Leaked Docs Reveal How Top Think Tank Turns Oil Money Into Climate Denial

Brian Merchant

No think tank has been more dedicated to promulgating doubt about global climate change than the Heartland Institute. The libertarian organization was one of the primary drivers of the so-called ‘ClimateGate’ debacle, publicizing every out-of-context comment and trumpeting the emails’ as proof that scientists were covering up some great big hoax.

So, for climate scientists, journalists, and pro-reality advocates everywhere, news that Heartland had lost some confidential documents of its own could only be met with a hint of delicious irony. An anonymous source calling himself ‘Heartland Insider’ leaked the documents, which include confidential strategy memos, operating budgets and other correspondence, to DeSmogBlog, whichpublished the trove on its site yesterday.

And, to put it succinctly, it’s a goldmine. For example, the documents offer proof that Koch Industries is donating over $200,000 to the cause this year, one anonymous donor will pony up over 1.25 million, among others—and then show precisely how that money will be spent. Nearly $90,000, for instance, will be spent subsidizing the popular climate change skeptic Anthony Watts, even though he’s not officially part of Heartland. They fund professionals to publicly disavow the veracity of climate science, and work in targeted arenas to “cultivate” sympathy for anti-climate ideas. In other words, they have a fully developed strategy to foist a particular brand of climate denial upon the public. Here’s a particularly telling bit, from a document entitled ‘Confidential Memo: 2012 Heartland Climate Strategy’:

Efforts at places such as Forbes are especially important now that they have begun to allow high-profile climate scientists (such as Gleick) to post warmist science essays that counter our own. This influential audience has usually been reliably anti-climate and it is important to keep opposing voices out. Efforts might also include cultivating more neutral voices with big audiences (such as Revkin at DotEarth/NYTimes, who has a well-known antipathy for some of the more extreme AGW communicators such as Rornm, Trenberth, and Hansen) or Curry (who has become popular with our supporters).

The document also details funding intended to be used to tailor K-12 school curriculums to position climate science as controversial and possibly false. 

Essentially, the document offers the kind of evidence that solidifies the all-but-proven thesis that oil companies directly sponsor climate change denial. No longer is this some nebulous accusation: It’s inked right here in these documents, and you can see for yourself (they’re all here at DeSmogBlog). Perhaps even more interesting are all the mundane details: They reveal, to a degree not seen before, exactly how an organization designed to legitimize climate denial works. The Guardian explains:

If authentic, the documents provide an intriguing glimpse at the fundraising and political priorities of one of the most powerful and vocal groups working to discredit the established science on climate change and so block any chance of policies to reduce global warming pollution. 

“It’s a rare glimpse behind the wall of a key climate denial organisation,” Kert Davies, director of research for Greenpeace, said in a telephone interview. “It’s more than just a gotcha to have these documents. It shows there is a co-ordinated effort to have an alternative reality on the climate science in order to have an impact on the policy.”

Predictably, the Heartland Institute is outraged, and is threatening to sue. After refusing to respond to journalists’ request for comment for nearly an entire day, they’re dubiously claiming that one of the documents (the most damning ‘strategy’ doc excerpted from above) is an outright fake. They say the others are real, though they say they’re still checking them because they “may have been altered”. And, most hilarious of all, they’re asking journalists to retract anything they’ve written about the documents. Go read the whole press release here; it’s just that bizarre.

All this, of course, only serves to make justice that much sweeter—the Heartland Institute had no qualms whatsoever publishing and reprinting the emails stolen from climate scientists at the University of East Anglia, which formed the basis for the ClimateGate event. To see them beg journalists to not write about their own stolen emails isn’t just hypocritical, it’s borderline pathetic.

And Heartland is no doubt feeling the sting; after helping slather ‘ClimateGate’ into headlines across the nation, they’re now seeing memes sprout from revelations about their own concerted efforts to steer the climate debate—the reliably conservative Politico blasted a headline reading ‘Heartland Burned by ‘DenialGate’ Memo’.

All in all, these documents offer an unprecedented look at exactly how professionalized climate denial works—see for yourself.

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