UPDATE: 5/7: Climatewire reports that Heartland “faces a mutiny” from donors and its Washington staff over the Institute’s billboard campaign, which it abruptly cancelled one day after it was unveiled. The billboards triggered massive outrage and scorn from across the political spectrum.
[UPDATE: 5/5: Widespread condemnation of the Heartland billboard campaign (including from Republican politicians and well-known climate science critics) prompted Heartland to discontinue the billboard ads. In a statement, Heartland President Joe Bast called the billboards an "experiment" and intentionally provocative. He also did not express contrition:
We know that our billboard angered and disappointed many of Heartland's friends and supporters, but we hope they understand what we were trying to do with this experiment. We do not apologize for running the ad, and we will continue to experiment with ways to communicate the "˜realist' message on the climate.
Will this staunch the bad publicity and the erase the stain on Heartland's name? Unlikely. Bast's unrepentant response and obvious spin is well short of the damage control a PR expert would advise.]
Remember when I had fun pointing out the classy way Anthony Watts noted that “Charles Manson is an advocate for global warming”? And remember when Watts, in typically disingenuous fashion, associated climate activists with Osama Bin Laden? I mentioned that bit of ugliness here.
Well, that’s all minor league stuff compared to the new Heartland Institute billboard campaign that Leo Hickman discusses in this Guardian piece. Hickman strikes exactly the right tone:
It really is hard to know where to begin with this one. But let’s start with: “What on earth were they thinking?
This is what saner heads in the climate concerned community were asking when Peter Gleick did what he did earlier this year. The thing about the climate wars is that each side can always count on their opponent to shoot itself in the foot. That’s on striking display again, today.
UPDATE: I’m keeping tabs on responses/posts/stories as they come in.
5/4, 2:15pm EST. Andrew Sullivan says the billboard campaign illustrates what has become of the Right wing: “A refusal to acknowledge scientific reality; and a brutalist style of public propaganda that focuses entirely on guilt by the most extreme association.”
Little Green Footballs strikes a similar note: “The Right discovers an all new level of nutso creepiness.”
Wonkette has some fun playing along with the Heartland game. Ben German at the Hill tallies reaction from environmentalists, who mouth what you would expect. Same for Joe Romm, but he raises the stakes for climate skeptics: “These ads are so extremist that failing to denounce them is an implicit endorsement of the worst kind of hate speech.”
Charles Pierce at Esquire suggests the Heartland ad campaign is beyond the pale and unmatched on the political spectrum. “This is not the ‘mainstream.’ Both sides do not do this. There is no ‘other side’ to this argument.”
Stephanie Pappas at Live Science has reaction from climate scientists. Anthony Watts at WUWT calls the Heartland billboards a “huge misstep,” but (surprise, surprise) focuses all his outrage on his opponents, for their “hypocrisy.” Watts’ post is a texbook case of classic misdirection. It reaffirms his partisan bent. ***Check back in a few hours for more reax.
430pm EST: Heartland President Joe Bast emails Anthony Watts to say that the billboards will be discontinued today. In the comment thread of that post, it is notable that WUWT readers overwhelmingly disapprove of the billboard campaign, citing its offensiveness.
Fox News runs story that leads off: “The Heartland Institute has released a shocking new billboard ad campaign that equates global warming belief with some of the most notorious killers in modern history.”
The Huffington Post playfully mocks the billboard tagline. Kate Sheppard at Mother Jones reminds us of the not so long ago time when the Heartland Institute was asking for everyone to be civil and respectful.
8:30Pm EST: The strongest condemnation from someone often associated with the climate skeptic sphere has been issued by Ross McKitrick at Climate Audit. It came in the form of a letter addressed to Heartland President Joe Bast. Here’s an excerpt:
This kind of fallacious, juvenile and inflammatory rhetoric does nothing to enhance your reputation, hands your opponents a huge stick to beat you with, and sullies the reputation of the speakers you had recruited…You cannot simultaneously say that you want to promote a debate while equating the other side to terrorists and mass murderers. Once you have done such a thing you have lost the moral high ground and you can never again object if someone uses that kind of rhetoric on you.
Andy Revkin has a post at Dot Earth titled, “The Short Hot Life of Heartland’s Climate Billboard.” It includes an email exchange between Andy, Tom Yulsman (who says some very smart things), and myself.
