By Denise Tessier
Last month’s Albuquerque Journal publication of the column, “Global Warming Is Just Propaganda,” is still generating reader response, with nearly a full page of letters in Tuesday’s (May 15) Journal commenting both on that column (as we did ) and on the published rebuttal by scientist Mark Boslough .
In between, a couple of letters, “Opinions Are Subjective, but Facts Aren’t” and “Science, Politics Are Lousy Bedfellows” appeared in the Journal May 1 as well.
Over the past couple of weeks, however, an even more sinister campaign about climate change has been playing out on the national stage.
It started when billboards popped up in the Chicago area comparing climate scientists to terrorist ”Unabomber” Ted Kazynski, murderer Charles Manson and Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.
As the Christian Science Monitor reported May 7, the billboards were designed to promote the International Congress on Climate Change being held in that city by the Heartland Institute, which “describes itself as a nonprofit devoted to promoting free-market solutions for social and economic problems.” The Monitor reported that:
The first billboard, which went up along the Eisenhower Expressway in Maywood, Ill., . . .features a mug shot of Kaczynski with the words “I still believe in Global Warming. Do you?” and a Web address for the Heartland Institute. In a press release, the organization justified this juxtaposition by calling the support for human-caused global warming “nutty.”
Reaction to the billboard was immediate, prompting an exodus by donors who previously had supported the Heartland think tank. State Farm insurance and military family insurer the United Services Automobile Association (USAA) were among the first to withdraw support.
But according to a brief article in the March 30 Los Angeles Times, automaker General Motors had withdrawn its support of Heartland even before the billboards:
Citing its corporate stance that climate change is real, General Motors announced Wednesday that its General Motors Foundation would no longer be funding the Heartland Institute, a free-market think tank that has attacked human-caused global warming as “junk science.”
As of Monday, Heartland was still losing donors, as the defectors were joined by Eli Lilly, BB&T bank and PepsiCo, and a meteorologist from the National Hurricane Center publicly disassociated himself from the organization.
The incident brings to mind the defection of supporters from ALEC, the America Legislative Executive Council, as more corporations and individuals have become aware of its direct influence over the public dialogue on topics ranging from education to union-busting to gun control.
It should come as no surprise, then, to learn that Heartland, like ALEC, is funded by the infamous Koch brothers.
Back in February, the Christian Science Monitor reported that Heartland not only was funded by the brothers, but that a leaked Heartland document revealed the organization was funding school curriculum materials that “contradict the established science on climate change.” According to that article:
The climate change education project is funded so far by an anonymous donor who has given $13 million to the Institute over the past five years. Proposed by policy analyst David Wojick, who holds a doctorate in epistemology and has worked for coal and electricity generation companies, the project would create education “modules” written to meet curriculum guidelines for every grade level.
And, as astute readers know, the Heartland Institute has a New Mexico connection: former Sen. Harrison ”Jack” Schmitt is a Heartland “expert” and is one of the few on Heartland’s short list of “reasonable people.”
Funding skepticism apparently isn’t an American anomaly. Canada is grappling with controversy over climate change as well, as the Winnipeg Free Press reported Monday (May 14) that funding has been halved for the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy because its research results and recommendations conflict with the government’s agenda. The move, the Free Press says, will essentially close within a year the Round Table, which:
Since 1988 . . . has been producing research on how business and government policies can work together for sustainable development — including the idea of introducing carbon taxes.
“It may not fit in with the government’s agenda but that’s exactly that point,” Canadian Liberal Leader Bob Rae reportedly said after Canada’s Foreign Minister spoke against the Round Table because it did not jibe with political opposition to carbon taxes. The Free Press quoted Rae as saying:
“The fact is that . . . there are whole ranges of groups across the country who are saying that the absence of any sensible policies on carbon pricing, on pricing what carbon emissions are actually costing, are costing us a lot of investment…
“We need to hear from these groups in order to have intelligent policy happen.”
But as we have lamented here before at ABQJournalWatch, intelligent policy cannot be created as long as “think tanks” and special interest groups fund campaigns solely to discredit the other side. Heartland Institute has resorted to equating climate scientists with terrorists, murderers and dictators. And similarly, the extractive industries are working hard, according to leaked memos, to subversively discredit renewable energy alternatives.
And these think tanks too often are aided and abetted by media outlets in helping to cloud the mind of readers when it comes to science and facts.
They are aided, too by politicians, with ominous results. As Journal staff writer Winthrop Quigley pointed out in an excellent column Tuesday morning (May 15), compromise is crucial in the American political system because the country is so large and disparate in its constituencies. Quigley’s column partly was in response to Monday’s Associated Press article, headlined “Republicans, Democrats Using Bills as Weapons,” which, as Quigley noted, pointed out that:
. . .both parties in Congress “are churning out bills designed to make the other side look bad” to advance the cause of partisan control of government. So measures most members agree are necessary, like funding for roads and relief for over-indebted students, languish.
The sole focus of these think tanks and politicians is to hold on to fixed ideology without compromise or meaningful discussion, no matter what it does to the populace, to the environment or to the economy.
It’s heartening to see media outlets (like those included in links in this article) bringing to light these calculated campaigns – and the donors behind them – but pity the poor readers who must muddle through it all to find the truth.