Heartland Institute’s Climate Change Denial Tactics Get Extreme

May 4, 2012; Source: Washington Post

It didn’t take long for the Heartland Institute to realize that its ad campaign was a bit over the edge. Devoted to debunking theories of climate change, the Koch brothers-funded Heartland Institute put up a billboard with the message, “I still believe in Global Warming. Do you?” If you’re a climate change skeptic, the message probably made sense, but the picture next to the message, which went up along the Eisenhower Expressway outside of Chicago, was Unabomber Ted Kaczynski. Additional billboards were slated starring Charles Manson, Fidel Castro, and Osama bin Laden. HI’s argument, according to a statement on its website, was, “The most prominent advocates of global warming aren’t scientists. They are murderers, tyrants, and madmen.”

Baaaaad idea!

The Kaczynski billboard was taken down within a day, as Heartland received massive blowback from its climate change skeptic allies as well as scientists who understand the reality of climate change.

Although the Koches haven’t disassociated themselves from HI, a number of other corporate funders have begun heading for the hills in a move that looks to be taking place even faster than the recent corporate exodus from the American Legislative Executive Council (ALEC), which drew criticism for its support of “Stand Your Ground” gun laws and restrictive voter ID policies. Among the corporations looking to disassociate themselves from the Heartland Institute are the Association of Bermuda Insurers and Reinsurers (ABIR) and the XL Group, State Farm insurance, Guinness- and Smirnoff-owner Diageo, Pepsi, and General Motors (though the latter two pulled out before the recent billboard incident). This exodus has occurred without a semblance of the kind of campaign that targeted funders of ALEC.

Of additional interest is whether other corporate and philanthropic funders will explain what they were/are doing with the climate change-denying Heartland Institute, which is willing to portray scientists that believe the facts on climate change as something akin to domestic or international terrorists. Looking through the Foundation Center’s online database of grants, we noticed HI grant support from the likes of the BB&T Charitable Foundation (in 2010), the General Motors Foundation (in 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2010, long after GM had been bailed out by taxpayer money), the Eli Lilly and Company Foundation (2007), the Annie E. Casey Foundation (2006), the Chrysler Foundation (2006), and the Assurant Health Foundation (2006).

Heartland doesn’t reveal its funding sources voluntarily, and corporations that give directly rather than through corporate foundations don’t have to reveal their grant recipients either. However, due to leaked documents from the Heartland Institute, denied by HI as fakes but independently verified by the Associated Press, other corporate funders of the climate-denying think tank include Altria, Amgen, Anheuser-Busch, AT&T, Comcast, GlaxoSmithKline, Nucor, Pfizer, Reynolds American, Time Warner Cable, and Microsoft. ExxonMobil has also contributed, but the company is one of the biggest corporate funders of climate change denial worldwide, so there’s no point in asking why they might stick with the Heartland Institute.

Most of us can recall the various stupid messaging campaigns our nonprofits have bought into at one time or another—the embarrassing ad campaigns one later attributes to an extraordinary brain freeze. But we can’t recall ever trying to associate our ideological or policy opponents with the likes of Kaczynski, Manson, Castro, and bin Laden. Baaaaad idea.—Rick Cohen

  • RC

    Yes, bad idea. But ultimately when anyone looks more deeply into this situation, they see the 800lb gorilla-in-the-room that’s been there since the start. People promoting the idea of man-caused global warming love these kinds of rhetoric errors because it allows them to hide behind them rather than debate the actual science.

    For more on this, please see “[LINK=http://www.americanthinker.com/blog/2012/05/heartland_institute_unabomber_billboard_brings_out_global_warming_alarmists_one-trick_pony.html]Heartland Institute ‘Unabomber billboard’ brings out Global Warming Alarmists’ One-Trick Pony[/LINK]”
    [I]One more example of how alarmists rely on shell games keep the public from fully comprehending the enormous faults in the idea of man-caused global warming[/I].

  • SJP

    98% of climate scientiists believe in climate change caused by human activities. Nuff said!

  • Brad Johnson

    An excellent analysis of the Heartland billboards, but there’s one significant error in the story. You wrote, “This exodus has occurred without a semblance of the kind of campaign that targeted funders of ALEC.”

    The exodus was in fact precipitated by the kind of campaign that continues to target funders of ALEC. Per the linked story on GM’s exit, “several questions were submitted via Facebook about GM’s financial support of the Heartland Institute.” Those questions were submitted by members of Forecast the Facts.

    As [LINK=http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2012/03/05/437563/more-than-10000-gm-owners-demand-company-pull-its-support-from-heartland-institute/]this story[/LINK] from March 5 — several weeks before GM pulled out — states: “More than 10,000 current and former owners of General Motors vehicles are calling on the company to pull its financial support from the Heartland Institute, which is working on a classroom curriculum to deny climate change… The campaign is coordinated by Forecast the Facts.

    As the linked story about ABIR and XL Group’s exit states, “Forecast the Facts has mobilized more than 20,000 people to call on corporations to pull their support from Heartland. General Motors was the first to respond, ending their twenty-year relationship with Heartland on March 28. They have been followed by AT&T, ABIR, and beverage maker Diageo, whose products include Jose Cuervo, Guinness, and Captain Morgan. In the coming weeks, Forecast the Facts will continue to mobilize its members to push all of Heartland’s corporate donors to immediately pull their support.”

    Similarly, the linked story about State Farm’s exit credits Forecast the Facts.


  • rick cohen

    Thanks for the correction, Brad. I was being solipsistic in my awareness of the two campaigns. Congratulations to Forecast the Facts about its impact on HI. Apologies to NPQ readers for my oversight, and thanks Brad for the correction!