Heartland Suggests (and Quickly Retracts) That Believing in Climate Change Puts You in League With the Unabomber

A few hours ago, a news item about our old pals at the Heartland Institute was flying around the internet at light speed.

It seems that in preparation for their annual climate denial conference, which this year ends the day before NWF and concerned citizens will be gathering in Chicago for public hearings on proposed limits on carbon pollution from coal fired power plants, the partly Koch and ExxonMobil-funded right-wing think tank decided to suggest that ‘believing’ in climate change puts you in league with serial killers and terrorists. You know, MAYBE. Just throwing it out there.

Via The Guardian (and now many, many others):

The Heartland Institute, a Chicago-based rightwing thinktank notorious for promoting climate scepticism, has launched quite possibly one of the most ill-judged poster campaigns in the history of ill-judged poster campaigns.

I’ll let its own press release for its upcoming conference explain, as there’s simply no need to finesse it further:

Billboards in Chicago paid for by The Heartland Institute point out that some of the world’s most notorious criminals say they “still believe in global warming” – and ask viewers if they do, too…The billboard series features Ted Kaczynski, the infamous Unabomber; Charles Manson, a mass murderer; and Fidel Castro, a tyrant. Other global warming alarmists who may appear on future billboards include Osama bin Laden and James J. Lee (who took hostages inside the headquarters of the Discovery Channel in 2010).

Aside from being an example of the most ridiculous sort of ad hominem attack imaginable, this campaign is rife with logical and organizational inconsistencies. Kate Sheppard from Mother Jones points out that it hasn’t even been three months since Heartland issued a release carping about the need for “common decency” in discussing climate change. Classy move.

Heartland’s statement accompanying the project launch stated that “people who still believe in man-made global warming are mostly on the radical fringe of society.” And yet, “the United Nations, the so-called mainstream media, and leading political figures” are also talking about climate change. So, which is it? Fringe phenomenon, or incredibly widespread (and presumably conspiratorial) trend? As proof of its own bona fides, Heartland claims that “many of the world’s leading scientists, economists, and political leaders” have appeared at its climate denial conferences. WHOA—‘leading scientists?’ Aren’t those guys just fringe radicals? (actually, yes, the ones who attend Heartland conferences probably are.)

(Also of note: it’s highly questionable whether some of the featured madmen even had any special affinity for climate change as a cause. As E&E News reports (sub. req.), the words “climate change” don’t appear in the Unabomber’s manifesto, nor are there references to “global warming” or “carbon.”)

Less than an hour before people on the East Coast left work for the weekend, Heartland Institute President and CEO Joe Bast issued the following statement in response to a massive outcry:

We will stop running [the billboard] at 4:00 p.m. CST today. (It’s a digital billboard, so a simple phone call is all it takes.)

The Heartland Institute knew this was a risk when deciding to test it, but decided it was a necessary price to make an emotional appeal to people who otherwise aren’t following the climate change debate.

So, make a note: from now on, lying and acting like a disgruntled online commenter who invokes Hitler to end an argument = ‘an emotional appeal.’

General Motors pulled its funding of Heartland in March over the last round of climate denial messaging. One wonders how Heartland’s other funders will feel about this ‘test.’