The nation’s leading skeptics of climate change science were dealt a blow this week when hundreds of private internal documents — detailing donors, spending and the group’s anti-science strategy — were leaked to the public
An iceberg is seen in Disko Bay, Greenland above the arctic circle in this 2005 file photo. Scientists meeting in the area said global warming has an increasing effect on the Arctic region with glaciers shrinking, temperatures of the arctic waters warming, and permafrost softening and that nations must take action against global warming. AP Photo/John McConnico
The documents betrayed the inner workings of the Heartland Institute, the most vocal of U.S. climate change “deniers” who, despite decades of scientific data proving that the Earth’s climate is warming, promote skepticism and doubt.
The leak is the smoking gun that climate scientists have been waiting for — and should be a warning to anyone who buys into the idea that “global warming is just a theory.”
You’re being played.
The Heartland Institute’s key strategy has been to create doubt in the American public by saying that climate change is a controversial, unproven theory.
The truth is that, while climate scientists might disagree over minor points, there is no controversy: Every major scientific organization agrees that climate change is real and that human activity has a direct impact.
Among the leaked secrets is proof that the oil-rich Koch brothers (who have backed climate-denier Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign) donated $200,000 to the Heartland Institute in 2011 and had given before. Their involvement supports the belief that the Heartland Institute is a shill for oil companies that have a huge profit motive in dirty fossil fuels.
The most revealing documents, however, lay out Heartland’s plans to spend $100,000 to build an anti-climate change curriculum for schools that “shows that the topic of climate change is controversial and uncertain — two key points that are effective at dissuading teachers from teaching science.”
There’s your smoking gun.
Educators have found that climate change deniers use a strategy identical to those who want creationism taught alongside evolution in science classes: Ignore the science and teach the debate, as if the simple act of disagreeing with scientific fact is educationally significant.
Science deniers want you to believe theirs is honest disagreement, when, in fact, it’s deliberate ignorance. That’s the same pseudoscience that leads parents to opt out of vaccinations for their children or oppose fluoride in drinking water. The stakes in climate change are much higher — planetary, in fact.
Scientific data aren’t an opinion open to debate. Scientific data can be challenged — with new scientific data. But challenging science with opinion is like challenging math. You can’t “honestly disagree” with 2+2=4 simply because you would rather believe it equals 3. Or 37.
The rejection of science for pseudoscience is at the heart of America’s so-called culture wars. With each of the major Republican candidates for president declaring his own scientific “beliefs” on the campaign trail — climate change and evolution are theories, stem cell research is abortion — they’ve lent a conservative legitimacy to their skepticism.
The danger in this culture of skepticism is that it will become a “culture of ignorance,” as author Isaac Asimov described it: a “thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.’ ”