is to discredit the established science of human-caused climate change. And even though it has received funding from wealthy individuals and corporations in the fossil fuel and tobacco industries, including the Koch brothers and RJR Tobacco, it gets most of its money from a single anonymous donor, who has ponied up as much as $4.6 million in a single year, 2008.

If these groups were truly engaged in questioning the science, using valid scientific methods and principles, it wouldn't be a problem. Science is strengthened through scrutiny and challenges; that's how it works, and that's what the peer-review process is about. But these organizations are engaged in secretive and dishonest lobbying and public-relations efforts aimed at stalling measures to protect the environment and health.

Gleick has admitted that he made a mistake in posing as someone else to obtain the documents. The unidentified East Anglia hackers were also wrong to have stolen the emails, and the Heartland Institute is wrong when it lies about the most serious threat to humanity.

Three wrongs don't make a right, but there are some differences. In the East Anglia case, the investigations turned on those who were hacked and ultimately proved that the climate scientists, although human, are engaged in sound and verifiable science and that they have been subjected to years of harassment and bullying for their work. The Heartland documents show that the organization is using its taxpayer-supported status to spread lies and misinformation.

It's about time these merchants of doubt were exposed. It's time to get back to real science as practised by scientists. We must get beyond the false debate about the reality of climate change and into the real debate about what to do about it.

February 23, 2012

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May 12, 2015
9:39 PM

IRS records show that the same supporters of the Heartland Institute have been funding the Canadian counterpart, the Fraser Institute. These records show the Koch Brothers, now owners of l.1 to 2 million acres of Alberta tarsands with interests in coal transport and pipelines, have contributed $4.3 million to the Fraser Institute and over $67,000,000 to the climate denial movement. The foregone conclusions of Fraser Institute energy series reflect the goals of their donors—deregulation, free trade, eliminating taxes, unrestrained mining and identifying FN and environmentalists as obstacles to mining investment. For example a recent report concludes lifting the moratorium on off shore drilling in BC would be good for the economy. However, this “peer reviewed” research leaves out the cost of major spills like the $60 billion dollar BP Gulf Of Mexico disaster that also wiped out a thriving shellfish aquaculture industry and fails to address the fact that mining contributed under $500 million to the BC economy in taxes and royalties—approximately half that of tourism. It is especially disheartening, then, to hear CBC now leaving out “ultra right wing think tank” when quoting its research conclusions.

Mar 20, 2012
5:30 PM

Dr. Suzuki,

You have certainly morphed from being a scientist respecting truth, to becoming a politically-motivated shill for eco-fraud.

It saddens me to watch your desperate attempts to impose your worldview on the rest of us, and to muzzle opposition.

Socialists have always been thugs, but you're a caricature of the whining wimp that attempts to seize power that otherwise eludes you in life.

Dave, if you can't make the argument successfully to the rest of us, has it dawned on you, pompous ass, that you're just wrong?

Mar 10, 2012
10:53 AM

Dr. Suzuki

Rather than diatribe, please address what skeptics actually say. e.g., see MIT Prof. Richard Lindzen's Seminar at the House of Commons Committee Rooms Westminster, London 22nd February 2012Global Warming: How to approach the science. He explicitly affirms:

* Carbon Dioxide has been increasing * There is a greenhouse effect * There has very probably been about 0.8 C warming in the past 150 years * Increasing CO2 alone should cause some warming (about 1C for each doubling)

He observes: The claims that the earth has been warming, that there is a greenhouse effect, and that man’s activities have contributed to warming, are trivially true and essentially meaningless in terms of alarm. He clearly shows that the major uncertainty is over the magnitude of the water vapor feedback and climate sensitivity. Major issues are the discrepancies between models and evidence.

We see that all the models are characterized by positive feedback factors (associated with amplifying the effect of changes in CO2), while the satellite data implies that the feedback should be negative. Similar results are being obtained by Roy Spencer.

In conclusion:

Current global warming alarm hardly represents a plausible proposition. Twenty years of repetition and escalation of claims does not make it more plausible. Quite the contrary, the failure to improve the case over 20 years makes the case even less plausible as does the evidence from climategate and other instances of overt cheating. In the meantime, while I avoid making forecasts for tenths of a degree change in globally averaged temperature anomaly, I am quite willing to state that unprecedented climate catastrophes are not on the horizon though in several thousand years we may return to an ice age.

Further reviews of scientific evidence ignored by the IPCC are available in the NIPCC reviews Climate Change Reconsidered.

When you advocate "denying deniers the right to deny", you directly attack right to freedom of speech and conscience and the Rule of Law, which are foundations of Western Civilization. Your advocacy of bullying and tyranny is reprehensible. Please rise to professional scientific conduct and discourse.

Mar 09, 2012
3:51 PM

Whoa — Heartland gave $90K to a weatherman? What's your salary, David? :) You've not even managed to dredge up a $200K. Your complaint about heartland is a joke.

If you can't counter Anthony Watts' $90K with your supposed scientific and obvious $$ advantage, climate change is the least of your worries.

