Heartland leak reveals corporate funds behind climate denial

February 28, 2012 at 1:47 am Leave a comment

Heartland Institute poster.

Powerful US free-market think tank The Heartland Institute is reeling after leaked internal documents were posted on the Desmogblog website on February 14 showing the powerful corporate interests behind its well-known campaign against climate science.

Desmogblog said the leaked documents “expose the heart of the climate denial machine”, which “relies on huge corporate and foundation funding from US businesses”.

The leaked documents reveal most of Heartland’s big corporate backers. These include Microsoft, media giants Time Warner and Comcast, pharmaceutical giants GlaxoSmithKline and Pfzier, US steel maker Nucor, tobacco companies Altria and RJR Tobacco, a foundation controlled by the billionaire Koch brothers, the US Chamber of Commerce and the Credit Union National Association.

The Heartland documents refers to an anonymous donor “who has given as much as half the organisation’s entire budget in some past years”.

The documents show how Heartland channels this money to various pro-business causes. Heartland has made many payments to some of the world’s most prominent climate denier scientists and bloggers, including Australian scientist Bob Carter.

One document outlines how Heartland tried to promote a climate denial-based school curriculum in the US. It lamented: “Heartland has tried to make material available to teachers, but has had only limited success.

“Principals and teachers are heavily biased toward the alarmist perspective.”

To counter this, Heartland paid Dr David Wojick — who is a coal industry consultant, not a climate scientist — US$5000 a module to develop a “global warming curriculum” for children in kindergarten through to year 12.

The documents also included Heartland’s plans to ramp up its support for hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), a dangerous technique used by the shale and coal seam gas industries.

It said: “Heartland has been one of the most outspoken defenders of fracking in the US … We have not, however, yet attempted to raise funds from businesses with a financial interest in fracking.

“In 2012 we intend to correct that oversight and approach dozens of companies and trade associations that are actively seeking allies in this battle.”

Another document spells out Heartland’s “climate strategy”. It said Heartland would work to prevent climate scientists gaining access to the media.

It said: “Heartland plays an important role in climate communications … Efforts at places such as Forbes [magazine] are especially important now that they have begun to allow high profile climate scientists (such as [climate scientist Peter] 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.”

The institute reacted furiously to the leak. On February 15, it said eight of the nine documents were stolen and the ninth, the “climate strategy” memo, was a forgery. But it also said it could not confirm that any of the documents were authentic.

Heartland described the leak as a “criminal act” and a “fraud”. It warned: “We intend to find this person and see him or her put in prison for these crimes.”

Heartland asked “all activists, bloggers, and other journalists to immediately remove all of these documents and any quotations taken from them”. A few days later, it launched legal action to force websites to remove the documents and any related commentary.

Desmogblog refused Heartland’s demand, saying on February 19 it would leave the documents “in place — in the public interest”.

The next day the source of the leaked documents came forward — Peter Gleick. He said in a February 20 statement on the Huffington Post that he had first received the documents in the mail, from an anonymous source.

Gleick said: “I do not know the source of that original document but assumed it was sent to me because of my past exchanges with Heartland and because I was named in it.”

He said that to confirm the documents’ accuracy he “solicited and received additional materials directly from the Heartland Institute under someone else’s name”.

Gleick said: “I can explicitly confirm, as can the Heartland Institute, that the documents they emailed to me are identical to the documents that have been made public.

“I made no changes or alterations of any kind to any of the Heartland Institute documents or to the original anonymous communication.”

Desmogblog called Gleick a “whistleblower” who “deserve[d] respect for having the courage to make important truths known to the public at large”. It said:  “Gleick has effectively caught Heartland squarely in the headlights, proving that the institute has dissembled and  lied.”

Heartland repeated its demand that “publishers, bloggers and website hosts” take down the leaked documents. It said the “climate strategy” memo “was most likely written by Gleick”.

But Desmogblog posted a paragraph-by-paragraph evaluation of the memo on February 22, pointing out that it “uses phrases, language and, in many cases, whole sentences” that appear in the other documents.

Desmogblog concluded: “The Climate Strategy Memo is an accurate executive summary of the information contained in budget and fundraising documents that were to be put before the Board at its January meeting.

“DeSmogBlog therefore sees no basis whatsoever for Heartland’s assertion that the Climate Strategy memo is a ‘fake’ which contains ‘obvious and gross misstatements of fact’.”

Heartland’s reaction to its own leak is very different from how it reacted to the theft of 61 megabytes of papers, documents and private emails from the Climatic Research Unit based at the University of East Anglia, England, in 2009.

Dubbed by climate deniers as the “Climategate” affair, Heartland alleged that the leak exposed that “climate science [had been] hijacked and corrupted by this small group of scientists”.

Heartland still has a MegaUpload link to the climate scientists stolen documents on its website.

Six leading climate scientists released an “open letter to the Heartland Institute” on February 17.

They said: “We know what it feels like to have private information stolen and posted online via illegal hacking. It happened to climate researchers in 2009 and again in 2011. Personal emails were culled through and taken out of context before they were posted online.

“In 2009, the Heartland Institute was among the groups that spread false allegations about what these stolen emails said.

“Despite multiple independent investigations, which demonstrated that allegations against scientists were false, the Heartland Institute continued to attack scientists based on the stolen emails.

“When more stolen emails were posted online in 2011, the Heartland Institute again pointed to their release and spread false claims about scientists.

“So although we can agree that stealing documents and posting them online is not an acceptable practice, we would be remiss if we did not point out that the Heartland Institute has had no qualms about utilising and distorting emails stolen from scientists.”

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