5/5, 1145am EST: In the Washington Post, Anthony Watts says the Heartland Institute “is suffering battle fatigue.When you’re suffering battle fatigue, sometimes you make mistakes.” In the LA Times opinion section, Dan Turner writes that Heartland “has decided to stop even trying to be credible in order to attract publicity.” Wendy Koch of USA Today writes:
So much for reasoned debate! The Heartland Institute, a controversial group known for trying to discredit climate science, unveiled — and then 24 hours later withdrew — billboards that compared people concerned about global warming to mass murderers.
5/6, 9:30am EST: At his blog, Andrew Montford says the “reverberations are going to be felt for quite a while.” Then he proceeds, Anthony Watts style, to demonstrate his partisan tendencies by devoting the rest of his post to similar guilt-by-association tactics by climate advocacy blogs. As Leo Hickman lamented on Twitter [shorthand cleaned up] to Montford, “very sad that you, too, like Watts, couldn’t resist a ‘comparison’ drive-by rather than simply condemn.” After I seconded this, Montford tweeted: “I’m trying to understand why Heartland’s actions [are] considered so much worse than the others.”
I’m trying to understand how he can’t see the difference. Heartland’s posters were part of a public advertising campaign that included a detailed explanation for why Heartland believed they were appropriate. While Heartland has discontinued the billboards, it should be noted that they have not apologized or renounced the message they conveyed.
Several weeks ago, I wrote that the climate discourse was “trapped in a negative feedback loop.” The two extremes on the spectrum, I said, reinforced each other via their “separate echo chambers.”
A strong characteristic of this dynamic, which many have lamented (and just as many have dismissed) is tribalism. The reaction to the Heartland disclosures/leak/theft/fabrication is thus far utterly tribal, at least judging by the comment threads in the climate blogosphere. This face-off between the tribes produces a caricature of the two sides that one commenter at Bad Astronomy has captured well:
I don’t want to speculate on specific right or left wing agenda’s, my point is that currently climate science gets hi jacked by both the right or the left. It is as if atmospheric dynamics are somehow directly linked (teleconnected one might say) to the political persuation of the particular debater. We see it all the time”¦”¦ “what you question CAGW? you must be some sort of right wing creationist nutjob in the pay of BIG OIL!” or “What you believe all that global warming guff? you must be some sort of tree hugging, crystalgazing, unemployed leftie!!” The actual arguments (good and bad) get lost in the political/social/religious sterotyping. You see it here all the time ( have even done it myself on occasion) and you see it on just about every climate blog.
The New York Times covers the developing Heartland Institute story:
Leaked documents suggest that an organization known for attacking climate science is planning a new push to undermine the teaching of global warming in public schools, the latest indication that climate change is becoming a part of the nation’s culture wars.
It’ll be interesting to see where this particular story goes. As the Times also mentions,
Heartland did declare one two-page document to be a forgery, although its tone and content closely matched that of other documents that the group did not dispute.
The supposed fake would be the one titled “Confidential Memo: 2012 Heartland Climate Strategy.” In my first post on this story, I didn’t refer to or quote from this “memo” because, quite frankly, something smelled fishy about it. I found the language in some passages a bit odd. (I’ll perhaps elaborate in a future post.) Indeed, I wasn’t comfortable discussing the specifics in any of the documents until they could be verified. That said, I found it plausible that a disgruntled insider was the source of the presumed leak.
But Heartland now asserts that all of the documents (except the one it says is fabricated)
were obtained by an unknown person who fraudulently assumed the identity of a Heartland board member and persuaded a staff member here to “re-send” board materials to a new email address.
As for that “climate strategy” memo, David Appell compared its metadata to that of the other eight documents and says:
The “fake” memo definitely looks suspicious.
If that memo is confirmed to be a fake, then I’m confused as to why someone would risk distracting away from the disclosures of the authentic documents. The authentic content made public provides plenty of fodder in of itself. Why not just let the real docs speak for themselves?
In the end, arguing about whether it is fake or not is not entirely unlike arguing about whether climategate emails are the work of an whistle-blower or a crook. It’s all rather beside the point.
The details of any of the Heartland documents are far less important, IMO, than the larger-scale implications. The larger-scale implications are nothing new, but I do find it important that in watching the responses from “skeptics,” I have yet to see one, one single solitary, lonely little response where a [climate] “skeptic” expresses even one iota of concern that the documents show a systematic and explicit effort to politicize climate science, and even more, politicize the teaching of climate science to children.