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The ramifications of last week’s leak of internal documents from the Heartland Institute — the US lobby group up to its neck in organised climate denial in the US, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and perhaps elsewhere — continue to make news. The Sydney Morning Herald reports that Heartland money was used to fund Aussie climate denial campaigners in 2009 and 2010, with funds channelled through the “American Climate Science Coalition” — a member of the coterie of climate “science” coalitions spun off from the New Zealand original with Heartland funding. Heartland’s charitable status in the US — which allows donors to the group to claim a 30% tax deduction (effectively a tax-payer subsidy of Heartland activities) — is being called into question as a result of the latest Mashey report into the links between Fred Singer and Heartland, and the dodgy nature of Heartland’s overseas grants. There have also been calls for some of Heartland’s large corporate donors to cease providing financial support for an organisation so steeped in climate denial.

The Sydney Morning Herald‘s investigation traced payments to Australian denial groups:

Documents from the Australian Securities and Investments Commission show that a group funded by the Heartland Institute, via a thicket of other foundations and think tanks, provided the vast majority of the cash for an anti-carbon price lobby group in Australia in 2009 and 2010.

The Australian Climate Science Coalition, an offshoot of a conservative lobby group called the Australian Environment Foundation, received virtually all its funding from the International Climate Science Coalition, which has been financially supported by Heartland.

In 2010, the Australian group had an income of $50,920, and $46,343 of that came from the American Climate Science Coalition, an offshoot of the International Climate Science Coalition, the ASIC documents show. The amount of public donations received was nil.

In 2009, the US arm kicked in $60,699 in funds – virtually all the Australian organisation’s entire budget of $62,910 – the ASIC documents show. Donations from the public, at a time when debate over the federal government’s proposed emissions trading scheme was at a peak, were just $138.

It seems likely that these payments — made through the ICSC and its US affiliate, the Climate Science Coalition of America — are in addition to the sums declared in Heartland’s Form 990 returns for 2009 (excerpted here). A total of US$115,000 was granted to bodies in “East Asia and the Pacific” in that year, following on from US$180,000 shipped overseas (with no regional designation) in 2008. The largest overseas grant made by Heartland — US$120,000 in 2008, categorised as “research/publication” — remains untraced, but it seems likely that it will also have been paid to either Australia, Canada or New Zealand. One major denial publishing project under way at the time was Joanne “Nova” Codling’s Skeptics Handbook, which Heartland later distributed to 12,000 US school board presidents — perhaps one of the unsuccessful attempts to influence school curricula referred to in the leaked documents.

The Guardian reports that John Mashey’s massive effort to analyse the links and financial flows between Heartland, Fred Singer and the Idso family firm, the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change (CDCDGC), is leading to calls for an IRS investigation of Heartland’s charitable status. The funds sent to Australia and New Zealand over the last five years seem to be in clear breach of IRS rules1, and likely to cause Heartland and the recipients considerable embarrassment.

Heartland has also been attacked from its own heartland — the Republican Party. A group called Republicans for Environmental Protection (REP) has called for Heartland to stop campaigning against action on climate change. In a press release issued on Friday, REP said:

While Heartland has done commendable work in other policy areas, such as risk management, its climate operation has become a public relations servant of special interests–sowing confusion, misrepresenting science, and spreading distortions that pollute what should be a robust, fact-based debate about climate change.

That’s not conservative. As William F. Buckley once said, “Conservatism implies a certain submission to reality.”

Climate change is an opportunity for conservative organizations to actually be conservative, by acknowledging facts and laying on the table conservative policies for dealing with the climate issue.

That’s a wonderful encapsulation of what we really need in a “climate debate”. Instead of the endless sniping at science and scientists, why not sit down and contribute to a solution? Heartland, of course, supplies the answer by being in thrall to the special interests of its funders.

Finally, allow me to commend an excellent article by Elaine McKewon at The ConversationThink tank’s talking points deepen the divide over climate change. Based on a recent study of the output of the Institute of Public Affairs, an Aussie think tank with close ties to Heartland, McKewon examines the fantasy world created by opponents of emissions reductions. She notes nine “fantasy themes” in common use:

The nine themes were grouped into two categories. In the first category, ’a plea for scientific truth’, there are four fantasy themes:

  • climate scientists as rent-seeking frauds
  • climate scientists as dissent-stifling elite
  • Plimer as Galileo
  • Plimer as the people’s scientist.

The second grouping, ’religious, political and economic conspiracies’, includes five fantasy themes:

  • climate science as religion
  • environmentalism as religion
  • climate science as left-wing conspiracy
  • green as the new red
  • climate change mitigation as money-spinning scam.

Sound familiar?2 McKewon points out that these themes, acted out by stereotypical heroes and villains create a self-supporting belief system:

Together, these fantasy themes construct a rhetorical vision — an alternative reality — that is consistent with the ideology promoted by neoliberal think tanks such as the IPA and the hostility they provoke towards traditional ’enemies’ such as the environmental movement and the political left.

These fantasy themes serve as important markers of group identity for the IPA and its coalition of associate scholars, editors, opinion columnists and readers. They repeat the narratives — for example, in letters to the editor or in online comments or discussion forums. This repetition is a strong indication that they see themselves as members of the group.

It’s a compelling analysis that underlines just how successful Heartland and its allies have been at co-opting a large sector of right wing opinion in the service of their paymasters, and how powerful the myths they’ve carefully created can be.

[Jimmy Ruffin]

  1. See Mashey’s Fake Science…, p64
  2. Most of these themes are on display in just about every comment posted here by Joe Fone, Roger Dewhurst and the usual denialist suspects.