Mar 07, 2012
4:37 PM

I've known about the Heartland Institute for some time. They are one of several organisations that have the courage to speak out on the issue of CAGW, which is the biggest fraud ever perpetuated on the people of the world.

Mar 05, 2012
11:22 AM

@Horatio: With respect, the term "deniers" is correct. As Dr. Suzuki pointed out in a previous column: "We use the term deniers deliberately. People who deny overwhelming scientific evidence without providing any compelling evidence of their own and who remain steadfast in their beliefs even as every argument they propose gets shot down do not demonstrate the intellectual rigour to be called skeptics."

In other words, some people are skeptics. But skeptics ask questions and then look at the evidence. If the evidence is overwhelming that the climate is changing and that humans are major contributors, and the evidence to the contrary is lacking, true skeptics will accept the scientific evidence. Deniers will disregard all the evidence and deny the phenomenon, for whatever reason. The only connection between this and Holocaust denial, or any other kind of denial, is that the people who hold these views refuse to accept the evidence.

Mar 02, 2012
11:51 PM

Dr Suzuki

With respect, the term "deniers" can be inaccurate and misleading to the point of demagoguery .

Inaccurate in the sense that most people who express skepticism with mainstream climate change do not deny that the climate is changing. I am sure that Anthony Watts will not deny that climate changes over time.

The term "deniers" can also have a chilling effect, associating skeptics with a infamous historical example: Holocaust denial. This association, intended or not, has the potential to reduce the debate to ad hominem attacks.

Labels like denier lower the level of discourse, and over-simplify the debate. Surely there is a more eloquent way to frame the discussion.

Thank you for the room in which to reply.

Feb 29, 2012
4:59 AM

Petroleum, tar sands and coal all naturally contain Benzene. Benzene, because of its high octane number is also an important component in the production of refined gasoline and diesal fuels. Exposure to Benzene has been recently discovered to cause de novo sperm mutations and is associated with risk for autism. Follow the discussion here:

Feb 25, 2012
5:42 PM

We must get beyond the false debate about the reality of climate change and into the real debate about what to do about it.

just give us the solution David

Feb 25, 2012
9:41 AM

Does not the David Suzuki Foundation support/fund Gleick's ex-Pacific Institute? Does not various Green groups support the David Suzuki Foundation?

Of course monies are distributed to individuals carrying our certain work. But a few thousand here and there, is hardly compromising: otherwise we would have to say that David Suzuki is a paid shill for various eco-groups. He is an ideologue, perhaps, but one of intense personal belief. Any funding — his salary, monies to buy cars, homes etc. — is siginifcant if you intrinsically disbelieve his motives. Which we don't. We don't all agree with him, but he is sincere.

The skeptical side has small money behind it. There is no evidence to say that virtually all of the skeptic side is getting rich out of their beliefs. Romm and McKibben have professional lives that require CAGW. So does Gore. If you wish to question where money might corrupt research, truth and personal beliefs, you need to look where personal lives financially depend on maintaining certain beliefs. Think Harold Camping: as soon as God didn't destroy the world on October 18th (second failure), he had to step down as the head of his church. His position required he hold to his beliefs, and he could no longer do so.

The level of the Heartland Institute funding is not significant. For the DSF to complain — when the Pacific Institute is funded by the DSF — is disingenuous at best. DS's cynicism is very depressing. It is as if he believes that anyone who disagrees with him is part of an international conspiracy to destroy the planet for their own gain.

As a geologist, I have read DS's words that I am a shill for big oil, as I am one of the skeptics. I wish! Big oil has, in its failure to perform financially, removed what wealth I have had. My future includes Walmart greeters. No, I have a contrary view ON THE CATASTROPHIC LEVEL of CO2 emissions because, as a practicing, albeit industrial, scientist, I fail to see the compelling evidence. I see indications that, played out with models including assumptions I question, give us CAGW. But I don't see, in the 34 years of history, trends that eliminate natural variations from potential explanations of "global warming". And there are many of us like me.

In fact, if you think of it, would not Big Oil gain from global warming? We would be forced to generate low-carbon solutions that would have to be paid for …. by the taxpayer. And since taxes and profits are looked at as a portion of revenue stream, profits would rise. The work would be more difficult, yes, but profits would rise. The oil companies would not pay for such things. Price FREEZES hurt the oil companies. Price RISES do not.

This is the sort of thinking that leads me to skepticism. David Suzuki chooses to attack me and my associates with ad hominem visciousness that we are shills, inherently corrupt and easily bought. With all the money floating around for Green solutions, including all these wind- or solar-power projects, why would you consider corruption for an ignoble cause significant, and corruption for a noble cause insignificant

The whole situation of warmists vs skeptics is depressing. Gleick did everyone a favour by showing how the Cause is corruptive as, we are told, the Anti-Cause. David Suzuki continues his programme of self-identification with Good, and demonization of this opponents as agents of the Bad. As I said, it is depressing.

Feb 23, 2012
4:28 PM

If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, don't let the charlatans make a sorry fool of you: It's a DUCK! and you should vote accordingly.

Word about the Heartland is spreading quickly.

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