Monday, February 16, 2009

The Heart of the Matter

It seems appropriate on this Valentine's weekend, or the end of the V-weekend as I write, to probe further the background of the Chicago-based Heartland Institute, the organization that presented me with a lavishly produced magazine presenting their skeptical position on climate change and inviting me to attend the 2009 International Conference on Climate Change, which almost sounds like a real scientific event. The cover letter that accompanied the slickly produced publication was a lot less subtle, leaving one in no doubt as to the motives of these people. I would suggest to the author of that letter, a certain Arthur Robinson from the "Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine," located in an immensely remote village in Oregon that, if he wants to persuade people to join his cause, he should not portray himself as a deranged loony by painting the 95 % of scientists who are convinced by the evidence that global warming is real, as being nutcases or miscreants. The Heartland Institute may be better served to get more credible people to sell their position.

I had mused in my last posting on the Global Warming Teach-in as to the sources of revenue possessed by this Heartland Institute. Using a trick learned from appointee to the Board of Trustees at College of DuPage Kory Atkinson (alack he is soon to be leaving us after the April election), I did a search on Google. Before Mr. Atkinson had demonstrated this activity at a Board meeting, I had no idea such things were possible. Thanks to Google, (where would we be without you?) several relevant references to Heartland and its murky history were retrieved within seconds.

Silly, naive me for not realizing it immediately. Heartland appears to be in large part a front for large corporations interested in muddying the waters around issues that would severely compromise their business. In the nineties, a major sponsor of Heartland was Philip Morris, and Heartland campaigned to influence public opinion on the perceived dangers of second-hand smoke in order to defeat smoking restrictions in public places. As a side-bar, Dulcie and I would probably never have discovered the full brilliance of American craft beer since we could not have enjoyed places like the Map Room or Hop Leaf if they were not non-smoking. No thanks to Heartland though.

The smoking battle lost, attention has turned to global warming. Enter Exxon, supplying $115,000 in 2000, $90,000 in 2001, a mere $15,000 in 2002, $85,000 in 2003, $85,000 in 2004, $109,000 in 2005, and a whopping $230,000 in 2006. These figures are taken from Greenpeace's "ExxonSecrets" website. Heartland claims to be independent of any political party or corporation. The large contributions from companies like Exxon are not denied but stated to be never more than 5 % of its total annual revenue, which amounts to an impressive $5+ million. It also claims to "actively oppose junk science" (there's a laugh given the central position that Mr. Robinson appears to hold in Heartland's PR).

Much like the vast amounts of money that is funneled into utterly futile enterprises in "creation science" for completely erroneous ideological reasons, it seems a great pity that so many resources and so much effort is being invested in derailing the global warming train. It is a great mistake to prop up the creaking infrastructure of the old energy businesses at the cost of developing new ones. And even if the whole global warming thing is later discovered to be wrong, the changes made to our energy infrastructure motivated by a belief in it being right will not have have been in vain.

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